Canadian Manufacturing

Kinder Morgan CEO says recent events confirm Trans Mountain may be ‘untenable’

by Ian Bickis, The Canadian Press   

Canadian Manufacturing
Manufacturing Regulation Energy Oil & Gas

Steve Kean used defeatist language in a recent conference call, saying the pipeline project is hampered by differences between governments that his firm cannot resolve

The $7.4-billion project, which would triple the capacity of the existing Trans Mountain line from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C., has been held up by a political dogfight that is making Kinder Morgan execs and investors squeamish. PHOTO: Kinder Morgan

CALGARY—The CEO of Kinder Morgan says events in recent days have reinforced his concerns about the viability of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion project.

“It’s become clear this particular investment may be untenable for a private party to undertake. The events of the last 10 days have confirmed those views,” Steve Kean said on a conference call Wednesday.

“We’ve pointed out there are significant differences between governments, and those differences are outside of our ability to resolve.”

Earlier Wednesday, B.C. Premier John Horgan’s government announced it will file by the end of April a long-promised court reference to clarify questions around provincial authority over such inter-jurisdictional megaprojects.


In Edmonton, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said her office was told by Kinder Morgan that Kean’s comments were directly tied to B.C.s court reference announcement and that the company’s broad commitment to the project remains unchanged.

“The message we’re getting back is that they (Kinder Morgan) are pleased with the high level of engagement that is happening between both us and the federal government,” said Notley.

Kinder Morgan, in a statement issued late Wednesday, echoed Notley’s comments, saying: “We are actively engaged with the federal and Alberta provincial governments and those conversations will continue in good faith. Nothing has changed in that regard.”

The company is caught in the middle of a political feud among Alberta, B.C. and the federal government over the $7.4-billion project, which would triple the capacity of the existing line from Alberta to Burnaby to get more oil to overseas markets and fetch a better price.

Related: Alberta escalates Trans Mountain oil feud, Saskatchewan joins fray

The project was approved by the federal government in 2016, but has since faced court challenges and permit delays in B.C. Horgan’s government says it still has concerns over the impact of the expansion on the potential for oil spills on its waterways and coastline.

Kinder Morgan announced April 8 it was scaling back construction, citing obstruction by B.C. that put the financial viability of the pipeline in question. It gave a deadline of May 31 for a clear signal the project can get built.

In the last 10 days Horgan and Notley have met in Ottawa with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Trudeau has said Ottawa will join talks with Alberta and Kinder Morgan to work a financing arrangement to ensure the project gets built.

Notley, meanwhile, is facing criticism from political opponents for announcing last week that if necessary, Alberta will buy the whole project.

United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney said Notley has given away Alberta’s bargaining leverage with Kinder Morgan.

“I’d love to play poker with Premier Notley based on how she’s mishandled this whole thing,” said Kenney.

Alberta Party house leader Greg Clark added, “The premier was saying things for the sake of a headline where the thing to do would have been to play the cards close to the vest.

“It’s very poor negotiations.”

Also this week, Notley has introduced legislation giving her government the power to intervene in the market to limit shipments of oil and natural gas, which could inflict financial hardship on B.C. by sending the price of gasoline soaring.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has said his government will bring in a similar law to stand by Alberta to get the pipeline built.

Kean confirmed on the call that discussions with Ottawa and Alberta have begun on the finances, but said he was not going to make any details public until a definite agreement has been reached or the discussions have ended.

He said the company also continues to meet with stakeholders ahead of the May 31 deadline, and is looking for a way forward for the project.

Kean said investment questions around the Trans Mountain pipeline shouldn’t be taken as a wider comment on investing in Canada.

“We have invested in Canada and British Columbia, as well as Alberta, and we expect to continue investing,” he said.

—With files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton


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