Information sessions on the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project are still in the calendar for a number of communities in the Lower Mainland. Upcoming sessions include Langley (Nov22), Burnaby (Nov24 & 26), Chilliwack (Nov27) and Abbotsford (Nov 29). The sessions will continue on Vancouver Island and include two stops in Victoria (Dec 5 & 6th). A full list of the upcoming sessions is included at the end of this article. Reproduced below is a summary of the Vancouver sessions, from CityHallWatch:
Three information sessions on the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion were held in Vancouver on November 13, 15 & 17th. This summary is an attempt to capture our initial reactions to the Kinder Morgan pipeline roadshow that is continuing to wind its way through the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. For further background information please see our earlier posts on the Kinder Morgan pipeline here and the local opposition to the expansion here.
At the West Point Grey session opponents to increased tanker traffic were on hand outside of the Community Centre and provided an alternate view. Organizations such as the Dogwood Initiative and TankerFreeBC and the Wilderness Committee oppose oil tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet and have compiled very compelling arguments against further pipeline expansion (see rabble.ca op-ed: Fake consultation process isn’t fooling anyone: B.C. doesn’t want new Kinder Morgan pipeline). How is Kinder Morgan proceeding with their plans and how are they responding to public opposition?
Judging by the sessions at West Point Grey and Belcarra, Kinder Morgan is actually quite clever in their strategy. The company appears to be seeking the path of least resistance in their desire to increase the capacity of the existing TransMountain pipeline from 300,000 to 750,000 barrels a day. The pipeline currently has an allocation of 75,000 barrels of oil a day for tanker export via the Westridge Terminal in Burnaby. The remaining 225,000 barrels a day capacity is split almost evenly between serving refineries in Washington State and the Lower Mainland. Kinder Morgan already has a right-of-way for the existing pipeline. Twinning the pipeline will allow the company to carry heavier crude in a new second pipeline from the Alberta tarsands to the Port of Metro Vancouver. Kinder Morgan would like to see their export capacity rise to 415,000 barrels a day, and have the remaining extra capacity to increase feedstock deliveries in both Washington State and BC refineries.
One way in which Kinder Morgan can claim they have responded to public criticism are found in their updated plans to continue to use tankers of the same size (that now dock at their terminal). The company says they have commitments for the next 20 years from shippers who will not use larger oil tankers than the ones in current use on Burrard Inlet, and hence they would not have to deepen and dredge Second Narrows. The company also plans to provide all of the comments from participants in their information sessions unedited to the NEB (National Energy Board) when they formally file an application for expansion. The presentation boards at the information sessions provided a lot of information on the history of the pipeline, the safety measures in place and listed the economic benefits expected from construction and increased oil exports. Company representatives were also able to answer many of the ‘hard questions’ from the public, at least in the cases where there were direct answers.
Plenty of unanswered questions still remain. If anything was to go wrong in the future with a loaded tanker, then would the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation really be equipped to be able to contain a large spill? Are oil tanker escort tugboats sufficient to remove the possibility of future spills? Is there a fundamental difference between having a pipeline provide oil feedstock to only refineries when compared to an expanded pipeline that is used to export more than the half of the capacity to foreign markets?
It was reported by Burnaby Now that the local Chevron refinery has on occasion received less than 70 percent of the oil requested from the Trans Mountain pipeline (link: National Energy Board hearing for Burnaby refinery set). The oil capacity is currently being rationed and the local refinery is receiving insufficient feedstock. A decision on the NEB Chevron priority destination filing for is set to being on January 15, 2013. In the current paradoxical situation, refined petroleum products are now imported for use in Metro Vancouver to partly offset the insufficient production by local refineries. At the same time tankers arrive in the Westridge terminal to export domestic oil to foreign markets. What does Kinder Morgan’s arrangement that provides local refineries with insufficient oil feedstock say about the company’s track record? How did the National Energy Board even allow the current situation to arise that rations oil for local consumption while allowing oil exports to foreign markets? Has an artificial shortage been created for local markets?
Would Kinder Morgan have options to export oil from locations other than BC if there was too much local opposition? As already noted, the existing pipeline branches to Washington State after Sumas and is used to deliver oil to refineries on Puget Sound (BP, Conoco Phillips, Tesoro, Shell) via Ferndale (near Laurel) and Anacortes (near Burlington). The Magnuson Amendment that was passed in 1977 “restricts expansion of oil traffic unless it is for consumption in the state of Washington” (see sources here and here). The following historical summary details the restrictions that were put in place: Congress passes Senator Warren Magnuson’s amendment banning supertankers in Puget Sound on October 5, 1977. It appears that the state of Washington would see little economic benefit from being a transit point for oil tanker traffic. There would also be additional regulatory hurdles in another jurisdiction in order to build tanker export capacity there. Imported oil is meant for internal consumption in Washington. Hence the Kinder Morgan’s preferred, or ‘only’ realistic export terminal option is to expand Burnaby’s Westridge.
Some of formal regulatory work has been filed with the NEB in the following application on June 29th, 2012: Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC – Expanded Trans Mountain Pipeline System Part IV Tolling Application – RH-001-2012.
Much of the discussions about oil tankers and pipelines in BC have been centred on the Enbridge Northern Gateway further up the coast at Kitimat (see Globe & Mail article Trans Mountain: The other Pacific pipeline). The Kinder Morgan application in comparison is being done by stealth along an existing pipeline route, and along an existing oil transit route. The Trans Mountain information sessions had all of the trappings of a rezoning application Open House organized by the City of Vancouver planning department. The sessions had slick presentation boards, plenty of staff on hand to answer questions, comments forms, done in the same flavour of one the City’s public consultations. A significant number of communities will have information sessions, hence it will be very difficult to claim that there wasn’t sufficient ‘consultation’ when Kinder Morgan makes a formal NEB application. The question of ‘quality’ of the public consultation is rarely questioned; this is something that residents of Vancouver know first-hand with the manner City Planning deals with their ‘concerns’. Will a future federally run National Energy Board or Environmental Assessment process be any different?
