The chief executive of Kinder Morgan won’t put a timeline on when construction will begin on the Trans Mountain expansion, a delayed project which would ship Alberta oil to British Columbia’s coast.

Instead, Steven Kean said the company has to be patient, although he’s optimistic the project will proceed.

“We’re waiting. We’re waiting to see how the permitting only strategy plays out. We’re waiting to see how some of those decisions play out. We expect the judicial review will be favourable. We think there is all the reason in the world for this pipeline for Alberta and the rest of the nation of Canada,” he said. “I like the way a lot of that is lining up.”

Some work is already underway to clear land around the company’s terminal in Burnaby and removing trees in the area where the company plans to tunnel the pipeline through Burnaby Mountain. The company has its construction contracts in place.

“We’re in a permitting-only spend right now while we wait to see how the judicial reviews and other matters resolve themselves,” said Kean. 

Protesters march against the proposed expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline in Vancouver. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

The proposed pipeline faces constant protests in the lower mainland and is at the heart of the provincial government dispute between Alberta and B.C.

The Kinder Morgan project would nearly triple capacity of the current pipeline system to 890,000 barrels a day.

In February, the B.C. government said it may restrict the increase in diluted bitumen shipments from Alberta until it conducts more spill response studies. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s reaction was to announce a ban on the import of B.C. wine to Alberta, which has since been lifted.

Kean, who spoke to CBC News at the CERAWeek by IHS energy conference in Houston, Texas, said he’s noticed how Alberta government’s is reacting.

“Yes, I’m very encouraged by it. They’re not doing it for us, they’re doing it for Alberta. They’re doing the right thing for Alberta, in my judgment,” he said.

The company has already slowed spending on the $7.4-billion pipeline and said the proposed pipeline could begin shipping oil by December 2020, at the earliest, one year later than planned.

Canada’s natural resources minister, who is also at the conference, said he thinks Kinder Morgan will start construction this year.

“I hope so,” said Jim Carr. “They have every reason to be confident the National Energy Board will monitor the 157 conditions. I think many of them have been met already.”

Others in the industry are disheartened by the delays the project is facing.

“I would have to say, it’s frustrating,” Enbridge CEO Al Monaco said to CBC News. “However, let’s not forget, we have been successful in putting projects into the ground. We’ve built a lot of new capacity out of Western Canada in the last decade.” 

Enbridge Al Monaco

Enbridge CEO Al Monaco says it’s “frustrating” to watch the Trans Mountain expansion face delays. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

 

Monaco said it’s becoming tougher and longer to build new pipelines, but said he likes the federal government’s recent changes to the National Energy Board and how natural resource projects will be reviewed in the future.

“I think they’re headed in the right direction on a couple fronts — more certainty in the timelines, shortening the timelines. I spoke to the minister today about that actually. He wants to shorten them up, which is good. I also like the fact that they are talking about more work on the Indigenous file,” he said.

“Obviously whenever you are adding a new process and changing the process, for people that build infrastructure, that’s not easy, necessarily, but we’ll work work through it with them and will be providing more input.”

The federal Liberal government approved Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion in 2016, while rejecting the Northern Gateway pipeline proposed by Enbridge.