Orange is already existing pipelines, from Fort McMurray, to Empress, to Brandon. Red is a rough approximation of a northern route, nearly all of which is Canadian Shield. Green is a southern route, all within Manitoba. That route would be in dirt, from Brandon to north of Lake Winnipeg, about half the distance. Google Earth map by Brian Zinchuk

 

It’s a hell of a lot easier to dig through dirt than Canadian Shield granite

There’s been talk of an energy corridor running from Port McMurray to Fort Nelson on Hudson Bay.

However, it all depends on Manitoba’s election on Tuesday, Oct. 3.

Everyone knows about Fort McMurray, but next to no one knows about Port Nelson, on the mouth of the Nelson River. Nor should they.

That’s because Fort Nelson was supposed to be the original terminus of the Hudson Bay Railroad. They even built a rail causeway to a small artificial island in the middle of the river. But the rail never did reach Fort Nelson, instead being diverted to Churchill. There, a little-used port was built at the end of a railway that struggles to keep itself from falling apart due to the permafrost and other issues.

The new idea, which has been discussed by Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Manitoba Premier Heather Steffanson, is to build a totally new energy corridor from Fort McMurray to Hudson Bay across some of the most difficult terrain imaginable – 1,140 kilometres – of which most of it is Canadian Shield followed by permafrost coastal tundra. And that distance is as the crow flies. Going around some major lakes will certainly lengthen the distance.

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Multiple pipelines would go eastbound – carrying oilsands bitumen and natural gas for export. The gas would see a liquefaction plant built for LNG exports. Maybe a rail line could be built for potash export as well? I haven’t heard anything about grain exports, but we already have that at Churchill. Fort Nelson is supposed to have a longer shipping season. Who knows?

Going westbound would be hydroelectricity generated from Manitoba Hydro’s numerous dams on the Nelson River system. Maybe.

Canadian Shield in Manitoba’s Whiteshell Provincial Park. The granite is so tough, power poles nearby are actually bracketed to the rock, but do not penetrate the rock. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

 

I don’t know how much excess power generation Manitoba will actually have for export in a few years time. SaskPower’s CEO Rupen Pandya said this past spring they had already been informed Manitoba wouldn’t have much more power available for sale. That’s because the expectation the Canadian electrical grid will need to more than double by 2050 means Manitoba will need every megawatt available for domestic consumption. Are they going to build yet another dam, or two, or more, for power exports?

Manitoba Hydro transmission near Falcon Beach, Manitoba. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

The big problem is building the pipelines, especially if they are going to cross provincial borders. The federal government has made it so difficult to build a pipeline these days, the Trans Mountain Expansion is now something like 5 to 6 times over budget. Coastal GasLink is around 3x.

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Here’s a better idea – build it all within Manitoba. As intraprovincial pipelines, they would be provincially regulated, not Canadian Energy Regulator (formerly National Energy Board) regulated.

You see, we already have an “energy corridor” running across Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The TC Energy and Enbridge Mainlines, Canadian Pacific Mainline and TransCanada Highway are all within a few dozen kilometres, sometimes a few hundred metres, of each other for substantial portions.

There already is an existing energy corridor of sorts across much of Canada. The TC Energy Mainline, seen here near the Manitoba/Ontario border, is just 100 metres from the Trans Canada Highway. The CP mainline is also close by. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

You start with an oil pipeline running from the Enbridge terminal at Cromer, Manitoba, within a few kilometres of the Saskatchewan border. The gas pipeline could perhaps start closer to Brandon, branching off the TC Energy mainline. They could meet up and share a right-of-way all the way to Fort Nelson.

Enbridge, they may not have a lot excess capacity for oil. The TC Energy mainline is already built, and woefully underutilized. That was the genesis of the Energy East project, after all.

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TC Energy might consider reviving the Energy East idea as far as Brandon, if they were still interested in oil. They’re not. They’re currently spinning off their oil pipelines, including the original Keystone pipeline. But if TC Energy was onboard, it has the excess capacity within its system to handle both oil and gas as far as Brandon. or thereabouts.

