Danielle Smith: Eagle Spirit Energy shows what’s needed to get pipelines built

Pipes are seen at the pipe yard at the Transmountain facility in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, March 27, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

I’m beginning to think Canada’s oil industry is going to have to do something bold and transformational if we are ever to see another pipeline built.

That’s the conclusion I’ve come to in the wake of the Federal Court of Appeal decision cancelling cabinet and NEB approval for the Trans Mountain pipeline.

The court took issue with the NEB stating marine impacts were outside its mandate and that the federal government rushed its Phase III consultation with indigenous communities.

It’s almost absurd that these two issues – which seem entirely manageable – have practically paralyzed the Trudeau government into inaction.

READ MORE: Justin Trudeau says adhering to the court’s guidance best way to get Trans Mountain built

The court seemed to imply these conditions could be satisfied in a matter of months. The government is giving the impression it will take years. I think it’s safe to say there is unlikely to be any progress until after the next election. Meanwhile, the grave damage to Canada’s reputation as a reliable place to invest takes another hit.

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But what if there was an even better option than Trans Mountain? I think there is.

Calvin Helin is the president and CEO of the First Nations-led Eagle Spirit Energy Corridor project and the son of a hereditary chief of the Lax Kw’alaams Band.

Every time I talk to him I get more excited about what he is proposing.

LISTEN: Danielle Smith speaks with Eagle Spirit Energy CEO Calvin Helin

To begin with, he is not advocating for a single pipeline: he wants to establish a corridor that could house four pipelines, two 48-inch lines for oil and two more for LNG. He has the endorsement of the Chiefs Council which represents all 35 indigenous communities along the route from Fort McMurray, Alta., to Grassy Point, B.C. (just outside of Prince Rupert). He’s signed a memorandum of understanding with Canada’s four unions involved in pipeline construction. And he assembled the project by promising it would be the greenest energy corridor on the planet: electricity powered by hydro, the most robust spill prevention technology, transporting oil with the lowest greenhouse gas footprint.

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READ MORE: Liberals block Tory plans to set up Trans Mountain pipeline probe

Eagle Spirit hopes to make use of an enhanced oil recovery process developed by RII North America that can extract bitumen with just a fraction of the carbon dioxide emissions of conventional production. The emissions stay in the ground. There’s no need for tailings ponds. The upgraded product requires no diluent to transport. The deepwater port at Port Rupert is easier for large tankers to navigate, but if there were a marine spill, the upgraded bitumen floats and can be more easily cleaned up.

The economics make sense too. By eliminating diluent and having the line full of usable product, the cost of shipping goes down to a mere $1.54 a barrel instead of $7.50. And because we’d be selling into international markets, we would also be able to get the Brent crude price on exports – which is currently $77 a barrel compared to $39 a barrel for Western Canada Select.

This is a win all the way around.

LISTEN: Danielle Smith discusses Trans Mountain with columnist Vaughn Palmer and Senator Doug Black

The only thing now standing in Helin’s way is current government policy.

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The new regulatory approval process in Bill C-69 is one major hurdle, though Helin thinks his project may be the only one that would be able to jump through all the hoops.

The bigger problem is Bill C-48 which is set to go to the Senate in the fall and, if passed, would ban tanker traffic off the Northern BC coast.

The Chiefs Council has set up a Go Fund Me account to fight the ban in court if, ironically, the bill passes because the Trudeau government didn’t properly consult First Nations before declaring the ban.

There is a way for Trudeau to salvage something from his disastrous handling of pipeline issues. He should cancel the tanker ban bill, declare his full support for the Eagle Spirit initiative, and then get out of the way and let the private sector get to work.

Danielle Smith can be reached at

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