The proverbial elephant in the room on the safety of oil tankers in Burrard Inlet is, of course, human error. Regardless of all advanced safety measures that would be put in place can mistakes be entirely ruled out? Kinder Morgan is taking sensible precautions such as allowing only double-hulled tankers with escort tugs and allowing tankers only during the day. It’s obvious that no one, including Kinder Morgan, wants a spill. However, can safety issues be completely ruled out? A reminder of the possibility of an accident can be found in the recent Vancouver Sun article: Giant 279-metre-long container ship runs aground in Prince Rupert Harbour. The grounding of the Costa Concordia and the sinking of the BC Ferries Queen of the North also illustrate that human error will continue to be the cause of marine catastrophes in the future. There’s also the larger discussion of the effects of climate change as the extraction of heavy oil from the tarsands is a significant contributor to CO2 emissions. First Nations land claims also must be examined and should be settled before any pipeline expansion is contemplated. Much of BC is unseeded land. It can be argued that the Crown did not have the authority to grant the right-of-way for the existing pipeline route. The final question is one of benefit and risk. Which communities assume more of the risk with increased oil tanker traffic? What could the environmental damage of a disastrous spill on Pacific fisheries, the Burrard Inlet, the Strait of Georgia really be? What are the cumulative impacts on Burrard Inlet from additional tanker traffic? Coastal BC, First Nations and the fisheries industry assume most of the risks while most of the benefits go to an American company, to tarsands oil producers and to export markets. Is the province of British Columbia in a similar situation to Washington State where there is little economic benefit to outweigh the risks involved with becoming a major transit point for oil tankers?
Currently 8 out of 10 oil tankers that leave the Burnaby Westridge Terminal travel to California. Kinder Morgan anticipates that future expansion would see a 50/50 split between Asian and US Markets. Currently Eastern Canada imports oil from foreign markets, as there are no linkages to oil pipelines east of Manitoba.
The Trans Mountain Expansion Project literature states: “The bitumen in our pipeline is less dense than salt or fresh water, at a maximum density of 0.94, and will float if there’s a spill.” In contrast, the Wilderness Committee’s piece Lessons from the Kalamazoo River Tar Sands Oil Spill instead states that “heavy oil separates [from distillates] and sinks to the bottom”. The last paragraph of the first page of Trans Mountain’s handout states: “Our Trans Mountain project team will do its very best to gain your trust and confidence.” The public is looking for specific information on the proposed route, and this has yet to be determined. The public wants meaningful input into the federal review of the Trans Mountain expansion plans. The pipeline plans have been thus far mostly ‘under the radar’. Kinder Morgan has been extremely clever in their strategy, for example, they’ve slowly ramped up the volume oil tanker exports in Burrard Inlet and the initial exports began with virtually no public discussion at all.
Kinder Morgan’s information session roadshow should be wake-up call for residents who oppose their pipeline expansion plans. The National Energy Board may be very moved by the economy vs. ecology arguments when they weigh the ‘Canadian economic interests’ against ‘BC ecological interests’.
The following links are provided for reference to show a cross section of views on pipeline expansion: Surrey Leader – Report flags many oil spill response gaps, Globe & Mail – Trans Mountain: The other Pacific pipeline, Council of Canadians: No Pipelines No Tankers, Pipe-Up.net – Kinder Morgan Schedule of Public Info Sessions, Indian Country – Kinder Morgan Pitches Oil Sands Pipeline Expansion to Skeptics on Both Sides of Border.
21 November 2012 – Surrey Info Session – Ellendale Elementary School (14525 110A Avenue) – drop in from 5pm-8pm
22 November 2012 – Langley Info Session – Walnut Grove Secondary School (8919 Walnut Grove Drive) – drop in from 5pm-8pm
24 November 2012- Burnaby Info Session #1 – Stoney Creek Community School (2740 Beaverbrook Crescent) – drop in from 1pm-4pm
26 November 2012 – Burnaby Info Session #2 – Eagle Creek Restaurant at Burnaby Mountain Golf Course (7600 Halifax Street) – drop in from 5pm-8pm
27 November 2012 – Chilliwack Info Session – Best Western Rainbow Country Inn (43791 Industrial Way) – drop in from 5pm-8pm
28 November 2012 – Hope Info Session – C. E. Barry Intermediate School (444 Queen Street) – drop in from 5pm-8pm
29 November 2012 – Abbotsford Info Session #2 – Straiton Community Hall (4698 Upper Sumas Mountain Road) – drop in from 5pm-8pm
04 December 2012 – Nanaimo Info Session – Beban Park Social Centre, Rooms 1, 2, and 3 (2300 Bowen Road) – drop in from 5pm-8pm
05 December 2012 – Greater Victoria Info Session – Cedar Hill Recreation Centre, Art 1 Room (3220 Cedar Hill Rd) – drop in from 5pm-8pm
06 December 2012 – West Shore Victoria Info Session – Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre, Fieldhouse Lower Area (1767 Island Highway) – drop in from 5pm-8pm
08 December 2012 – Saanich Peninsula Info Session – Saanichton Learning Centre, Gymnasium (1649 Mount Newton Cross Road) – drop in from 1pm-3pm
12 January 2013 – Salt Spring Island Info Session – Salt Spring Island Lions Hall (103 Bonnet Ave) – drop in from 1pm