The B.C. government’s approval last week of the Kinder Morgan proposal to twin the Trans Mountain oil pipeline doesn’t mean the pipeline will be built – but it is a significant step forward.
The project now has the approval of the federal and provincial governments, and Kinder Morgan has reached many deals with First Nations along the pipeline route. The existing pipeline crosses many First Nations reserves, and since it was built in 1953, First Nations have gained more rights in relation to proposed resource developments on traditional lands.
If the project doesn’t go ahead, which is the outcome many B.C. residents fervently hope for, it will most likely falter over an unfavourable court decision. Several lawsuits are in the works and those put forward by First Nations may have the most likelihood of success. The Tsleil-Waututh Nation, which has filed a lawsuit, has land in North Vancouver directly across Burrard Inlet from the Kinder Morgan export terminal in Burnaby. The number of ships carrying crude oil from the terminal will rise from the current 60 per year to about 400.
In Surrey, the existing pipeline runs through Port Kells and Fraser Heights before going beneath Highway 1 and travelling across the Fraser River from a location west of the Port Mann Bridge. The new pipeline, if built, will likely run along the CN right of way from Port Kells to Port Mann, and not travel through residential neighbourhoods.
Surrey opposed the pipeline at National Energy Board hearings, but is now in negotiations for benefits with Kinder Morgan. It has no power to stop the project and any lawsuits it filed would likely fail.
There is no word on what Surrey considers the benefits to be. However, all municipalities the pipeline runs through will receive additional property tax revenue. In addition, several Lower Mainland municipalities have already made deals with the company and will receive additional funds, mainly for specific projects such as parks and recreation facilities.
Surrey would be wise to consider negotiating with Kinder Morgan about moving the existing pipeline to the proposed new alignment, taking it out of residential neighbourhoods. In 2007, the pipeline was ruptured by a contractor working on a project in a Burnaby neighbourhood near the export terminal, and 250,000 litres of crude oil damaged numerous homes in the immediate area. Of that amount, 70,000 litres spilled directly into Burrard Inlet. Total cost of the clean-up was more than $15 million. Kinder Morgan and two other companies pleaded guilty to charges under the Environmental Management Act and were fined.
The possibility of such a spill in Surrey is low, but it all depends on how careful contractors are when working in the area near the pipeline. Assuming the new pipeline is built along the CN right of way, the chances of such an occurrence would be much lower if both pipelines were located there. There would be minimal interface with residential properties.
Kwantlen Polytechnic University also made a deal with Kinder Morgan in 2015, which would have seen the company provide about $300,000 in scholarships, bursaries and other opportunities for trades and technical students over 20 years. However, it withdrew from the agreement several months later after being pressured by students, staff and the Kwantlen First Nation, which has resolutely opposed the pipeline plan.
The debate over the pipeline will continue, as it will be a major issue in the provincial election. The lawsuits will progress long past the election date and it will be several years before the pipeline is built – if it proceeds at all.
Frank Bucholtz writes weekly for The Leader.