Trans Mountain Pipeline

Since the 1950s the 1,150 kilometre Trans Mountain oilsands pipeline system has transported both crude oil and refined products from Edmonton, Alberta, to refineries and export terminals on the B.C. and Washington State coasts.

In 2013 Texas-based Kinder Morgan applied to expand the pipeline system from a capacity of 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels per day. The Canadian federal government purchased the pipeline from Kinder Morgan in May of 2018.

The Trans Mountain expansion includes twinning the current pipeline, constructing 12 new pump stations, 19 new storage tanks and three new marine berths located at the Westridge Marine Terminal in the Burrard Inlet near Vancouver.

Trans Mountain details and timeline

In November 2016 the federal government approved Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain extension application, an approval the NDP government in British Columbia vowed to fight in the courts and through all available means.

The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project would effectively triple the pipeline’s capacity. Most of the pipeline’s oil is destined for Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, where it would be loaded onto oil tankers that would navigate past Vancouver, the Gulf Islands and through the Juan de Fuca Strait before reaching open ocean.

The Trans Mountain pipeline. Map: Carol Linnitt / The Narwhal


The expansion would mean a seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic from the Westridge terminal, from around 60 oil tankers to more than 400 per year.

The pipeline was reviewed by Canada’s National Energy Board. During the review process, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans argued Kinder Morgan’s assessment of threats to whale species off the B.C. coast from increased tanker traffic contained “insufficient information and analysis.”

A separate analysis, commissioned by the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, found the anticipated increase in tanker traffic gives the local Southern Resident Killer Whale population only a 50 per cent chance of survival. Southern resident killer whales, which use echolocation to hunt their prey, have been overwhelmed by noise pollution in their habitat, a problem that has recently been connected to starvation.

In addition to concerns about an increase in oil tanker traffic, many criticized the National Energy Board review for its elimination of oral cross-examination, exclusion of upstream climate change considerations and failure to adequately consult affected First Nations along the pipeline route.

The board also did not compel Kinder Morgan to answer questions regarding the company’s oil spill response capacity.

Several high-profile intervenors publicly withdrew from the  review of the project, saying the process was biased. Former energy executive Marc Eliesen dropped out of the process in late 2014, calling it “fraudulent” and an “act of deception.

A lack of faith in the pipeline review process was noted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2015 during his federal election campaign. Trudeau committed to overhauling the National Energy Board and the review process of major pipeline proposals. On the campaign trail, Trudeau publicly confirmed the overhaul would apply to existing pipeline project proposals, including the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline project. However, after Trudeau took office, the Trans Mountain pipeline review was not restarted under new rules. Instead the federal government assigned a ministerial panel to conduct public hearings regarding the project.

In November 2016, the ministerial panel released a report on the project, the “Report from the Ministerial Panel for the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project,” which recommended against the project proceeding without a serious reassessment of its impacts on climate change commitments, indigenous rights and marine mammal safety.

On November 29, 2016, the federal government approved the project subject to 157 conditions.

Legal and Public Battles Against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Project

As of October 2017, there are 18 distinct legal proceedings against the project.

That includes six against the National Energy Board’s recommended approval, nine against the decision by the federal cabinet to approve it, three against the B.C. government for its decision to accept the federal review process and another two from Indian Tribes in Washington State for potential impact of significantly increased tanker traffic on endangered southern resident killer whales.

The Tsleil-Waututh First Nation launched a legal challenge against the Canadian government and the National Energy Board over legal compliance and consultation with First Nations in relation to the proposed pipeline expansion. In addition, the Secwepemc First Nation has vowed to defend its land against the project. The pipeline crosses 518 kilometres of unceded Secwepemc territory.

The first round of legal hearings against the project started in October 2017 in front of the Federal Court of Appeals.

In addition to legal challenges, there is strong public opposition to the project, especially concerning early engineering and construction work, resulting in hundreds of arrests. The project is formally opposed by the mayors of Vancouver and Burnaby.

In January 2018, B.C. announced its intention to explore restricting the transport of diluted bitumen across the province. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley responded with a brief boycott of B.C. wine. In April 2018, Kinder Morgan announced it was suspending spending on the project. Unless uncertainty is resolved by May 31, “it is difficult to conceive of any scenario in which we would proceed with the project,” the company said.

The Canadian government subsequently stepped in May 2018 and bought the project for $4.5 billion. In August 2018, the Federal Court of Appeal quashed the approval of Trans Mountain, saying Canada failed to meaningfully consult First Nations, falling well short of of the mark set by the Supreme Court of Canada, and that the National Energy Board’s report was flawed because it did not consider the issue of increased tanker traffic.

The project was sent back to the National Energy Board, which recommended approval of the project again in February 2019. The federal government announced the project had been approved by cabinet in June 2019.

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