Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline

Kinder Morgan silent protest

Pipeline basics: Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline currently carries 300,000 barrels of oil a day. Over the last 10 years, Kinder Morgan has submitted a series of applications to the National Energy Board (NEB) to increase the capacity of the Trans Mountain pipeline and its Westridge operations. These plans would almost triple the pipeline’s capacity, increasing it to 890,000 barrels a day, and would mean quadrupling the number of tar sands supertankers to more than 400 per year in Burrard Inlet. These larger tankers can carry up to 1 million barrels of crude – three times the amount spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska. Crude oil spills are incredibly difficult – if not impossible – to contain or clean up. Since purchasing the Trans Mountain pipeline in 2005, Kinder Morgan has been responsible for four major spills in British Columbia.

A report released in November 2014 by Simon Fraser University and the Goodman Group Ltd. questioned Trans Mountain’s financial projections for the pipeline, arguing that the economic impacts of jobs and taxes have been overvalued, while the costs associated with possible spills have been understated. While Trans Mountain’s initial estimate that the cost of cleaning up a worst-case oil spill would be  between $100 million and $300 million, the study projected that a spill would actually cost between $1 billion and $5 billion to clean up. The study notes that Alberta would get about $400 million in taxes and royalties from tar sands development, while B.C. would only get about $40 million per year. 

Pipeline route: The pipeline presently spans 1,150 kms from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, B.C., traversing 15 First Nation communities. The pipeline would carry diluted bitumen from the tar sands in northern Alberta through Jasper National Park, into the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, across the Vedder Fan aquifer and the municipality of Chilliwack's Protecte‎d Groundwater Zone, then into neighbouring Surrey, across the Fraser River and to the Westridge Marine Terminal at Burrard Inlet in Burnaby. The pipeline runs directly under several schools, including Stoney Creek Community School and Lyndhurst Elementary in Burnaby, and Watson Elementary in Chilliwack. Dozens of additional schools are within a couple kilometres of the pipeline, including Forest Grove Elementary in Burnaby and twelve schools in Chilliwack. In addition, the pipeline runs underneath golf courses, shopping centres, residential neighbourhoods and the aquifers that supply drinking water to Abbotsford and Chilliwack. The pipeline is multi-use – it has transported natural gas, jet fuel and oil – however, since 2005 it is increasingly being used to transport tar sands crude to both Greater Vancouver and the Puget Sound area in Washington State, feeding Chevron, BP, Shell and Conoco Phillips refineries as well as export terminals.

Opposition: Opposition to the project grew in 2007 after a major rupture in the pipeline dumped 200,000 litres of crude oil – enough to cover an entire neighbourhood – in North Burnaby. There was a major leak at the Burnaby Mountain tank farm in 2009, and a spill in 2012 at the Sumas pumping station near Abbotsford. These spills have led many people to question the health and safety risks of the project. The transport of tar sands crude – bitumen – poses heightened spill risks. Bitumen needs to be mixed with diluents (solvents such as naphtha and natural gas condensate) and sinks when spilled in water, making it nearly impossible to fully clean up from waterways. In 2011 the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation announced their opposition to any expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, highlighting the risks to the community, the people and the environment. The Fraser Declaration, supported by more than 130 indigenous communities and First Nations has been expanded to include opposition to the Kinder Morgan expansion plans. A recent poll indicated that 72 per cent of Burnaby, B.C. residents are opposed to the Kinder Morgan expansion.

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NEB review changes rules and limits public participation: The NEB and the federal government tried to fast-track approval of this project. To do this, public participation in the review process was limited to people who were “directly affected” by the project (for example, landowners whose property would be dug up). The rule changes were an attempt to restrict people from taking part in the hearings. Participants were required to fill out a lengthy 11-page application form and write a letter of comment on the project. Of the 2,000 people who applied to the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion hearings, 468 people were rejected outright, while another 452 people were downgraded so that they could only submit a letter of comment. The NEB also stated that topics such as climate change and tar sands expansion would not be covered during the hearings. The new rules also cut out the public’s opportunity to cross-examine Kinder Morgan during the hearings. In comparison, during the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline hearings, there were more than 90 days of cross-examination. The NEB also did not require Kinder Morgan to respond to 2,000 questions submitted by interveners, and rejected 95 per cent of the queries. 

