Trans Mountain Pipeline

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Trans Mountain
March to Stop Trans Mountain Oil Pipeline, Photo credit: Sally T. Buck @Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On June 18, 2019, less than 24 hours after declaring a climate emergency, the Canadian government approved the climate-killing Trans Mountain pipeline.

The project proposes to twin the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, tripling its capacity to 890,000 barrels of oil per day, and expanding the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, B.C. in order to move crude from the tar sands in Alberta to B.C.’s coastal shores for shipping in massive tankers.

The Trudeau government originally approved the pipeline expansion in November 2016 and then went on to purchase it from Kinder Morgan when the company threatened to abandon the project. The government agreed to spend $4.5 billion of public funds to buy the expansion project, and that cost is expected to increase by up to $10 billion more. In August 2018, a few short months after the government bought the pipeline, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned the approval decision citing a significant lack of public consultation, particularly with affected First Nations.

This project threatens to unleash a massive tar sands spill that would threaten drinking water, salmon, coastal wildlife and communities. It is also entirely inconsistent with Canada’s commitments to reduce climate pollution under the Paris Agreement.

Opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline remains strong. Allowing the pipeline to proceed will make it impossible for us to meet our commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, threaten waterways and drinking water sources, and ignore Indigenous peoples’ right to say “no” to projects that threaten their land and way of life.

Read more about why we should stop the Trans Mountain pipeline:

Indigenous legal challenges and opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline

Indigenous peoples in Canada benefit from constitutional recognition and protection of their rights. The Canadian government has officially adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which includes the right to say no.

The Trans Mountain project traverses the territory of 15 First Nation communities between Edmonton, Alberta and Burnaby, BC. Multiple concerns have been raised from the impact a spill would have on salmon populations, cultural and spiritual areas, the threat of a marine spill to coastal communities from increased tanker traffic to the federal government’s failure to adequately consult First Nations. The Federal Court of Appeals heard challenges to the National Energy Board (NEB) report and federal approval of the project from seven First Nations including the Tsleil-Waututh, Coldwater, Squamish and Stk'emlupsemc Te Secwepemc First Nations and the Upper Nicola Band. The legal challenges included allegations that the consultations were not done in earnest, took issue with the exclusion of marine shipping concerns from the NEB report, didn’t recognize threats to drinking water supply, and did not respect of fishing and Aboriginal title rights impacted by the proposed pipeline and tanker route and protection of cultural and spiritual areas.

The Federal Court of Appeal upheld the challenges and overturned approval of the project.

Alongside legal challenges, over 150 First Nations and Tribal Chiefs have signed the Treaty Alliance opposed to tar sands expansion which includes opposition to the Trans Mountain project. The Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) is outright opposed to the project.

Trans Mountain pipeline would expand the tar sands

The Trans Mountain pipeline, like all tar sands pipelines, is completely inconsistent with meeting the Paris Agreement climate targets agreed to by the Canadian government.

Tar sands crude is 3 to 5 times more climate polluting than the production of conventional oil. Filling the Trans Mountain pipeline would justify further expansion in the tar sands with devastating effects for downstream communities, water and our climate. It would result in millions of tonnes of additional pollution, equivalent to 34 million new cars on Canada’s roads every year, at a time when we need to be cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Tar sands spill threatens drinking water, communities and the Salish Sea

The Trans Mountain pipeline path crosses the Vedder Fan aquifer and the municipality of Chilliwack's Protecte‎d Groundwater Zone. It crosses the aquifers that supply drinking water to Abbotsford and Chilliwack. It also threatens an aquifer that is the sole source of drinking water for over 90 per cent of people on the Coldwater First Nation reserve.

The pipeline also 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 12 schools in Chilliwack. In addition, the pipeline runs underneath golf courses, shopping centres, and residential neighbourhoods.

The Trans Mountain pipeline would allow a seven-fold increase of tankers in the Burrard Inlet. This includes supertankers carrying 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 to contain or clean up and the tar sands diluted bitumen that would be transported is even worse. Diluted bitumen has proven to sink when spilled in water making clean up near impossible. A major spill would permanently damage coastal communities and wildlife including Orca’s and salmon populations.

Diluted bitumen, also known as dilbit, is created by diluting thick bitumen from the tar sands with various toxic and explosive chemicals which act as solvents to make it thin enough to transport.

In July 2010, an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in Michigan, spilling 3.2 million litres of diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River. Much of the bitumen sank, making recovery both extremely difficult but also damaging to the ecosystem as it required the dredging of vast areas of river bed. Five years and $1.2 billion USD later, there is still submerged bitumen at the bottom of the river.

Proposed benefits are overstated

Like other tar sands pipelines, the benefits of the project have been overstated.

report by the 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 cleanup. Some reports now estimate cleanup costs closer to $10 billion.

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. While Trans Mountain claims 36,000 person-years of employment would be created in B.C., the Simon Fraser University and Goodman Group Ltd. report says it would be 12,000 jobs at most. Meanwhile, 98,000 jobs in Vancouver and 320,000 jobs in B.C. are based on a healthy coast. Close to half of these jobs would be threatened by a major spill.