TORONTO -- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has once again approved the contentious Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that would nearly triple the flow of oil from the Alberta oil sands to the Pacific Coast.
The approval Tuesday comes 10 months after the Federal Court of Appeal halted the project and ordered Canada's National Energy Board to redo its review of the pipeline, saying the original study was flawed and lacked adequate consultations with First Nations peoples.
Trudeau's government first approved it in 2016 and he was so determined to see it built the government bought the pipeline.
The pipeline expansion would triple the capacity of an existing line to ship oil extracted from the oil sands in Alberta across the snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies. It would end at a terminal outside Vancouver, resulting in a seven-fold increase in the number of tankers in the shared waters between Canada and Washington state.
It is projected to lead to a tanker traffic balloon from about 60 to more than 400 vessels annually as the pipeline flow increases from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day.
Officials expect construction to start this year, but it faces stiff environmental opposition from the British Columbia government and from activists.
"The company plans to have shovels in the ground this construction season," Trudeau said.
The pipeline would allow Canada to diversify oil markets and vastly increase exports to Asia, where it could command a higher price. Canada has the world's third largest oil reserves, but 99 percent of its exports now go to refiners in the U.S., where limits on pipeline and refinery capacity mean Canadian oil sells at a discount.
"It's really simple. Right now, we basically have one customer for our energy resources, the United States. As we've seen over the past few years anything can happen with our neighbors to the south," Trudeau said.
Trudeau said every dollar Canada earns from the project will be invested in clean energy.
The decision is a blow for indigenous leaders and environmentalists, who have pledged to do whatever necessary to thwart the pipeline, including chaining themselves to construction equipment.
Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee is an opponent of the project.
Many indigenous people see the 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) of new pipeline as a threat to their lands, echoing concerns raised by Native Americans about the Keystone XL project in the U.S. Many in Canada say it also raises broader environmental concerns by enabling increased development of the carbon-heavy oil sands.
New Alberta conservative Premier Jason Kenney said his government appreciates the second federal cabinet approval of the project.
"We need to get a fair price for our country's energy to create good jobs & pay for public services," Kenney tweeted. "Approval is not construction. So now let's get it built!"
Analysts have said China is eager to get access to Canada's oil, but largely gave up hope that a pipeline to the Pacific Coast would be built.
Tulalip Tribes Chairwoman Teri Gobin issued the following statement Wednesday:
"Our treaty rights include the right to access all species of fish and shellfish, including all salmon species, halibut, crab, geoduck, and shrimp. Right now, treaty resources are already depleted because of habitat impacts and vessel traffic in the Salish Sea. All of these impacts are only what exists today, and they will only increase as a result of this pipeline expansion, which will greatly increase the amount of oil shipped through the Salish Sea. More ships will mean greater danger to our tribal fishermen, and more risk of damage to gear and catch. And these significant impacts pale in comparison to the devastation that will result from a possible oil spill in the Salish Sea. This pipeline will greatly increase the amount of fossil fuels in the Salish Sea at a time when the fish, the killer whales, and other species are already struggling. This also increases the likelihood of a major oil spill in the Salish Sea. The consequences of this kind of a spill would be unspeakable – it would affect marine life and shellfish for decades to came. Frankly, it would have the potential to put an end to our Coast Salish lifeways. Without access to health fish, clams, and wildlife, our cultural and spiritual practices could not continue."
A Lummi Nation spokesperson issued this statement:
Lummi has opposed TMX, and continues to stand strong with other Tribal and First Nations against the project. We have called for a moratorium on ALL projects that would adversely impact the Salish Sea and the Lummi People as part of our newly launched Salish Sea Campaign.