Pipelines in Canada: Keystone XL, Line 3, Coastal Gasline & TMX

Currently, there are an estimated 840,000 km of pipelines in Canada and the National Energy Board regulates about 73,000 km (1). These pipelines are generally underground and transport both major crude oil and natural gas pipelines (1). Pipelines are often cited as a safest way to transport oil and gas (2). With that being said, they are associated with significant negative impacts on the environment especially with failures that lead to spills (2). Most importantly, the current climate crisis has been caused by fossil fuel emissions and building new fossil fuel infrastructure does not contribute in any way to the solution to address global warming. There are four proposed pipeline projects in Canada right now: Keystone XL, Enbridge’s Line 3 Replacement, Coastal GasLink and Transmountain Expansion.

1. Keystone XL

The Keystone XL pipeline is a proposed 1,947 km pipeline that would travel from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska (3). It would potentially deliver 830,000 barrels per day of crude oil to the U.S Gulf Coast refineries (3). It would be an extension of the existing Keystone Pipeline System which already transports oil from Canada to the US (4). Construction of the pipeline had begun in 2020 with the completion of the border crossing between Montana and Saskatchewan as well as 145 km of pipeline in Alberta (3). TC Energy, formerly TransCanada, is the company that is building the pipeline (5). The pipeline was originally rejected by President Obama in 2015, approved at the start of President Trump’s presidency and then rejected again by President Biden in late January 2021 (2). Prime Minister Trudeau has maintained that this pipeline is a key priority and the province of Alberta is an investor in the project (2).

There are concerns about the pipeline’s impact on wildlife as the route would span across the endangered whooping cranes’ southern migration route from Canada to Texas (4). The pipeline would cross over 50 streams and the habitats of piping plovers, sage grouse and swift fox, all threatened species (4). To learn more, read this scientific article titled “Statistical analysis of environmental consequences of hazardous liquid pipeline accidents”.

Taken from: BBC News - Keystone XL pipeline: Why is it so disputed? (6)

2. Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement

The Line 3 replacement would expand on the former Line 3 Segment Replacement Program, which includes segments between Hardisty, Alberta, and Gretna Manitoba, ending in Superior, Wisconsin (7). The new pipeline would replace 1,067 km of old pipeline on the Canadian side and transport 760,000 barrels of oil per day (8). The old pipeline, built in 1961, has severe corrosion and there are no plans for Enbridge to recuperate the pipes, so it will stay in the ground forever (9). The Canadian portion is complete but there have been delays in Minnesota (10).

The territories of treaties 1, 2, 4, 6 and 7 are crossed by Line 3 and 90% of the line is built on private land (11). Line 3 violates the treaty rights of Anishinaabe peoples and travels across numerous watersheds (9). The amount of tar sands crude oil carried by Line 3 would be equivalent to the carbon pollution of 50 coal plants in the atmosphere (9). Furthermore, Enbridge’s pipelines are responsible for 73 spills since 2002 using equipment that had been installed less than 10 years prior (9). On March 8 2021, over 350 groups sent a letter to President Joe Biden advocating for the cessation of constructions of Line 3 (9). The letter stated that the Line 3 replacement would add the same emissions of 50 coal-fired power plants (9).

Taken from: Canada Energy Regulator - Enbridge Pipelines Inc. - Line 3 Replacement Program (12)

3. Coastal GasLink

The Coastal GasLink pipeline project would span around 670 km and carry natural gas from Dawson Creek, BC to Kitimat BC (13). If completed, the pipeline will cross 622 rivers, creeks, streams and lakes (14). As of February 5th 2021, over 140km of pipeline has been laid even after construction was stopped in early 2020 due to opposition from the Wet’suwet’en territory (14). Although 20 elected band councils affected by the Coastal GasLink pipeline are in support, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs still oppose the pipeline and supporters are still staying in camps adjacent to the pipeline route (14). They fear the irreversible effects that the pipeline will have on their territory and they see this resistance as their duty for future generations (15). The Shut Down Canada movement in February and March 2020 blocked roads, railways and occupied buildings in response to the RCMP’s raids at the Indigenous land defender camps (16). Currently, construction is still ongoing at a slower pace in order to comply with the provincial health rules surrounding COVID-19 (14). In February 2021, Coastal GasLink confirmed that the pipeline is one-third complete (14).

