Trans-Mountain Oil Pipeline Expansion Plans in the Works

By B. McPherson

In the high publicity forum of hearings about the proposed Northern Gateway Oil Pipelines and the Keystone Pipeline in the American Midwest, plans are quietly being made to fully twin the Trans-Mountain Oil Pipeline that runs from Edmonton Alberta to Burnaby British Columbia. The appetite for oil and natural gas is such that the Kinder Morgan Corporation wishes to increase the pipeline capacity from its current 500 000 barrels of product per day to 700 000 per day.

Some of the oil is shipped to the Puget Sound area in Washington State. Other product is sent to California and to the US Gulf Coast in a network of pipes. Some product is sent overseas. The terminal of the Trans-Mountain pipeline ends at Burrard Inlet, Westridge Terminal.

The pipeline has had a stellar safety record, but a small oil spill four years ago underlined the danger of the thick black goo to the environment. About 1500 barrels were released when a construction crew accidentally ruptured the pipeline. People were forced to evacuate their homes which were covered by the oil fountain that ensued. Trees and gardens spaces were poisoned.

The local First Nation group, Tsleil-Waututh is opposing the further expansion of the Trans-Mountain pipeline, stating that the risk of increasing tanker traffic in the inlet is too great.

“Tsleil-Waututh is supportive of economic development initiatives that find a balance between the environment and the economy” said Chief George. “Tsleil-Waututh has embraced sustainable development on our reserve land and in our traditional territory. We are property developers and business owners in renewable energy technology. We have an array of government and industry partnerships that we rely upon to foster the economy that helps to sustain our community” Chief Justin George  
When BC was settled by Europeans, some treaties were signed but not honoured and in some cases, simple seizure of lands took place. Now the province is in an ongoing process of trying to achieve land claims settlements with the native people. Because land claims overlap most of the province, the First Nations people are potentially owners of the territory through which the pipeline runs.

The native people are not the only ones opposing the increased capacity of the pipeline. The Wilderness Committee in February 2011 expressed their concern over the increasing tanker traffic on the coast. August of 2011 saw the Georgia Strait Alliance make a submission to the Energy Board regarding the application to expand capacity, pointing out the real environmental risks to the already heavily impacted Georgia Strait and the navigational hazards present there. Mayors of Vancouver, Victoria and Burnaby as well as municipal officials from the Gulf Islands expressed their need for meaningful consultations before regulations change.

According to the Vancouver Sun Newspaper, fewer than 100 oil tankers were expected to load up at the Westridge Terminal in 2011.

Canada is home to vast petroleum reserves and the sale of those products brings revenue to run the government programmes as well as enriching private corporations. Jobs are created when construction of pipelines occur and steady work is provided in maintaining the system. Economic gains must be balanced against the economic losses to the fishery and tourist industries and environmental damage if an unfortunate accident should occur. We have seen in this past week how quickly human error can create a catastrophe with the wreck of the Costa Concordia.

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