Pipeline debates best fought at local level, Kinder Morgan president says

CALGARY – Ottawa did no favours for companies looking to build pipelines through B.C. by aggressively taking on opponents, the president of Kinder Morgan Canada said Wednesday.

Instead, he suggested that those debates are best fought at the local level.

“I was not a huge supporter of how actively the federal government was a year or two ago in promoting pipeline projects for its interests and taking on some of the opposers,” Ian Anderson told a Calgary business audience on Wednesday.

“I think that they have a role to play in setting regulations and policy, but don’t need them fanning the flames, I don’t need them making the grassroots opposition any worse than it might already be.”

Anderson heads up the Canadian division of Houston-based energy giant Kinder Morgan, which operates a 300,000-barrel-per-day pipeline through B.C. that is currently the only outlet for Alberta crude to get to the West Coast.

He made his remarks as his company plans to nearly triple the size of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which runs from the Edmonton area to the B.C. lower mainland. Anderson is the public face of that proposal, and figures he spends about 40 per cent of his time travelling around B.C. hearing the concerns of communities along the route.

Kinder Morgan aims to file a regulatory application for the project around mid-December, Anderson said.

Fiery remarks, such as Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s attack a few years ago on “foreign radicals” taking part in regulatory reviews, haven’t necessary harmed the case for pipelines, such as Trans Mountain, Anderson said.

“But it certainly annoyed a number of groups who felt they were being cast in a general statement and I think we’ve seen our way through that.”

Anderson said he’s noticed a change in Ottawa’s tone and praised efforts it has made when it comes to environmental protection and First Nations consultation.

At the provincial level, Anderson said he’s encouraged by upcoming discussions between Alberta Premier Alison Redford and her B.C. counterpart Christy Clark about what conditions need to be in place for energy export projects to go ahead.

Many of Anderson’s conversations are at the municipal level. And it’s not always easy. For example, he says, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has refused to meet with him to discuss concerns over the Trans Mountain pipeline.

The pipeline ends further east, in Burnaby, but Vancouver has concerns about increased tanker traffic through the Burrard Inlet and air quality.

Other municipalities have been more receptive, he noted.

“All politics are local. All benefits are local. All issues are local. We can talk all we want about the national good,” said Anderson.

“That’s all well and good and that gets you through the first five minutes of the conversation.”

On Wednesday, Greenpeace protesters chained themselves to Kinder Morgan’s storage facility in an attempt to stop oil shipments from getting out. But there weren’t any vessels scheduled to be at the facility at the time, so the protest did little to disrupt Kinder Morgan’s business.

While Ottawa has been less vocal on West Coast pipelines lately, it has been actively pushing the case for Keystone XL — a TransCanada Corp. proposal to connect oilsands crude to Texas refineries — south of the border.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper used strong language in remarks to a business audience in New York last month, saying Keystone XL supporters shouldn’t “take no for an answer.”

“I think the Canadian government has done a very good job of getting the facts out on the table,” Alex Pourbaix, TransCanada’s president of energy and oil pipelines, told reporters.

He said a long-awaited U.S. government decision on the controversial project could come during the first-quarter of 2014, as legislators on both sides of the aisle don’t want to push it too close to the midterm elections.

The ongoing government shutdown hasn’t affected timelines — yet, he said.

“It does appear a lot of the work is still getting done in the various agencies in D.C.,” he said.