Pipelines make money.
It’s not just the oil and gas producers who make a profit when their products are shipped to market. The pipeline operator earns a healthy return as well.
That’s why the suggestion that the provincial or federal government — or both — should put public money into the TransMountain pipeline expansion project is not so far-fetched.
If U.S.-based Kinder Morgan or one of our Canadian pipeline companies aren’t ready to get work started, a public investment could get things rolling. It’s an investment that would obviously pay off.
Not only would operating the line pay dividends, but the improved income from selling our energy products at world prices — not set in Texas — could generate the tax revenue Albertans need to balance their provincial budget.
And later, if a private company wished to buy the line, Albertans would reap the profit.
That’s what Albertans have done in the past, after all.
Premier Peter Lougheed bought Pacific Western Airlines, moved its headquarters to Calgary, and Alberta pocketed the profit when it was later sold. Alberta Government Telephones serves as another example.
Other provinces have also turned a profit by investing in major projects, then selling them when the price was right.
The Saskatchewan government owned most of that province’s potash mines for many years. British Columbia built a railway — it’s now leased out for 999 years — and continues to invest in its publicly owned hydro power network and coastal ferry fleet.
Canadians know that battery-powered cars and other energy efficient devices will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, gradually.
But petroleum products will likely be needed by ships, aircraft, heating systems and many other uses far longer than many expect.
That pipeline may be busy for generations to come.
By comparison, it’s far easier to predict how long British Columbia’s current NDP government will remain in power.
It’s in coalition with the Greens — with the previous B.C. Liberals ready to take over if that partnership collapses.
And it was the Liberals who gave the pipeline project a go-ahead, in concert with the federal government.
So Albertans can speculate on when the pipeline will be built — not “if.”
Putting some Alberta cash on the table would be far more productive than curtailing shipments of gasoline, jet fuel and the like to our West Coast neighbours.
That act of retaliation won’t win Albertans much public support.
But with the Texas-imposed May 31 decision deadline looming ahead, a strategic public investment option is worth debating.