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Report On Business Kinder Morgan CEO acknowledges Trans Mountain pipeline expansion plan ‘may be untenable’

Kinder Morgan Inc. is in talks to salvage the Trans Mountain pipeline, but the company’s chief executive sees no sign that fierce opposition to the project is relenting.

Houston-based Kinder Morgan has warned it will scrap the $7.4-billion expansion by June 1 unless it gets assurances it can complete construction without further delays.

CEO Steve Kean told analysts on Wednesday the company halted non-essential spending on the project last week because “it’s become clear the investment may be untenable” for a private company.

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“The events of the last 10 days have confirmed those views,” he said, citing significant differences between governments that are outside the company’s control.

He said talks with Ottawa and the Alberta government were under way even as the company stated the project “is now facing unquantifiable risk” because of British Columbia’s opposition, and court challenges that have not yet been concluded.

The growing dispute over the pipeline has exploded into an all-out trade war pitting oil-rich Alberta against British Columbia, which is opposed to the expansion on environmental grounds.

Major oil sands producers argue the plan to nearly triple capacity on the existing westbound pipeline would help ease price discounts that have plagued the industry for years.

But the project is strongly opposed by environmentalists, municipalities and coastal First Nations who fear consequences of a major oil spill on the West Coast.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has sought to mediate the fracas while pledging to provide financial backing to Kinder Morgan to ensure the project proceeds.

However, the warring NDP governments of Alberta and B.C. have shown few signs of a détente.

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B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman said on Wednesday that the province would file a reference case by April 30 with the provincial court of appeal to find out whether it has jurisdiction to regulate movement of diluted bitumen through its territory. It is unclear how long that could take.

Meanwhile, Alberta introduced legislation this week that would enable the province to curtail fuel and oil shipments to the coast. B.C.’s Attorney-General has called the potential embargo a bluff and threatened to sue if Alberta proceeds.

The possibility of further delays has dimmed prospects for Trans Mountain and prompted some financial analysts to play down the importance of the multibillion-dollar expansion to Kinder Morgan’s outlook.

The company reiterated on Wednesday that B.C.’s assertion of “broad jurisdiction” to stop the project has stoked uncertainty and warned that costs associated with terminating the expansion, including financial impairments, would have a “significant effect” on its Canadian subsidiary.

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