Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion flying under the radar, critics say

The current discussion is to expand it from a current capacity of 300,000 barrels per day to 850,000 barrels daily...

  • May. 11, 2012 7:00 p.m.

Wanda CHOW

Black Press

The woman on the other line was concerned.

A Kamloops resident, she had called the office of Burnaby-Douglas MP Kennedy Stewart after participating in a telephone survey he had commissioned to gauge support for a potential twinning of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline.

She said, “When you phoned, I pushed yes to support the pipeline, then I realized it passed through my backyard so now I want to vote no,” said Stewart, the New Democrats’ associate critic of natural resources.

It’s an anecdote that explains part of the concern over the proposal, for which Kinder Morgan has yet to officially make an application to the National Energy Board (NEB).

The Trans Mountain pipeline carries crude oil and finished oil products and runs through Abbotsford on its route between Edmonton and Burnaby, with a branch line to refineries in northern Washington State.

Such a project would require excavating the right-of-way where the pipeline runs, with a construction safety zone of about 300 feet, “which is like a four-lane highway,” said Stewart.

He asked the NEB at hearings on the subject in Ottawa whether expropriation of additional land would be required. They replied that it’s “very rare,” he said, but most of the time in Canada, pipelines don’t run through densely populated urban areas.

The fact the pipeline is underground and has been there as long as most people can remember, is part of the issue: people simply aren’t aware it’s there and what the potential impacts are if it’s expanded.

In Abbotsford, the existing pipeline leaves Sumas Mountain underneath Ledgeview golf course, runs through a residential neighbourhood in the Sandy Hill area, and cuts across farmland on Matsqui Prairie, south of the Fraser River.

The fact the pipeline that Kinder Morgan proposes to expand is in an existing right-of-way appears to improve its chances of being approved by regulatory bodies, said Ben West, a campaigner for the Wilderness Committee, a non-profit environmental group.

“It seems to me like Kinder Morgan has been trying to sneak under the radar, basically, because they’ve got an existing pipeline in an existing right-of-way,” he said, which gives the company a “pretty attractive position.”

With Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline proposal in northern B.C. and TransCanada Pipeline’s Keystone XL pipeline proposal through the U.S. looking like they’re “in trouble,” West said, “I don’t think anybody is happier than [Kinder Morgan CEO and co-founder] Richard Kinder.”

The Wilderness Committee’s “goal is to shine a light on it,” he added.

When the organization went door-knocking in the Lower Mainland, he said many residents were not aware that the Trans Mountain pipeline has already twinned sections to expand capacity in recent years.

The current discussion is to expand it from a current capacity of 300,000 barrels per day to 850,000 barrels daily, something that received strong support from export customers in a test of the market recently.

West said that would result in a massive expansion of oil tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet. In 2005, the year Kinder Morgan bought the pipeline, it filled 22 tankers. That has since grown to up to 70 per year, with an estimate of 280 by 2015-2016. He noted that if the proposal goes ahead, it’s expected that supertankers will be used, that can each carry upwards of two million barrels of oil.

“Every additional tanker is a new threat of an oil spill,” said West, who noted that even double-hulled tankers have ruptured and spilled their contents.

Port Metro Vancouver is considering dredging Second Narrows to accommodate the larger ships with heavier loads. West added that Kinder Morgan would also require additional storage capacity at its tank farm on Sumas Mountain if the pipeline expansion is approved.

As for newer pipeline technology and infrastructure being an improvement over that of decades ago, he said, “They’re definitely less bad, but there’s no such thing as safe because human error can make anything unsafe … Human error is the number one cause of oil spills.

“I think it’s to be expected there will be incidents,” said West.

“If you just look at the last month, there was the rupture at the storage tank on Sumas Mountain and then a week later there was an explosion at the other end of the pipeline that goes to the refinery in Washington state.”

The NEB’s most recent report released in December states that in 2009 there were five pipeline ruptures in Canada, three in Ontario, one in Alberta and one in British Columbia. On average there are 1.9 ruptures on NEB-regulated pipelines each year.

There were 83 pipeline incidents reported to the NEB that year, nearly double the 10-year average of 45.1, and included the release of 7,837 barrels of liquid hydrocarbons.

Abbotsford city hall has told Kinder Morgan that it wants to be consulted about the expansion. City manager Frank Pizzuto said the city is somewhat unique to other municipalities along the pipeline, in that the Sumas Mountain tank farm and pumping facilities are both located within city limits.

Although the spill on Sumas Mountain earlier this year was contained to the tank farm, some people were made dizzy and sick by the fumes, some complained of headaches, and both the school and residents nearby have resulting questions about the condition of the pipeline, and the system used to detect spills.

Pizzuto said the city wants to know where a twinned pipeline would go.  Kinder Morgan has indicated it may not follow the existing pipeline across the entire route.

He said it is early in the process, but so far there have been few complaints or inquiries from the public.

Burnaby residents need look no further than the Westridge neighbourhood which had crude oil showered on it when the pipeline was ruptured in 2007 after a city contractor struck it during sewer line construction.

The incident highlighted the pipeline issue to city hall, said Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, so the proposal has it concerned about issues involving possible land use and expropriation, emergency procedures, and safety and security of the pipeline.

“There’s a multitude of issues and most of it has yet to be discussed,” he said. “I think it’s flying under the radar right now…”

And without significant opposition to it, the National Energy Board is likely to approve it, said Corrigan, who has yet to form an official opinion until he learns more details.

The Chevron refinery in North Burnaby has been one of the original customers for the pipeline since it was built in the 1950s.

Ray Lord, spokesman for Chevron’s Burnaby refinery, said it supplies 30 per cent of the Lower Mainland’s transportation fuel, 25 per cent of its diesel and 40 per cent of the jet fuel used at Vancouver International Airport.

Lord noted that what it uses, conventional light sweet crude or synthetic crude, is different from the Alberta tar sands bitumen – a thicker product that needs additives to allow it to flow in the pipeline – which is what’s being discussed as what would be headed to China through the twinned pipeline.

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