By Paul J. Henderson, Chilliwack Times, with files from Vancouver Sun and Burnaby Now, March 15, 2012
Few people aware of company's plans to twin a crude oil pipeline that runs right through our city
A pipeline that carries hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil a day underneath Chilliwack farmers' fields, school yards, suburban lawns, the Vedder River and even a golf course may be twinned, a project that could be disruptive to property owners and the city.
There are small signs all along the route where Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain oil pipeline crosses roadways in Chilliwack. (Photograph by: Paul J. Henderson, Times)
With national and international attention from media, environmentalists, First Nations and the oil industry focused upon Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline project, Kinder Morgan's proposed $3.8 billion twinning of its 1,150-kilometre Trans Mountain pipeline-built in 1953 and running through Chilliwack-has gone virtually unnoticed.
From Oct. 20, 2011, to Feb. 16, the company held what is called an "open season" to gauge commercial interest from customers who would use the pipeline.
On Feb. 21, company president Ian Anderson said a final decision on moving the project to the design stage will be made by the end of March.
He also said the project, which would double the current capacity of 300,000 barrels per day (BPD) to 600,000 BPD, could be completed before the controversial Northern Gateway project, which will have a capacity of 550,000 BPD.
That project would take crude to a deepwater port at Kitimat on British Columbia's northern coast, and it could be a rival to the Trans Mountain line. However, Northern Gateway is in the early stages of a two-year regulatory process and is opposed by Canadian aboriginal groups and environmental organizations. Enbridge does not expect construction to be complete before 2017.
Company spokeswoman Lexa Hobenshield said Kinder Morgan aims to complete its project plan and design by the end of March.
"The decision to go ahead will lead into a two-year environmental assessment and consultations with First Nations and other stakeholders," she said. The application to the NEB would be based in part on that information.
"There's a lot of due diligence from commercial, to regulatory to the communities and stakeholders," Hobenshield said.
None of that consultation has yet begun at Chilliwack city hall as news of the company's planned pipeline plans came as a surprise to both Mayor Sharon Gaetz and senior staff.
But the project is on the radar of some jurisdictions, as well as the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM).
An emergency resolution was passed at the UBCM conference in October 2011 urging the National Energy Board (NEB), Port Metro Vancouver and "all appropriate" federal ministers to ensure any application to expand the amount of oil transported by pipeline and tanker be subject to the "highest degree" of environmental assessment.
It also called for meaningful public consultation, including direct engagement with affected municipalities, regional authorities and B.C. First Nations.
In Abbotsford, residents who live near Kinder Morgan's Sumas Mountain terminal site are concerned about health, environmental and property value effects after a holding tank leaked 110,000 litres of crude oil on Jan. 24.
"After the recent oil spill, there is intensified community concern about the risks associated with this industry," said John Vissers, an Abbotsford neighbour of the terminal. "We had just confronted the company about the need to improve their existing operations, and yet without giving us any confirmation that improvements will happen they start taking about expansion."
Chilliwack resident Sheila Muxlow worked in Alberta for the Sierra Club of Canada and fought, among other things, for the protection of waterways from oil extraction in the tar sands. Now, back home in Greendale, she couldn't ignore the Abbotsford leak and the proposed expansion of the pipeline in her home town.
"I think that there has to at the very least be a public hearing and some serious meaningful consultation with the city," she told the Times.
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said residents of his community will have concerns, especially given the 2007 rupture of Kinder Morgan's pipeline in the Westridge neighbourhood, which sprayed nearby homes with crude oil after a contractor struck the line.
"I know that was a traumatic incident for the residents, but it affected the rest of the city, too, because they saw that what had seemed a fairly benign presence could have a serious impact," he said. "There's no way you can prevent accidents from happening. The question is what do you do when it occurs and have you put in the proper processes and procedures to ensure it doesn't turn into a disaster?"
The company says pipelines are as safe or safer than other modes of oil transportation.
"There is no question that safe operations is an important part of ongoing dialogue," company spokesperson Lexi Hobenshield said. "The fact is that any industry faces risks, but the risks to our business are manageable with good regulation, good technology, safe practices and industry best practices. This is why, statistically speaking, the pipeline industry is the safest way to move products over long distances when compared to other means of transport."
In Chilliwack, the pipeline runs in a southwest direction, crossing to the south side of Highway 1 at Upper Prairie Road. It runs under farmland and hits the core of Sardis just south of Stevenson Road, runs underneath Kinkora Golf Course and crosses Vedder Road south of South Sumas Road. For much of the route it parallels the BC Hydro line and then runs underneath the sportsfield at Watson elementary and through the backyards of a number of homes.
Director of engineering David Blain said the city hasn't been contacted about the project and that because the pipeline is regulated by a federal agency, municipal permission isn't required. ? As part of the "alarm-raising" about Kinder Morgan's pipeline plans, a screening of the film White Water, Black Gold, which addresses the link between water pollution and tar sands oil extraction, is scheduled for March 20, 6: 30 to 8: 30 p.m., at the University of the Fraser Valley Chilliwack campus, room A203. Cost is a suggested donation of $5 to $10 but no one will be turned away for lack of funds.
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