If and when the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project goes ahead, the twinned oil sands project will run along the same right-of-way in the same residential Chilliwack backyards as the existing pipeline.
The National Energy Board (NEB) announced its decision Thursday on the company’s application for realignment of 1.8 kilometres of the expanded pipeline into the existing right-of-way in Sardis.
The application was required because the NEB approved the pipeline project but approved a route in the BC Hydro right-of-way to the north of the existing pipeline, which runs through Watson elementary’s school yards and dozens of homes in the Roseberry/Montcalm area and near Canterbury Road.
The decision now goes to the federal government for approval, after which the detailed route approval will proceed in the fall. The decision comes after four days of oral hearings Jan. 15 to 18 in Chilliwack where the NEB panel heard from intervenors including the S’ólh Téméxw Stewardship Alliance, the City of Chilliwack and the WaterWealth Project.
In the NEB hearing held in Chilliwack in January, the City of Chilliwack expressed its opposition to the rerouting option because it puts the new pipeline only closer to the city’s aquifer.
“The proposed route is much closer to city wells than the BC Hydro route and puts the pipeline in the capture zone of the city’s drinking water wells,” deputy director of engineering Rod Sanderson said at the hearing in January. “That means that any contaminants released from the pipeline could flow into the wells.”
Sanderson explained how city operations supply approximately 80,000 people with drinking water, a number expected to rise to 100,000 over the next 20 years.
“This is an extremely significant and vulnerable water source,” he said. “It’s also an excellent water source.”
Trans Mountain defends the re-route application arguing that both routes are outside the aquifer area anyway, and in the unlikely event of a leak, material would run to the north towards the Fraser River away from the aquifer.
In the end, the NEB sided with Trans Mountain and said the benefits and expected burdens of the realignment were weighed, and the realignment is “in the public interest and is consistent with the requirements of the NEB Act.”
Some of the expected burdens of putting the new pipeline in the existing right-of-way, according to the NEB, include: “one additional road crossing and 20 additional utility crossings; slightly higher probability that oil from a pipeline leak or spill that makes its way to the groundwater would then make its way to the City water wells; and construction would take place close to existing residential housing.”
The expected benefits of the realignment decided upon by the NEB, include most importantly the avoidance of the BC Hydro infrastructure, something BC Hydro said was critical. Other benefits include: a proposed fibre-optic leak detection system that could also detect ground disturbances for the existing pipeline given the proximity; the pipeline will be 500 metres shorter in length; and staying in the existing right-of-way “leverages the knowledge and experience of landowners already familiar with living in proximity to an existing pipeline.”
The NEB also noted that no residents along the realignment route expressed objections with the board.
See www.theprogress.com for more on this story including reaction from NEB hearing participants.