Trans Mountain begins construction in September

Eric Plummer, August 22, 2017

The planned expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline is expected to increase tanker traffic at the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby from five export vessels a month to 34. (Kinder Morgan photo)

British Columbia — 

Despite opposition from Indigenous leaders and the provincial government, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is moving ahead, with construction set to begin in September.

Kinder Morgan plans to twin the existing pipeline running from central Alberta to British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, increasing capacity from 300,000 barrels of oil a day to 890,000. The company has announced its intention to begin construction next month on private land, which could include the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby and a tank farm near Simon Fraser University.

But expanding the pipeline on public land is another matter, as this is dependent on consultation with Indigenous communities, according to the Government of B.C. The province has secured the legal counsel of Thomas Berger, a former Supreme Court judge, for federal court hearings scheduled this fall on the future of Trans Mountain.

“We are committed to fighting for B.C.’s interests and it is government’s desire to seek intervenor status in legal challenges to federal approval of the pipeline expansion and increased oil tanker traffic off B.C.’s coast,” said Attorney General David Eby in a statement on Aug. 10.

The federal government approved the Trans Mountain expansion, citing that the project is in the best interests of all Canadians by diversifying the country’s ability to export petroleum. Improved access to Asian markets would result in a better price for the resource, thereby lessening Canada’s reliance on customers in the United States’ Midwest.

Besides increasing the flow through B.C., tanker traffic from the Burnaby terminal is expected to increase from the current five export vessels a month to 34. The pipeline’s tanker route passes through territorial Nuu-chah-nulth waters along the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island, but a National Energy Board report on the expansion determined that the impact on Ditidaht fishing would be “minor” while the vessels’ effect on Maa-nulth Nations is “negligible.”

The pipeline expansion has not gone over well with the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, including Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, who was arrested in November 2014 while protesting Trans Mountain’s exploration of Burnaby Mountain.

“As long as any Canadian or provincial government permits environmentally destructive projects that places our communities, families and unceded territories at risk, our nations and communities will exercise our inherent rights and responsibilities to resist within the courts, in the streets and most certainly, on the land itself,” stated Phillip.

The UBCIC has campaigned to stop Trans Mountain, collecting over 21,000 signatures in a petition, but not all aboriginal groups are opposed to the project, according to Kinder Morgan. The company reports that 51 aboriginal communities have pledged support to Trans Mountain, including 10 in Alberta and 41 in B.C. Kinder Morgan has agreed to share over $400 million with these communities, although details of the pipeline’s revenue deals remain confidential.

“The majority of First Nations along the pipeline corridor have chosen to enter into mutual benefit agreements with Trans Mountain,” stated the energy company. “They set out a framework for a First Nation and Trans Mountain to work cooperatively to reduce risk and maximize benefits in relation to the expansion project.”

Trans Mountain has loaded vessels on B.C.’s coast since 1956 “without a single spill from tanker operations,” according to its parent company. But the National Energy Board’s approval of the pipeline expansion came with a prediction that a perfect record won’t last forever.

“[O]ver the life of the project the probability of small spills is high,” stated the NEB’s Crown Consultation and Accommodation Report. “The Crown acknowledges that aboriginal peoples who rely on subsistence foods and natural resources are at greatest risk for adverse effects from an oil spill regardless of its size.”