Kinder Morgan has applied through its subsidiary, Trans Mountain, to build a new pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby. This pipeline would run parallel to the existing Trans Mountain pipeline and is being proposed in order to increase the transportation of oil from the Alberta tar sands to the B.C. coast.
The original pipeline was constructed in 1953 and purchased by Kinder Morgan Canada in 2005. It was designed to carry conventional crude oil but recently has been carrying the heavy oil, diluted bitumen (dilbit), from the Alberta tar sands to tankers in Vancouver harbour. While Kinder Morgan currently transports 300,000 barrels of oil each day, it has applied to construct a new parallel pipeline that would transport up to 890,000 barrels of oil, effectively tripling current capacity. The increase in oil would lead to an increase in tanker traffic along the BC coast from 5 tankers per month to 34.
According to the Trans Mountain Expansion Project website, employment during the construction phase would peak at 4500 temporary jobs. Once construction ends, there would be 90 permanent pipeline operating positions. Meanwhile, the project would contribute an estimated $50 million in annual tax revenue towards B.C.’s $44 billion budget.
However, concerns have been raised that the project could also pose significant economic and environmental risks. With more tankers transiting the coast, the risk of an oil spill increases. An oil spill could devastate local industries such as fisheries and tourism and cost billions to clean up. On average only 5-15% of oil is ever recovered from a spill, meaning that even clean-up measures are limited in their efficacy. The Kalamazoo River oil spill that occurred in Michigan has already cost over $1 billion with impacts lasting for years.
The risk of an oil spill are further complicated by the fact that the tankers would be carrying diluted bitumen (dilbit), a heavy oil that has been shown to sink under conditions similar to what we have on the B.C. coast (see below for details).
Bitumen is the raw product extracted from the Alberta oil sands. It is thicker and heavier than crude oil and must be diluted with chemicals in order for it to flow through pipelines. This combination of bitumen and diluent is referred to as diluted bitumen, or dilbit. There is very little research on how dilbit and the chemicals used to dilute it behave if a spill occurs in fresh water or marine environments.
A recent Federal government study does conclude that, unlike other crude oils, dilbit will sink in the presence of suspended particulate matter (e.g. dirt particles in the ocean). Suspended particulate matter is very common in B.C.’s coastal waters, meaning that any dilbit spill will likely lead to submerged oil. Currently we have no ability to clean up oil that sinks below the surface, making dilbit a particularly risky substance to transport.
In order to build its pipeline, Kinder Morgan needs approval from the National Energy Board (NEB). To begin this process, Kinder Morgan submitted its application to the NEB on December 16, 2013. The NEB is now tasked with considering the 15,000 page application and determining if it is in the public interest.
The fifteen-month review process officially began on April 2, 2014. It will conclude on July 2, 2015, at which time the NEB will submit a recommendation to the Federal Government on whether or not the project should be approved. The Federal Government will then have six months to consider the NEB’s recommendation and either approve or reject the project. If approved, the pipeline could begin construction that year with a completion date as early as late 2017.
There are two categories of participants in the NEB hearing process: Commenters and Intervenors.
Commenters are allowed to submit a single letter for consideration by the NEB.
Intervenors have the right to question Kinder Morgan on their application, submit new evidence and offer a final oral argument on whether or not the NEB should approve the project. Intervenors therefore play an important and active role in holding Kinder Morgan to account on its claims.
Of the 2118 individuals and organizations that applied to participate in the hearing process, 400 were granted intervenor status, 1250 were granted commenter status and 468 were rejected. Andrew Weaver was the only BC MLA to apply for and receive intervenor status.
Critics have argued that recent Federal Government legislation has created a bare-bones hearing process that does not provide for a comprehensive, inclusive and in-depth review.
For instance, unlike in the Northern Gateway Pipeline hearings, the NEB panel has ruled that there will be no oral cross-examination of Kinder Morgan—only written questions and statements. This is important because oral cross-examination was critical to uncovering gaps and deficiencies in Northern Gateway’s evidence. Intervenors have argued that the absence of oral cross-examination will seriously undermine their ability to hold Kinder Morgan to account on its claims.
Meanwhile, others have argued that the process has excluded many British Columbians from fully participating. 468 British Columbians were denied the right to participate, while another 452 applied for full intervenor participation status and were downgraded to commenter status. What’s more, unlike in the Northern Gateway hearings, there are no community forums where the general public can present their comments to the panel.
This is why Andrew Weaver is using his status as an intervenor to advocate for a more effective review process and to help better engage British Columbians in the hearing process.
Andrew Weaver’s intervenor status has allowed him to make two key contributions:
First of all, Andrew has joined other intervenors in advocating for a more fair and effective hearing process. In doing so, he has called on the B.C. Government, Kinder Morgan and the National Energy Board to support an effort to get oral cross-examination included in the hearing process. Andrew has also supported an effort to get intervenors more time to submit their first round of questions to Kinder Morgan, as they were originally only given 30 days to review the 15,000-page application.
Secondly, Andrew has been working to hold Kinder Morgan to account on its claims by submitting nearly 500 questions to the company. The first set of questions dealt with oil spills while the second set of questions dealt with the extent to which residents of Southern Vancouver Island were consulted about the project. Unfortunately, Andrew has had to challenge roughly one third of the answers he received on the basis that they were either inadequate or incomplete.
From here, Andrew will have another opportunity to submit questions in September before he decides if it is necessary to submit his own evidence to the hearing process. All of this work will culminate in a final argument that Andrew will submit to the board on whether or not the project should be recommended for approval.
Andrew Weaver is using his status as an intervenor to help offer British Columbians a voice in the hearing process. Here are a few ways you can get involved: