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National Energy Board refuses study on diluted bitumen for Trans Mountain pipeline review

Action alert

The National Energy Board panel reviewing the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline has refused to receive the National Academy of Sciences report on diluted bitumen as evidence.

Diluted bitumen or dilbit refers to tar-like bitumen that has been diluted with one or more lighter petroleum products so that it can flow through a pipeline. The Trans Mountain expansion would move 890,000 barrels per day through Jasper National Park, across the Vedder Fan aquifer, and could see a supertanker loaded every day at the Burrard Inlet marine terminal on the Pacific Ocean.

The Georgia Straight reports, “The Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the Living Oceans Society, both intervenors in the hearing, submitted a motion to the NEB on December 9 asking the board to accept a new study on diluted bitumen (also called dilbit), although the deadline for evidence had passed six months previous. The study, Spills of Diluted Bitumen From Pipelines, was released by the Washington, D.C.–based National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on December 8. The City of Vancouver signed in support of the request, as did the Upper Nicola Band, the Tsawout First Nation, and two other nonprofits. On December 17, the NEB ruled against the request.”

The article continues, “In its ruling, the NEB admitted that the report is relevant and the late filing is justified. However, it denied the application because the timing would be unfair to Trans Mountain, which wouldn’t have enough time to respond to the new evidence. [NEB spokesperson Tara] O’Donovan said that in the case of a late filing, ‘the board has the option of asking the [federal] minister for more time, and then it would be up to the minister to decide’. In this instance, she said, they didn’t ask for extra time because the ‘board feels it already has evidence on the record related to this issue’.”

In our blog on the National Academy of Sciences study, we noted that Inside Climate News had reported, “[The study] offers the most comprehensive analysis to date of dilbit spill properties, environmental and health impacts and effectiveness of response methods. …The 144-page report’s main message is that the thick type of oil called diluted bitumen … initially behaves like conventional oil in the first few days following a spill but then quickly degrades, or weathers, into a substance so chemically and physically different that it defies standard spill responses.”

In terms of timelines, the National Energy Board says, “The hearing panel will hear oral summary argument from intervenors in two phases: first, from January 19–29, 2016 at the Delta Burnaby Hotel and Conference Centre in Burnaby, British Columbia; and second in the NEB Hearing Room, Calgary, Alberta from February 2-5, 2016.” The NEB is scheduled to make its recommendation on the pipeline expansion by May 20, 2016. It is expected that the Trudeau government will make its decision on the pipeline shortly thereafter. Kinder Morgan says, if approved, the pipeline would be operational in 2018.

The federal Liberals had promised during this past election that they would implement more robust pipeline reviews in order to gain public confidence in the process. Now in government, they have not been clear how they will do this and have rejected halting the current pipeline reviews and beginning them again under a new more comprehensive process.

To keep pressure on the Trudeau government to stop the flawed pipeline reviews, please add your name to our Keep your promises, Liberals: Stop pipeline reviews action alert.