Kinder Morgan, the company that owns the Trans Mountain pipeline that carries oil from Alberta to the B.C. coast and Washington state through Abbotsford, wants to twin the line, expanding capacity from 300,000 barrels per day to 850,000.
Local environmentalists say allowing that to happen is essentially being complicit in creating more greenhouse gasses and global warming. Opponents also claim twinning carries the threat of future oil spills like those that have taken place in Abbotsford, with the potential to be greater environmental disasters.
Kinder Morgan maintains the pipeline is the safest way to transport the fossil fuels that are used by virtually everyone in the Lower Mainland on a daily basis. Pending approval, the company would begin construction in 2016, and have its new line operational by 2017.
Local environmentalist John Vissers is opposed to the pipeline expansion. He is involved with organizations such as the Abbotsford Mission Nature Club and the city’s environmental advisory committee, which are among the local groups drafting responses to the proposed pipeline expansion.
Vissers took part in a public meeting about the pipeline at UFV earlier this month, and said an organization is building to challenge the pipeline expansion.
“Once people are aware of the scope of this project, there is concern,” he said.
For example, Kinder Morgan may need to purchase property for the pipeline right-of-way, and may have the legal right to expropriate land.
“Clearly it’s going to impact our valley in a significant way,” he said.
He said expansions to the Sumas Mountain Tank Farm and Pumping Station could impact nearby residents.
While the industrial facilities may have been well placed when the pipeline first went into operation in 1953, Vissers said Abbotsford’s growth and the increasing residential development on Sumas Mountain makes it a poor place for industry.
“Do we want to jeopardize the only area where we can grow the city?” he asked.
He has heard Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson speaking against the pipeline because of increased oil tanker traffic at the port of Vancouver. Visser believes local politicians should be just as opposed.
“In the harbour they have a tanker problem – on our mountain we have a tank problem.”
Vissers calls the crude from the Alberta tar sands “the dirtiest oil on the planet,” and says by not taking the opportunity to oppose the pipeline he would be endorsing that oil being used to contribute to global warming.
Regarding Alberta oil being exported internationally out of the Port of Vancouver, “Vancouver is the gateway,” he said. “In the Fraser Valley what are we? We are just the doormat.”
Hank Roos, president of the Abbotsford-Matsqui Nature Club, said his group has already voiced its opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, which runs almost 1,200 km from Edmonton to Kitimat.
It is now formulating a response to the Kinder Morgan expansion. Roos believes that with an existing pipeline already in place, an expansion of capacity will receive government approval more easily. The group’s immediate concern is the potential for spills in watersheds and salmon habitat along the route.
“The valuable natural assets we all own as Canadians and British Columbians are at risk,” Roos said.
Kinder Morgan spokesperson Lexa Hobenshield points out the Trans Mountain pipeline has been transporting petroleum products from Alberta and Northern B.C. since 1953, including 90 per cent of the gasoline used in the Lower Mainland and B.C. Interior. She calls it a reliable and economical way to transport large volumes of crude oil and natural gas – better than truck or rail.
“This is absolutely by far the safest and most environmentally sound way to do that.”
At its current capacity of 300,000 barrel per day, the Trans Mountain pipeline is equivalent to one 36,000-litre tanker truck travelling between Edmonton and Burnaby every minute over the course of 24 hours – or more than 1,400 tanker trucks per day.
There have been two oil spill incidents in Abbotsford.
In 2005, below the Sumas Terminal, landfill deposited by a third party next to to the right of way caused the pipeline to move and release oil. The spill was cleaned up and the area remediated, Hobenshield said.
On Jan. 24 this year, oil was released from a storage tank into a containment area at the site. There was a strong smell of oil in the area, and some residents complained of nausea and headaches. The spill was cleaned up the same day, Hobenshield said.
In both cases, Kinder Morgan took steps aimed at ensuring these incidents do not occur in the future, she said.
She said there are definite benefits for the city of Abbotsford. Currently, Kinder Morgan pays the city $2 million per year in municipal taxes, and this would rise to $2.5 million with the expansion.
As part of Kinder Morgan’s process leading up to a regulatory application, the company will be completing socio-economic studies, and share the results publicly. The information will be part of its facilities application. Part of its 18- to 24-month consultation process will be determining what the specific interests are of communities along the proposed pipeline route.
Look for further coverage of this issue in upcoming editions of The News and online at abbynews.com