The Keystone Pipeline

The National Energy Board is holding hearings into the proposal to ship Alberta tar sands bitumen to the US for further refining – something of a reductio ad absurdum in terms of resource-led development. Fred Wilson from CEP is writing  a daily blog from the hearings where his union, the Parkland Institute and other Alberta progressives are intervenors. If you want to get it, email him at


Keystone Blog

By Fred Wilson

Calgary – June 5, 07

Day 2 of the Keystone Pipeline hearings before Canada’s National Energy Board was another day determining the “R” Factor. Are the questions put by labour to the Keystone proponents “quintessentially irrelevant”, as they were arrogantly dismissed by Kemm Yates, Keystone’s Counsel, who interrupted the Alberta Federation of Labour questioning of the pipeline company. Or maybe after 4 hours of cross examining Keystone’s proposal, the ‘free market” mantras offered up as answers to the questions will turn out to less relevant than the issues raised by the pipeline critics.

The day began with the decision by the Board to rule against the CEP and the Alberta Federation of Labour’s motion to subpoena oil companies to give evidence on what they intend to ship down the pipeline to American upgraders and refiners. Carefully leaving the “R” word (relevancy) out of its decision, the panel chair Gaétan Caron told the CEP that the information they need can be secured without summoning the oil companies to the hearings.

So just what will go down the Keystone pipe, the AFL’s Leanne Chahley asked the officials of Keystone/TransCanada Pipeline. Everything from heavy oil to synthetic crude oil, answered TCPL vice president Gordon Jones. And how much of that would be bitumen mixed with diluents or oil as a “heavy blend”, and how much would be upgraded to higher grades? There were no answers forthcoming here – Keystone contracts for “volumes”, not products, was the answer. According to Jones, 100% of the volume could be bitumen; but that is not his concern.

It was gleaned that 340,000 bpd of the 435,000 bpd capacity is already contracted, notably to Conoco Phillips which makes no secret of its intention to send heavy blends for upgrading in Illinois.

Most of the day turned to a cross examination of Keystone’s opening statement that attempted to set out a context for the proceedings around the “R” factor. “Keystone’s position has been that the evidence of CEP, AFL, Parkland and Laxeri is irrelevant to the matters to be determined by the Board in this proceeding,” said Jones’ statement, “… because they have already been determined by government policy.” “We are not here to change government policy,” Jones emphasized.

That was substantially unravelled by CEP lawyer Steven Shrybman who took Keystone’s spokesmen through a detailed account of various provincial and federal policies, including the “energy vision” of the Province of Alberta to “optimize” the benefits of its energy resources, or that province’s “hydrocarbon upgrading task force” and the mandate of the National Energy Board. Not least, the 1985 “Western Accord” which deregulated pricing explicitly left supply management and energy security in government hands. Nowhere in any of these government policy documents are “free markets” the determining factor. “What part, then, of CEP’s, AFL’s, Parkland’s or Gordon Laxer’s evidence is irrelevant to these proceedings?” asked Shrybman. That question was left hanging ominously over the Keystone case. Indeed, Shrybman’s assertion that CEP and the AFL were reflecting government policy better than Keystone put a very different frame on the “R” factor.

Soundbite of the day: “I’m just a trucker. I move oil.” Keystone TCPL vice president Gordon Jones on why he couldn’t answer what the impact of the pipeline would be on upstream and downstream jobs in Alberta.

If these proceedings are definitely not irrelevant to you and want to hear for yourself the unfolding of the public interest, the NEB webcasts the proceedings at

Policy wonks can get the transcripts from

When you get there, navigate to the Keystone hearing.

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