Down the line: The hope and the anxiety at either end of the Trans Mountain pipeline project

When Alberta’s booming, Mike Ebertz knows it because his “oilfield guys” like to spend on flashy extras for their new vehicles in his Sherwood Park mechanic shop. It’s something he’s eagerly anticipating since the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion was approved Tuesday.

About 1,000 kilometres west of the suburb just outside Edmonton, in the waters of Burrard Inlet, an oilspill seems unthinkable. But with news of the approval, it’s something locals worry they’ll now have to contemplate.

Steve Christianson is an “Alberta guy” who’s lived in British Columbia for 20 years. Looking out at the clear water along the B.C. coast Tuesday, he’s torn about the pipeline. “All of a sudden, this could be a toxic waste.”

Sherwood Park, Alberta is kilometre zero where the oil pipeline begins. Burrard Inlet in Burnaby, B.C., is where all that oil leaves the country.

After Tuesday’s news, Albertans living at the foot of the Trans Mountain pipeline are hopeful for a return to oil-boom-era prosperity.

“I deal with lots of oilfield guys. And I love them when they’re working, they spend tons of money,” said Ebertz, owner of Mike’s Custom Exhaust, while a panel of talking heads discussed the pipeline deal on TV in the lobby of his mechanic shop.

“When they’re working and making tons of money they buy frivolous things. They put dual exhaust and fancy rims and tires on their new vehicles. That spending’s gone down a bit for sure. That I’ve noticed, definitely.”

Many Sherwood Park residents were frustrated when construction halted last August, after the federal court of appeal ruled that the government failed to properly consult some First Nations along the route.

The Trans Mountain pipeline facility in Sherwood Park, Alta., on Tuesday. Alberta's energy sector scored a big win as the federal government greenlit the expansion project for the second time.

The pipeline became a key election issue in Alberta this spring, with the then-governing NDP and the official opposition United Conservative Party arguing over which side was more likely to get the line built.

Jason Kenney’s UCP, running with the motto “Jobs, Economy, Pipelines” and a promise to repeal the province’s carbon tax, won the election in a landslide.

Craig Pejkovic, who was having a drink with friends at the quiet Local Public Eatery Tuesday afternoon just minutes from the pipeline terminal, said the approval is good for his family because his dad works in the oil sector.

“I think it’s good for all Albertans because there’s just going to be more work, and we’re not going to have worry about layoffs and going day by day worrying about our jobs,” Pejkovic said.

As a student who works in fencing, he also feels he will benefit from the residual effects of pipeline work.

“The more money in the economy, the more people want to buy fences, and that gives me more money to pay for school.”

Environmental assessment company Vertek is one of the many local businesses that stands to benefit directly from the pipeline construction.

Dean Winters, of environmental assessment company Vertex in Sherwood Park, Alta., is cautiously optimistic that the tides are changing for Alberta's oil and gas industry.

Vertek’s communications and marketing manager, Dean Winters, who watched Trudeau’s press conference from his office, said it could be a sign that things are turning around for the industry.

“I think there’s always been uncertainty in the oil and gas industry since 2014. I think now we’re starting to be cautiously optimistic, and it’s because of announcements like today,” he said.

“Seeing those larger-scale announcements is definitely bringing back everybody’s spirits.”

But while Vertex hopes to work on the pipeline, the company has been shifting its priorities away from oil and gas since the recession hit.

In 2014, 92 per cent of its revenue came from oil and gas. Today, it’s about 53 per cent, with growing focus on utilities, telecommunications, mining and other industries.

Winters said he’s not ready to get too excited until he learns specifics about when construction will start and exactly how it will roll out.

“It’s a great announcement but it’s still very early to tell when anything is going to happen, when we’ll see shovels in the ground and people going back to work on it,” he said.


A sign outside Trans Mountain's Westridge Terminal viewed from Barnet beach warns that anyone who obstructs the site could be arrested.

It was lunchtime at the Westridge Terminal in Burnaby, B.C., when the Prime Minister announced the government’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline project. Despite the fact that much of the country was fixated on the fate of that terminal — it’s where Alberta bitumen from the twinned pipeline will be loaded onto tankers destined for Asia — at that moment, oil was far from the minds of most people in its direct vicinity.

The terminal is sandwiched between two popular local parks on the Burrard Inlet, where it stands as an odd industrial landmark for people walking their dogs, lounging on the beach, and having picnics with their families. On Tuesday the large oceanside park was quiet — the sun beamed down on rocky beaches and one dinghy sailboat could be seen traversing the narrow inlet, the north shore mountains and Belcarra Park on the opposite side of the inlet in the distance.

When the news came down that the government had once again approved the twinning of the pipeline, the mood among the locals gathered there was mixed. Like the province overall, some people were pro-pipeline, some against.

What everyone agreed on was that the worst case scenario of increased tanker traffic — an oil spill in the inlet — would devastate the environment they know and love.

Manfred Weber and Michele Conforti have lived in the area more than 30 years, in Conforti’s case, 69 years. Barnet Park next to the Westridge Terminal is one of their regular spots to walk and take in the mountain views.

The pipeline approval fills them with worry about that worst case scenario.

“Oil traffic along the coast is just not a good idea,” Weber said. “Something is going to go down eventually, it’s just a matter of when.”

Conforti shakes her head at the idea of the pipeline being twinned, a move she sees as the advancement of an industry that can’t be sustained, and propping up Canada’s reliance on oil.

“What bothers me,” she said, “is that we’ve been sitting on these electric cars for years.”

Rob Morrison and Kaize Asistente walk their dog Halo at Barnet beach, next to the Westridge Terminal. Asistente has been going to the beach since she was a kid, and said a spill there would be "devastating."

Rob Morrison and Kaize Asistente were on the beach walking their dog, Halo, when they heard the news.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid,” Asistente said, referring to Barnet beach, right next to the terminal. “If something happened to it, it would be devastating.”

To the pair of them, the existing terminal isn’t a disruption — it blends into the environment where Halo bounds into the water to play fetch. Morrison said he “has to have faith” that Trans Mountain and the government have a plan in place to prevent oil spills, and manage them if they occur.

Steve Christianson, the self-proclaimed “Alberta guy,” was also with his dogs at the beach Tuesday — the spot right next to Westridge Terminal is one of the few beaches nearby where dogs are allowed off leash.

Christianson, who lives in nearby Port Moody, has gone to that spot several times a week for seven years. His family back home in Alberta has felt the sting of the downturn in the oil industry, and Christianson understands the pipeline would bring a much-needed boost, but that doesn’t stop him from worrying about hte impact it would have here.

“The effect on the environment concerns me the most because this is a beautiful place,” he said.

Kevin Maimann is an Edmonton-based reporter covering education and marijuana legalization. Follow him on Twitter: @TheMaimann

Alex McKeen is a Vancouver-based reporter covering wealth and work. Follow her on Twitter: @alex_mckeen

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