Construction near Moosomin in 1997 of the pipeline that was supposed to eventually become the Energy East pipeline. Of the 4600 kilometres for the whole route, 3000 are already in the ground, as seen here. Photo by Brian Zinchuk, who was a worker on the project

Move quick, get it done

There was a poll put out on March 11 by Mainstreet Research suggesting the Conservatives under Pierre Poilievre could nearly wipe the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois off the map, bringing in a massive majority.

If anything close to that becomes a reality, and with a nod to counting chickens before eggs hatching, it would be a blowout of unbelievable proportions.

However, as Jordan Peterson has frequently warned, the new Poilievre government will be hung with all the baggage of the Trudeau government, overwhelming debt and deficit being the largest burdens, and could very well be a one-term government. That’s one of Peterson’s biggest fears.

That reminds me of a conversation I had a couple years ago with former Saskatchewan Premier Grant Devine. I was doing a series of stories on Devine’s heavy oil upgraders, the NewGrade Upgrader in Regina and the Bi-Provincial Upgrader in Lloydminster, and how they formed the cornerstone of a substantial portion of Saskatchewan’s economy today.

Devine, too, swept in with a massive majority after years of socialist government. But he did not think he had a lot of time to get things done.

In this story, Devine’s Upgraders, Part 2: Grant Devine’s motivation to build upgraders while they had the chance,  I asked if he had thought of pulling the plug on the two upgrader projects at any point. Devine said, “We were elected in really difficult times. Interest rates when I was elected were 22 per cent. And we thought, we got elected we got a big majority. We’re gonna go hard, despite drought and 22 per cent interest rates and all the other things that were hitting people.

“And so we said, ‘We’ll probably only get four years, so we’re just gonna go to beat the band. And we’re going to build. And my objective, as a PhD economist, was we’ve got to start adding value. And we’ve got to get into these things, regardless of the times.”

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That conversation is ringing in my ears today. If the federal Conservatives really want to right this sinking Canadian ship, they’re going to have to move quickly, as Devine did. Whatever your criticisms of the Devine administration, the long term has shown moving on those upgraders had a profound impact on Saskatchewan’s economy decades later.

It seems that even with the Trans Mountain Expansion’s eventual completion, supposedly in a few months (I’m not holding my breath), growing Canadian oil production could soon max out export capacity as early as 2026, according to Enbridge. And no one’s talking about any more major export pipelines these days.

So what could a newly empowered government with a massive majority do? Here’s a novel idea: Call up TC Energy and ask them to dust off their 2014 application to build the Energy East Pipeline. We’re going to need it.

 

TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline application. It was 38,885 pages for one complete “consolidated” copy of the project’s regulatory application. Image courtesy of The National Energy Board

That application, the hard copy of which filled pallets worth of bankers boxes when it was submitted, needs to be updated and processed forthwith.

The reality is that most of the pipe is already in the ground, and has been from Day 1. I personally worked on portions of it near Moosomin, Sask., in 1997.

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Only two new portions of new pipe needed were needed. The first was from Hardisty to Empress, Alberta, joining the existing TC Energy mainline at its kickoff point. The second was from the eastern end of Ontario, through Quebec and New Brunswick to the port and refinery at Saint John. All the middle part? Around two-thirds is already in the ground, repurposing an existing pipeline in the underused mainline system. It just needs gas compressor stations to be converted to oil pumping stations.

And the Alberta portion that was needed is also now in the ground. Remember when Donald Trump approved TC Energy’s Keystone XL pipeline a few days after taking office? The Alberta government bought into the project when things were looking bleak and paid for the construction of Keystone XL from Hardisty to Empress. That pipe, and its compressor stations, is already built, even though the remaining portion from there to Steele City, Nebraska was killed by a Montana judge and then by President Biden in his first minutes in office.

Does anyone else think that maybe, just maybe, the Alberta government paid for that portion to be built so that if Keystone XL didn’t go ahead, it could still be used for a revived Energy East?

Pipelines do not need to take six years to build, or need to go 6x plus over budget, like the Trans Mountain project did under federal ownership. I was on a crew that built the Alliance Pipeline from Fort St. John, B.C. to Chicago in about 16 months from 1999-2000. It can be done, if you get rid of all the stupidity that Trans Mountain entailed.

The problem is the Irvings, who appear to have had with the current federal government’s never-ending strangulation of the industry, are looking to unload their oil business out east. You need either them on board, or whoever buys them out. Maybe the enticement of actually building that pipeline would keep them around?

The promise of Energy East, which was supposed to have been in operation by December, 2018, is that it would displace imported oil with Western Canadian oil, and allow us an export terminal on the East Coast.

A massive majority could allow the Conservatives to do this – but as Devine said, we’ve gotta go hard.

 

Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of Pipeline Online, and occasional contributor to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@pipelineonline.ca

 

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