The contested assetization of pipelines in Canada

February 22, 2023 by Kiran Champatsingh

Professor Kate J. Neville published Financing energy futures: the contested assetization of pipelines in Canada in the Review of International Political Economy. An excerpt from the paper is below.

In July 2006, to a room of British investors, then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared Canada an emerging energy superpower, referencing Alberta’s ‘ocean of oil-soaked sand’ (CitationTaber, 2006). The ‘oil sands’ or ‘tar sands’ describe a key form of unconventional oil: the bituminous sands from northern Alberta.1 An ‘energy infrastructure super-cycle,’ as described by former senior federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice (at the time, vice-chair of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce [CIBC]) (Cattaneo, Citation2011), ensued from Harper’s bold claim. In the frenzy of development that both preceded and followed that pronouncement, a series of pipelines—some already under consideration—were proposed to transport this bitumen to refineries and markets within and beyond Canada. Among them were Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipelines project (NGP), Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX), and the transboundary Keystone XL (KXL). Both the NGP and TMX projects involved plans for over a thousand kilometers of new pipeline to move heavy oil (diluted bitumen) from the oil sands through British Columbia to coastal waters to reach anticipated export markets. The industry initially framed the KXL as a more efficient route to the Gulf Coast in the southern United States, calling it a ‘bullet pipeline’.2 From the outset of all these projects, opponents countered that the pipelines were not needed for current extraction, that they would lock in carbon emissions for decades, and that they represented further entrenchment of the fossil fuel industry.

Read the paper.