Taken from: Trans Mountain, Coastal GasLink, Keystone XL: where things stand with Canada’s pipeline projects (17)

4. TMX

The Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX) project will twin the current Trans Mountain pipeline (1,147 km) and will lengthen the Westridge Marine Terminal located in Burnaby, BC (18). The Government of Canada owns TMX and the project was bought in 2018 (18). Oil, gasoline and diesel are to be transported from Edmonton to Burnaby with their eventual destination being export markets in the US and in Asia (19).

While the both Enoch Cree First Nation and the Western Indigenous Pipeline Group are interested in purchasing equity in the pipeline, the Tsleil-Waututh have challenged the pipeline’s approval as they will see increased tanker traffic when the pipeline is finished (19). The increased marine traffic in Burrard Inlet has been linked to increased overall wave energy which causes increased risk to the cultural and ecological landscape (20). In the Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s assessment of the TMX pipeline, it was determined that some of the pipeline’s consequences include the likelihood of oil spills and the harmful effects on the habitat as oil cannot be cleaned up completely, the shoreline erosion due to marine shipping effects, damage to cultural heritage due to increased perceived pollution, physical obstruction, loss of quiet or privacy, acoustic disturbances and disturbance to views (21). Other forms of resistance against the pipeline have appeared, including the Tiny House Warriors: Our Land is Home (22). Each tiny house will provide housing to Secwepemc families facing a housing crisis due to deliberate colonial impoverishment. Each home will eventually be installed with off-the-grid solar power (23). The project will build ten tiny houses across the pipeline on Secwepemc territory, unceded land. To learn more about the project, head to the Tiny House Warrior’s website.

Taken from: Simon Fraser University - FAQ about TMX (24)

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimation in late 2019 called on Canada to stop construction on the TMX expansion and the Coastal Gaslink pipeline as they did not proceed with the “free, prior and informed consent by all the indigenous peoples affected” (25). During the rail blockades in the spring of 2020 by the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and their allies, it was remarked by the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake Grand Chief Joseph Norton that it represented an awakening in young Indigneous people and a shift where “young white Canadian people that were also joining forces” (15).

To learn more about efforts to advocate against pipelines, check out the summary of the court case of the Coldwater People (C’eletkwmx) against the federal government regarding TMX here and the Squamish Nation’s stance on TMX here.

Stay tuned for a second pipeline blog post exploring alternative climate-friendly solutions to pipelines.

My name is Rachel Howlett and my pronouns are she/her. I am from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, which is the traditional land of the Mi’kmaq known as Mi’kmaki in the region of Sipekni’katik. The Mi’kmaq Nation is part of the Wabanaki Confederacy, which includes land from what is now known as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Maine. Throughout my writing, I do not intend to speak on behalf of BIPOC communities. I recognize my privilege as a white settler and I am trying to use it to amplify injustices that have already been identified by BIPOC communities. My goal as an ally is to reduce environmental injustices through encouraging climate action and demanding political accountability.


1. Natural Resources Canada. Pipelines Across Canada [Internet]. Canada. Natural Resources Canada; 2021 [cited 2021, April 1] Available from: https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/our-natural-resources/energy-sources-distribution/clean-fossil-fuels/pipelines/pipelines-across-canada/18856

2. Brady J. Biden Order Blocks Keystone XL Pipeline [Internet]. NPR. NPR; 2021 [cited 2021, April 1]. Available from: https://www.npr.org/sections/inauguration-day-live-updates/2021/01/20/958823085/biden-order-blocks-keystone-xl-pipeline

3. Alberta. Investing in Keystone XL pipeline [Internet]. Alberta. Government of Alberta; 2021 [cited 2021, April 1] Available: https://www.alberta.ca/investing-in-keystone-xl-pipeline.aspx

4. EELP Staff. Keystone XL Pipeline [Internet]. Environmental & Energy Law Program. Harvard Law School; 2021 [cited 2021, April 1] Available: https://eelp.law.harvard.edu/2018/02/keystone-xl-pipeline/

5. TC Energy. Oil and Liquids Operations [Internet]. Canada: TransCanada Pipelines Ltd.; 2021 [cited 2021, April 1]. Available from: https://www.tcenergy.com/operations/oil-and-liquids/

6. BBC News. Keystone XL pipeline: Why is it so disputed? [Internet]. BBC News. BBC; 2021 [cited 2021, April 1]. Available from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-30103078

7.Enbridge. Line 3 Replacement Program [Internet]. Enbridge. Enbridge; 2021 [cited 2021, April 1]. Available from: https://www.enbridge.com/Line3ReplacementProgram.aspx

