Feb 19, 2022
Taxpayers 'on the hook' if Trans Mountain expansion goes wrong
Selling Trans Mountain will be 'complicated': Expert
Former Canadian energy executives aren’t convinced Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals can stick the landing when it comes to the spiraling cost of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
The federal government announced Friday that Ottawa would not sink another red cent into the massive expansion project, which would nearly triple daily capacity to 890,000 barrels per day, and outlined plans to rope in third-parties for financing through debt markets or other avenues.
The expansion is now expected to cost $21.4 billion, up from the previous estimate of $12.6 billion, and pushes the completion date out to the third quarter of 2023. Ottawa said it would turn to third-party debt financing or other sources of funds to complete the project.
That approach didn’t sit well with Gwyn Morgan, the former chief executive officer of Encana Corp., which is now Ovintiv Inc. In an email to BNN Bloomberg, Morgan said the risk to taxpayers was too high for the Feds to proceed on their current course.
“In the commercial (real) world, no one’s going to finance a project running vastly over budget, with no firm remaining cost or start-up date,” he said.
”So the only way for the Feds to ‘not spend another penny on it’ would be to provide a full guarantee. Either way, taxpayers are on the hook.”
Morgan also argued the higher capital costs of the pipeline could render it uneconomical for shippers, once the federal government is able to find a buyer for the project it bought for $4.5 billion back in 2018, barring a deal to backstop a buyer.
“It’s doubtful shippers would pay the new owner the hugely increased tolls needed to get a return on their investment,” he said.
Canada’s pipeline problems are nothing new. From the Keystone XL Pipeline debacle to the Mackenzie Valley project of decades past, there’s a rich history of pipelines hitting terminal hurdles during the construction process.
Hal Kvisle, the former chief executive officer of TransCanada, which is now TC Energy Corp., has seen his fair share of those setbacks. In an email to BNN Bloomberg, Kvisle said Canada’s regulatory environment was prohibitive to the private sector taking on the kind of risk of something like the Trans Mountain expansion.
“No pipeline company would be prepared to buy the TMX project and build it: the regulatory, social and political hurdles identified by Kinder were pretty obvious to anyone with expertise in pipeline construction,” he said.
“Apart from pipes built wholly within Alberta, it is pretty much impossible to navigate the regulatory, Indigenous, environmental activist and political challenges of building even the most sensible pipes in Canada. Given that, the only way to get a pipeline to the Pacific would be if the federal or provincial governments would take it on.”