The distance is remarkably similar to the northern route – 990 kilometres as the crow flies from Cromer, 930 from Brandon. But getting around Lakes Winnipeg and Winnipegosis would substantially lengthen it. You could however cut through the interlake region, following the Manitoba Hydro Bipole I and II right of way, or you could hook left and follow the Bipole III right of way. Eventually the right of way would join the existing combined Manitoba Hydro Bipole I, II and III right of way which follows the Nelson River, going past the last dam and then onto Fort Nelson. Either way, about half of your kilometres are in dirt, which is enormously easier to build pipelines through than Canadian shield. This would be a substantial savings on construction costs, if not land costs. But it wouldn’t be very useful for Manitoba selling power westward into Alberta.

The pylons on the left are Bipole I and II, the electrical backbone for Manitoba. This is seen just west of Winnipeg. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Totally new rail would need to be built from Amery, near the Limestone Generating Station, along the originally planned (and abandoned) route to Port Nelson. A road would be necessary, too, to allow construction to take place, and for access to the port.

This plan does several things. You would avoid all the Canadian Shield construction through northern Saskatchewan and part of Manitoba. It is infinitely easier to build a pipeline through dirt than rock – and that comes from a former pipeliner. There’s also existing roads, too, for much of the route.

By doing it all within the provincial borders of Manitoba, they would be a provincially-regulated pipelines. However, the Impact Assessment Act (a.k.a. Bill C-69, the “No More Pipelines Bill”) would certainly come into play. Wapusk National Park covers all the territory between Churchill and just north of Port Nelson. The feds could play the same game it did in B.C. when Justin Trudeau first came to power and almost immediately killed the Northern Gateway Pipeline. The federal government could pull a Bill C-48 and implement a tanker ban, as it did off the northern B.C. coast. (“The Great Bear Rainforest is no place for a pipeline.” – Justin Trudeau, April 26, 2016)

The one advantage of going across the north would be next to zero private land ownership, meaning the whole process of land assembly could, theoretically, be easier and cheaper, so long as the First Nations along the way are on board. But they will almost certainly want a slice of the ownership stake, and profits, and certainly jobs, if are to go along. Otherwise, expect a tooth and nail fight similar to what several First Nations did in BC, much to the chagrin of those First Nations that did want TMX and Coastal GasLink built.

Toppled excavator. Photo courtesy Coastal GasLink

And then there’s the question of how much additional oil and gas would be available to export via Port Nelson. It’s not like we have a huge lineup of additional oilsands projects ready to go. The $20 billion Teck Frontier Project cancellation, again caused by the federal government, was an utter tragedy. And the additional capacity of the Trans Mountain Expansion (if it’s ever completed) will take a while to fill. Similarly, for natural gas, Coastal GasLink will gobble up a lot of production, too.

The only way I could see additional export capacity from a new port finding massive amounts of additional production would be if a change in federal government totally reversed its course on oil and gas development. Since the federal bureaucracy is so-enraptured with the climate change narrative, even if a strong Conservative majority came into place, I don’t think they’ll be able to change as much as they would like.

So we actually have two energy corridor possibilities – one across the north, but also one across Manitoba. Both would be similar length, but one could possibly be a lot easier to do.

And finally, if the NDP are elected in Manitoba, all bets are off. I’m told their leader seeks a centrist path. But the last time Manitoba had an NDP government, it took a year for their energy minister to bother to drive four hours beyond the Winnipeg Perimeter to see what a pumpjack and a pipeline looked like. So I wouldn’t hold my breath.

 

Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of PipelineOnline.ca. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@pipelineonline.ca.

Pipeline Online provides the in-depth coverage on energy issues in this province that no other media comes close to. It does NOT receive federal journalism subsidies, and it will NOT allow the federal government to limit its freedom of speech, as it is now moving to regulate podcasts. With recent action from Facebook to block news links, it’s important to follow Pipeline Online in other manners. The easiest is to check each morning at PipelineOnline.ca, with the top story posted at 7 a.m. Monday to Friday, and additional coverage throughout the day and weekend. But you can also follow on LinkedIn and Twitter. You can follow editor Brian Zinchuk online at LinkedIn as well (you’ll see more stories that way). You can subscribe to a weekly newsletter. And if you wish to advertise and support this journalism, call 306-461-5599.

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Saskatchewan will not meet Net Zero by 2035, but will aim for 2050

Where’s the video? A week later, BC RCMP releases two very short video clips of alleged assault on Coastal GasLink pipeline workers