B.C. Formally Opposes Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Due to Marine and Land-based Oil Spill Risks

Kinder Morgan’s proposal to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline has failed to meet British Columbia’s standards when it comes to marine and land spill response plans, according to the province’s submission provided to the National Energy Board (NEB) Monday.

Environment Minister Mary Polak told reporters the province outlined five conditions that must be met to receive the province's support for any oil pipeline in its submission to the National Energy Board. She said two of those conditions, pertaining to marine and land spill response, have not been met.

“Today we are putting forward our final submission to the National Energy Board hearings on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion,” Polak said.

“You will see once again our five conditions outlined. We see those as our basis for defending British Columbia’s interests in terms of environment, but also First Nations and benefits to British Columbia.”

“We have not at this time seen evidence in the NEB process that those conditions have been met,” she said.

Polak added B.C. has received encouragement from both government and industry leaders for its decision to uphold the five conditions.

Although not all levels of government have expressed support for the province’s position.

Thomson Nicola Regional District Chair John Ranta expressed disappointment the government is “turning its back” on the project which he says would benefit communities along the pipeline route.

“Billions of dollars were expected to be spent, employing thousands of people during the construction phase,” Ranta told a local radio station in Merritt. “It surprises me a project of this magnitude would be rejected by the provincial government.”

Minister Polak defended B.C.’s position, saying, “I think perhaps Mr. Ranta is forgetting the basis upon which we are providing this submission to the NEB.”

“This is about the NEB process and based on the evidence within the NEB process,” she said.

“We have seen that the company has been vocal in saying they believe they can meet our five conditions,” Polak stated, adding, “they are welcome to work towards that.”

Peter McCartney, climate campaigner with the Wilderness Committee, said his organization is “cautiously optimistic” about B.C.’s submission to the NEB. "Of course they have their conditions laid out but if you read through their submission they say if these conditions are met, they will approve the pipeline," added. 

“I think it’s a good sign that the B.C. government recognizes a spill on our coast would be disastrous,” he said. “We’ll see what Kinder Morgan comes up with, if they even do come up with a proper spill response plan in the eyes of the government.”

As DeSmog Canada first reported, Kinder Morgan refused to release full spill response plans to the B.C. government, citing safety concerns. The company released those same spill response plans in full to the public in the U.S. for segments of the Trans Mountain pipeline network that cross the B.C.-Washington border.

Beyond oil spill concerns, McCartney said B.C. has no condition to address the climate impact of pipelines. 

“Even if that oil makes it to Asian markets without spilling into the Salish Sea it’s going to spill into the atmosphere via greenhouse gas emissions.”

Adam Scott from Environmental Defence said the current regulatory system doesn’t take the risks pipelines post to Canadians and environment seriously enough.

“The National Energy Board is increasingly seen by Canadians as a rubber stamp for the oil industry,” Scott said in a statement. “The NEB for too long has only asked how to get projects built. Instead, a reformed pipeline review process must first ask if these projects are in the best interest of Canadians.”

During the federal election Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Liberals would overhaul the National Energy Board review process by making it more evidence-based. Trudeau said a new revamped process would be put in place and that ongoing reviews, such as for the Trans Mountain pipeline, would start fresh under a new, more robust system.

However, in November Natural Resources Jim Carr announced ongoing oil pipeline reviews will continue on under the current regime, adding that changes may retroactively apply to ongoing reviews if and when they are implemented at the National Energy Board level.

Scott said the federal government is “backtracking on its election promise” but the final decision regarding the fate of the pipeline rests with cabinet.

“Any meaningful review has to investigate if energy projects will undermine Canada’s policy goals like promises made in Paris to cut carbon pollution,” he said. “It also means listening to the best available science, such as the recent NAS study on the safety risks of diluted bitumen.”

The Tsleil-Waututh First Nation is currently engaged in a legal challenge of the National Energy Board review process. The nation argues the process has been compromised by a number of “procedural errors” and the government has failed to meet its duty to consult with First Nations.

The proposed pipeline expansion would increase the line’s capacity from 300,000 to 750,000 barrels of oil per day and could quadruple the number of oil tankers in the Burrard Inlet, from five to more than 20 each month. 

Eugene Kung, staff counsel with West Coast Environmental Law, said he is “pleased the province has recognized that this project doesn’t meet their five conditions.”

Kung is a representative for the Tsliel-Waututh First Nation in the NEB hearings and is also counsel for the Tsliel-Waututh Sacred Trust Initiative, the branch of government tasked with fighting the Trans Mountain expansion.

Kung added that beyond marine and terrestrial spill response, there are two additional conditions that have yet to be met by Kinder Morgan.

The first condition, that the project go through an environmental assessment process, has yet to be met, according to Kung.

“It’s an open question whether the NEB process as it currently stands would fulfill that first condition given how widely criticized that process has been including by the province,” Kung said.

Kung added the fifth condition which pertains to First Nations rights needs further discussion.

“Based on where the state of Canadian law on aboriginal rights is today and in particular the practical requirements for consent as set out the in Chilcoltin decision — combined with the Tsliel-Waututh and other Fist Nations well-grounded and well-founded rejection of the project — makes it difficult for a linear project like a pipeline to meet all those conditions.”

“It’s hard to imagine those conditions being met if the aboriginal law rights and title requirements do have to be met because that clearly hasn’t happened,” he said.

“I haven’t seen anything from the minister on their position on that.”

This article was updated January 11, 2016 at 4:00pm to include comments from Eugene Kung.

Image: Environment Minister Mary Polak via Flickr

Carol Linnitt is a journalist, editor, illustrator and co-founder of The Narwhal. Carol has been reporting on energy and environmental…

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