8.Canada Energy Regulator. Background - Enbridge Pipelines Inc.-Line 3 Replacement Program [Internet]. Canada. Canada Energy Regulator; 2020 [cited 2021, April 1]. Available from: https://www.cer-rec.gc.ca/en/applications-hearings/view-applications-projects/line-3-replacement/background-enbridge-pipelines-inc-line-3-replacement-program.html

9. Stop Line 3. Issues [Internet]. Stop Line 3; 2021 [cited 2021, April 1]. Available from: https://www.stopline3.org/news/350groupstopotus

10. The Associated Press. Enbridge’s Line 3 faces new hurdle as Minnesota governor’s administration files appeal. CBC News. CBC; 2018 [cited 2021, April 1]. Available from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/minnesota-governor-appeals-enbridge-line-3-1.4956930

11. IAMC. Line 3 [Internet]. Indigenous Advisory and Monitoring Committee - Line 3. IAMC; 2018 [cited 2021, April 1]. Available from: http://iamc-line3.com/line3/

12. Canada Energy Regulator. Project Information [Internet]. Canada. Canada Energy Regulator; 2020 [cited 2021, April 1]. Available from: https://www.cer-rec.gc.ca/en/applications-hearings/view-applications-projects/line-3-replacement/project-information.html

13. Coastal GasLink. About Coastal GasLink [Internet]. Gaslink. TransCanada PipeLines; 2021 [cited 2021, April 1]. Available from: https://www.coastalgaslink.com/about/

14. Trumpener, Betsy. A year after Wet’suwet’en blockades, Coastal GasLink pipeline pushes on through pandemic [Internet]. CBC News. CBC; 2021 [cited 2021, April 1]. Available from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/coastal-gaslink-pipeline-bc-wet-suwet-en-pandemic-1.5898219

15. Matte-Bergeron, Timothé. Coastal GasLink: tensions encore vives en territoire wet’suwet’en [Internet]. Radio-Canada. Société Radio-Canada; 2021 [cited 2021, April 1]. Available from: https://ici.radio-canada.ca/recit-numerique/1675/wetsuweten-coastal-gaslink-gazoduc-conflit-chefs-hereditaires-autochtones-grc

16. Active History. Remember/Resist/Redraw #23: All Eyes on Wet’suwet’en - Shut Down Canada [Internet]. Indigenous History. Active History; 2020 [cited 2021, April 1]. Available from: https://activehistory.ca/2020/07/remember-resist-redraw-23-all-eyes-on-wetsuweten-shut-down-canada/

17. Cruicksank, Ainslie. Trans Mountain, Coastal GasLink, Keystone XL: where things stand with Canada’s pipeline projects [Internet]. The Narwhal; 2020 [cited 2021, April 1]. Available from: https://thenarwhal.ca/trans-mountain-coastal-gaslink-keystone-xl-canada-pipeline-projects/

18. Canada. Trans Mountain Expansion Project [Internet]. Canada. Government of Canada; 2020 [April 2021, April 1]. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/campaign/trans-mountain.html

19. Bakx, Kyle. Plans to sell Trans Mountain pipeline to Indigenous groups take another step forward [Internet]. CBC News. CBC; 2021 [cited 2021, April 1]. Available from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/bakx-tmx-pipeline-negotiations-1.5918712

20. Sacred Trust Initiative. New Research on Waves in Burrard Inlet [Internet]. Sacred Trust Initiative; 2021 [cited 2021, April 1]. Available from: https://twnsacredtrust.ca/new-research-on-waves-in-burrard-inlet/

21. Sacred Trust Initiative. Assessment of the Trans Mountain Pipeline and Tanker Expansion Proposal [Internet]. Sacred Trust Initiative; 2021 [cited 2021, April 1]. Available from: https://twnsacredtrust.ca/wp-content/uploads/TWN_assessment_final_med-res_v2.pdf

22. Secwepemcul’ecw Assembly. Tiny House Warriors [Internet]. Secwepemecul’ecw Assembly; 2017 [cited 2021, April 1]. Available from: https://www.secwepemculecw.org/tiny-house-warriors

23. Tiny House Warriors. Our Land is Home [Internet]. Tiny House Warriors; 2020 [cited 2021, April 1]. Available from: http://www.tinyhousewarriors.com/

24. SFU 350. FAQ About TMX. Simon Fraser University; 2021 [cited 2021, April 1]. Available from: https://www.sfu350.com/about-tmx

25. Committee on the Elimination Racial Discrimation. Prevention of Racial Discrimination, including Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedure [Internet]. https://a08637c9-0413-4126-9c38-2f405deeeb45.filesusr.com/ugd/934d11_8076fc418393440f9ab1393386d46467.pdf?index=true

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