Hicks on Biz: It's not entirely the Trudeau government's fault that TransCanada decided to kill Energy East BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: TUESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2017
Whoa! Lay off the emotional over-kill! Of course Justin Trudeau's Quebec-lovin'government had a hand in TransCanada Corporation's decision to cancel its battered Energy East pipeline plan, deliberately throwing too many hoops into the approval process.
But TransCanada's decision, no matter what, is mostly about business.
The oilsands have dramatically lowered future growth predictions, thanks to cancelled projects, thanks to low oil prices.
And TransCanada's other huge pipeline project, the Keystone XL, is going ahead. The previous American president nixed it, the new president approved it.
Between Keystone XL, Enbridge's Line 3 and Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, enough new pipeline is coming up to handle the oilsands'slower growth without Energy East.
So who needs Energy East ... at least at this point? (Hold that thought ... AT THIS POINT.)
To build new pipelines, pipeline companies go to oil producers and "pre-sell" oil transport space. U of A oil economist Andrew Leach says TransCanada is finding it tough to pre-sell space on the Keystone XL pipeline, let alone finding advance bookings to fill up a future Energy East pipeline as well.
Energy East looked great in theory. TransCanada would convert existing natural gas pipelines - that run from Alberta to Toronto and Montreal - to oil. Half the Alberta oil would replace currently imported oil, mostly from the U.S. but also from Nigeria, Libya and Saudi Arabia.
The other half would keep going, past Montreal in a new pipeline to Saint John, New Brunswick, where it could be refined to regular crude, then shipped to Europe to be sold at premium international oil prices.
But ... AT THIS POINT ... there's not enough oil around to fill both Keystone XL and Energy East.
Keystone is approved, Energy East isn't. Which do you dump? TransCanada also has to think long term.
If renewable energy actually becomes competitive, demand for oil could, over the next few decades, flatten and then drop by 1% a year. Why build a pipeline if less and less oil will flow through it? Of course politics come into play. The federal Liberals need to keep their Quebec seats. Montreal and other Quebec communities, for illogical safety reasons, oppose a new pipeline.
So the Trudeau government makes the approval process so difficult as to get TransCanada to drop the whole thing. Stuff pepper up TransCanada's nose, then act surprised when it sneezes.
Those who see the Energy East cancellation as pure politics suggest Energy East shouldn't cost that much to build. Most of the pipe is in the ground and needs but minor modification to carry oil.
The estimated cost of piping oil from Alberta to Ontario, Quebec and points east - about $7 US a barrel - is not prohibitively expensive. It costs about the same to transport oil by pipeline from the oilsands to refineries in Texas and Louisiana. It's about the same distance.
TransCanada's CEO Russ Girling had to factor in anti-pipeline sentiment in Eastern Canada that, aided by the Trudeau government, could have led to nonapproval of the project.
But this decision was still 90% about the numbers, 10% about the politics.
TransCanada's Girling hasn't said a word in public, hasn't vented his frustration, hasn't criticized any governments.
TransCanada may be putting Energy East on the shelf until political winds, public sentiment, and oil prices shift.
TransCanada could be looking at other ways of shipping Alberta's heavy oil to tidewater - moving Fort McMurray oil northwest to flow into the under-utilized Alaska pipeline, shipping oil in small tankers from Thunder Bay through the Great Lakes ... Maybe TransCanada decides the fossil fuel future is just too uncertain. Maybe it moves away from transporting fossil fuels to other, less-confrontational and more sustainable energy projects? No matter what, Energy East is toast for now ... at least until the price of oil recovers and production ramps up in the oilsands.