Can we still build energy projects in Canada?

For many keeping an eye on politics in the United States, it wasn’t a surprise when President Joe Biden signed an executive order that stripped the construction permits from the Keystone XL pipeline. Overnight, more than 1,000 Canadians were laid off from their construction jobs, and work on the project was completely halted. Heavy equipment dealers also noted losses in the millions due to upcoming purchase orders being canceled.

In light of this, Canadians, especially those in oil-producing provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan, are asking if energy projects can still be built in Canada. When the Liberals were first elected in 2015, they effectively canceled the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, approved a year earlier by the federal government. The pipeline would have brought diluted bitumen from the Athabasca oil sands to Kitimat, British Columbia. It was rejected by Prime Minister Trudeau and his government due to concerns for wildlife off the northern coast of British Columbia.

With the recent news surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline, all eyes are again on the Trans Mountain pipeline, which Kinder Morgan was originally building. After facing delays and fierce opposition from environmental and First Nations groups in 2018, the federal government had to step in to purchase the project for $4.5 billion. Since then, it has been put through several more reviews and ended up at the Supreme Court due to provincial opposition. Despite all this, the pipeline continues to be built. News has surfaced that work on the project was shut down for two months due to safety concerns but was recently resumed with 7,000 construction workers.

Despite many delays and the pipeline having to be purchased by the federal government, the Trans Mountain pipeline is one of the last energy projects standing. The federal government recently met with 75 Indigenous groups from across British Columbia and Alberta who are interested in purchasing the pipeline from the government; however, these are very early-stage discussions. The question remains, though: Can we still build energy projects in Canada? The National Energy Board was replaced with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada in 2019, and it remains unclear how effective the agency is at reviewing projects promptly.

If the Trans Mountain pipeline is completed, Canada’s first pipeline to tidewater would be a goal that successive governments have attempted to achieve. The situation may look dire, but there is still an opportunity for Canada to be a clean energy producer. Should the Impact Assessment Agency be able to review projects faster, there is a chance that national and international investors’ confidence in Canada can be rebuilt. As governments begin to create plans for economic recovery, natural resources development that takes into account climate change must continue to be a priority.

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