rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will result in losses on oil exports, scientist finds

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Well-known earth scientist David Hughes. Image: David J. Climenhaga

Earth scientist David Hughes has become well known in certain circles as the Cassandra of the oilpatch.

Cassandra, as the classically educated will recall, was the priestess of Apollo cursed to foretell the truth and never persuade anyone. A figure of Greek myth, and a walk-on part with a few lines in Shakespeare, everyone thought she was nuts.

Back in 2016, when Alberta's New Democrats were changing before our eyes into another centre-right conservative party dedicated to fighting for pipelines, Hughes published a study that concluded there was no way Canada could meet its global climate commitments if it kept building new export pipelines and ramping up oil extraction.

This seems pretty obvious, but at the time everyone who was anyone in Alberta acted like he was nuts.

Hughes also predicted that "new pipelines with tidewater access will not significantly increase the price Canada receives for its oil."

This also seemed obvious to anyone who paid any attention to economics. But it challenged one of the political orthodoxies of the era, that building pipelines to tidewater and shipping ever increasing amounts of Alberta bitumen to Asia would magically repeal the iron law of supply and demand.

The belief that pipelines could defy economic gravity and overcome low world oil prices helped Jason Kenney's United Conservative Party get elected and still holds sway in Alberta. Nowadays, it fuels the nutty Wexit movement as well as Kenney's UCP.

Well, there's been a lot of oil under the bridge since 2016. It's 2020, oil prices are still in the bargain basement, and Kenney's promises he could restore the "Alberta advantage" are ashes in his mouth. And ours.

Hughes has now taken a look at the new realities of a world where supply outpaces demand, alternative energy sources are on the rise, global climate change is widely acknowledged, and a pandemic is suppressing demand even more, and he has reached new conclusions.

He isn't predicting any more that pipelines with tidewater access will not significantly increase the price Canadian oil fetches.

No, he said in a report published yesterday by the Corporate Mapping Project, it will probably make them even lower.

Specifically, he concluded that if the Trans Mountain expansion project (TMX) is completed, it will result in a loss of at least US$4 per barrel shipped to Asia by that route.

"Adding the difference in transportation cost to the discount in price selling to Asia compared to the U.S., and the netback loss per barrel to Canadian producers by selling heavy oil to Asia is US$4 to US$6 per barrel or more," he said.

"Very little heavy oil on the existing Trans Mountain pipeline is transported to Asia," he added. "Instead, seaborne shipments go primarily to the West Coast of the U.S., which confirms the fact that there is no bonanza for shippers in Asia."

So that isn't likely to change even if the TMX is completed.

"Announced expansions of existing pipelines including the Enbridge Mainline, along with completion of Enbridge's Line 3 in 2021, will create more than enough pipeline export capacity for Canadian oil producers through 2030, and through 2040 and beyond if some of Western Canada's rail capacity is used," Hughes added.

TMX will also further exacerbate Canada's problem reducing emissions by encouraging additional oil production growth, he noted.

None of this is actually breakthrough stuff, any more than it was four years ago. In fact, it's pretty ho-hum as conclusions about how things work go, although it's nice to have the numbers crunched.

Just the same, it will probably prompt some fury in UCP circles, and, like most of Cassandra's predictions, be ignored everywhere else in this country.

Cassandra, they say, accurately foretold the fall of Troy. "Cry, Trojans, cry! lend me ten thousand eyes, And I will fill them with prophetic tears," Shakespeare had her say. Nobody paid any attention.

That old stuff has nothing to do with us Albertans, of course.

Hughes' "Reassessment of Need for the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project" was released yesterday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' B.C. office on behalf of the Corporate Mapping Project.

The CMP is jointly led by the University of Victoria, the CCPA and the Edmonton-based Parkland Institute. It is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image: David J. Climenhaga

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.