The changes to the NEB review process have been widely criticized in B.C. – even prompting a former BC Hydro CEO and former board member of Suncor Energy, Marc Eliesen, to withdraw from the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain hearings. Eliesen released a scathing letter accusing the NEB of "bias" in favour of pipeline approval and stated, "This so-called public hearing process has become a farce, and this Board a truly industry captured regulator.”

Legal challenges: In May 2014, a motion was filed by a group of landowners, academics, business people and environmentalists challenging the restrictions on public participation in the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline process. In October 2014, the NEB rejected the motion, and ForestEthics Advocacy, one of the applicants in the legal challenge, announced it would now be taking the fight to federal court. 

In July 2014, the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation was granted leave to bring their legal challenge to the constitutionality of the whole NEB review process to the Federal Court of Appeal. The case has the potential to derail the entire NEB process, require consultations with First Nations, and reset the clock on the review process.

Legal showdown between city of Burnaby and Kinder Morgan: In September 2014, Kinder Morgan began cutting down trees in a conservation park on Burnaby Mountain to do borehole testing to determine if the pipeline could be run through the mountain.  Burnaby's mayor, Derek Corrigan, told the company it could not cut down the trees, and said doing so was in violation of municipal bylaws. While Kinder Morgan argued that the NEB allowed the company to conduct the testing, Burnaby argued that municipal laws, given power by provincial constitution, gives the city some say over industrial projects. The city took Kinder Morgan to court, however  the company won the legal battle and resumed testing.

Blockades and mass protests to protect Burnaby Mountain: While the city of Burnaby and Kinder Morgan fought it out in court, a committed mix of Vancouver and Burnaby residents, SFU professors, members of Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan  Expansion, and the Burnaby Mountain Caretakers took turns keeping an eye on the conservation area. When Kinder Morgan returned to resume borehole testing on the mountain, the company was met with grassroots protests that grew in numbers day by day as people worked together to block testing. On October 30, 2014, in an attempt to intimidate protestors, Kinder Morgan slapped a group of people protesting with a multi-million dollar lawsuit. Kinder Morgan also got an injunction that directed the RCMP to prevent protesters from interfering with drilling.

But the lawsuit and the injunction did not stifle dissent and protests on the mountain intensified. In the subsequent weeks, more than 100 people were arrested, including community members, academics, First Nation leaders, environmentalists and seniors. Hundreds of people rallied on the mountain and at the courthouse for several weeks. In the end, the charges against most of the 100-plus protesters were dropped when it was revealed that Kinder Morgan had provided incorrect GPS coordinates when it initially sought the court order. At one location, the coordinates were so inaccurate that the actual work site was entirely outside the area covered by the injunction. The court rejected Kinder Morgan’s bid to extend its injunction a few more days to do further drilling, and the company finally packed up and left the mountain. While the protests did not fully stop Kinder Morgan from testing, it significantly delayed the work and Kinder Morgan left the mountain without finishing the testing. 

Where does government stand? The Harper government fully supports the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline. While opposed to the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is supportive of this pipeline, stating, "I am, however, very interested in the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the Trans Mountain pipeline that is making its way through. I certainly hope that we’re going to be able to get that pipeline approved." NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has said he would not be "ruling out support for the Kinder Morgan project in advance of its assessment by the National Energy Board.” Green party Leader Elizabeth May has stated, "Kinder Morgan wants to nearly triple the capacity of the pipeline. This is an environmental threat not only because consuming all this oil will aggravate climate change, but also because the risks of oil spills are unacceptably high."