I was enthralled with a recent series of news stories the National Post ran called Arrested Development. The four-month effort looked into 35 various projects worth $129 billion that have been stalled by red tape or resistance to the point where many have simply died off. Others wait in limbo, and each day, their likelihood of completion diminishes.
These pieces coincided precisely with a premise I’ve maintained for years – we’ve become a nation of it can’t be done. We’re now Can’tada.
One piece in particular struck home, because it played a direct part in my life. I was at my prime in 2000 at the end of the massive Alliance pipeline project. That megaproject from Fort St. John, B.C., to Chicago, and was of a similar scale of the original proposal for the Keystone XL pipeline. I was 25 years old, and while I had flunked out of university and was unsuccessful in getting my virtual reality training simulator project off the ground, I was in great physical shape, and on my way to getting a trade as an excavator operator. I recall our union boss talking about how it was important to get your training, boys, because when that Mackenzie Valley pipeline goes, it’ll take every pipeliner in Canada to build it and several years to get it done.
Given we had bought a house for only $118,000 in 2001, and that I had made more money on the Alliance job than I could have ever dreamed, it was not unrealistic for me to calculate I could have paid off my mortgage on that one Mackenzie Valley job – or at least put a very, very large dent into it.
So I took my training. The union local, flush with cash following several years of big projects for TransCanada, Enbridge and Alliance, set up its own training school called Operating Engineers Training Institute of Saskatchewan (OETIS) for precisely this purpose. I was in its first series of classes, then its second, earning my second year (of two) apprenticeship card for pipeline equipment operator (excavator). I was doing small pipeline projects and working for local contractors when they had work. I figured I was ready to “break out” as an excavator operator by the time the Mackenzie Valley pipeline project would go.
Any day now, we thought. It was already 2003, and the union boss expected, back in 2000, that it would go ahead the next year or two.
Any day now.
So I waited and waited, paying union dues while doing other work, with the expectation that this project would happen. In 2003 I was offered a job in the newspaper business, with the Battlefords News-Optimist. For the first few years in the back of my mind I expected I might end up back on the pipeline – this pipeline, any day now.
The delays went on and on. I had taken a 50 per cent pay cut by giving up pipeline work, but at least I was working. Eventually, I took a withdrawal card from the union, and stopped paying dues.
The pipeline was finally approved in 2010, by which time I had long moved on with my life – now working as editor of, ironically enough, Pipeline News. But the world had changed. A few years before, natural gas was selling for $10 a gigajoule, and Mackenzie Valley promised a bonanza. But the horizontal, multi-stage fracking technique overtook the gas business, developing tremendous gas resources in the American northeast. Suddenly, gas dropped to $2 to $3 a gigajoule, and stayed there. The opportunity for Mackenzie Valley had been lost, for everyone involved.
As the National Post pointed out, Inuvik, the originating point of the pipeline, lost out tremendously. The pipeline, proposed first in the 1970s, is now likely never going to happen. Billions of dollars that could have flowed into the northern economy if that pipeline had been built are now gone.
In my case, the house did not get paid off. If the project had gone ahead, followed by Keystone XL, Northern Gateway and then Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion, maybe I would be digging ditches today instead of writing newspapers.
But this is just one example. Be it Northern Gateway, Keystone XL, Ontario’s Ring of Fire, countless mine projects, gas development in New Brunswick and Quebec – all of these things have been stalled, or killed, cutting off countless billions in economic activity that would last generations. Billions would have flowed into the economy, and into government coffers by way of taxes and royalties. We fought world wars in less time than many of these projects have been studied.
This is where I’m curious to see what Donald Trump will accomplish in the next four years. His basic philosophy is to hell with that, get it done, now. Enough with the B.S.
On so many levels, we need that cutting through the B.S. here.
Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at email@example.com.