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Social licence and political dispute

Production and pipeline transportation of oilsands bitumen will never be accepted as legitimate by active, committed and doctrinaire climate change environmentalists.

Production and pipeline transportation of oilsands bitumen will never be accepted as legitimate by active, committed and doctrinaire climate change environmentalists.

These opponents will never agree to the construction and commissioning of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion because the additional 590,000-barrels-per-day capacity on the system from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C. would transport only oilsands production.

Forget social licence – the acceptance of the operation of the pipeline as legitimate, credible and trustworthy.

This is politics – the power of one group of people to control another group.

This political dispute will be won by the side – oil and pipeline companies or activists – who gain the higher ground with the two authorities that will ultimately make the determining decisions, namely the federal and British Columbia governments.

Never mind that regulatory law is being broken by B.C. Never mind that a rogue premier is defying constitutionally-protected federal jurisdiction.

This will remain the state of play unless the federal government steps in to enforce its jurisdiction and the law.

Alberta, the government with the most to lose and the most to gain in the outcome, doesn't make the decisions that will make or break the project. Never mind that Alberta's robust fossil fuel carbon emission reduction program is far superior to that of the self-appointed environmental saints on the west side of the Rockies.

There has been a 180-degree change in oil politics in Canada since construction began on Trans Mountain in 1951 at the beginning of the oil era in Alberta and the dynamic decade of the 1950s.

The impetus to build the Trans Mountain Pipeline came with the Korean War, when the U.S. Navy wanted to have secure fuel supplies for its ships refined on the West Coast rather than transported by tanker from refineries in Louisiana and Texas through the Panama Canal.

The exploration for oil in Alberta was so successful that when Trans Mountain began to operate in October 1953 it carried less crude oil than the amount available and needed. So it was twinned in 1957 to double its capacity from 150,000 to 300,000 barrels per day.

The first line is now used to ship alternating batches of heavy crude oil, light crude and refined products such as aircraft fuel and automobile gasoline.

The Burnaby refinery is now owned by an Alberta company, Parkland Fuels Corporation, founded in 1957 in Red Deer when Jack and Joan Donald bought a Lacombe feedlot, Parkland Beef, and repurposed it as an oil refiner and distributor, buying the former White Rose refinery in Bowden and establishing the Fas Gas chain of service stations.

Beginning in the 1980s, successive Alberta governments have been more aggressive about emission reductions than any other government in Canada – and Alberta has often lagged behind oil producers in the quest for cleaner fossil fuel production.

According to the most recent polling data, Trans Mountain has a social licence from the majority of British Columbians to proceed with the pipeline expansion project.

Premier John Horgan has lost this issue by the numbers.

He is now abusing democracy to satisfy a minority of doctrinaire climate change environmentalists.

- Frank Dabbs is a veteran political and business journalist and author.