Metro Vancouver will embark on its own research into the environmental risks from Kinder Morgan’s proposal to twin the Trans Mountain oil pipeline even though some local politicians warn it may be a costly duplication of effort.
Metro’s environment and parks committee voted Thursday to echo Belcarra Mayor Ralph Drew’s concerns about the project, particularly the potential for a spill into Burrard Inlet.
Directors also voted to have regional district staff conduct a preliminary review of marine and air quality risks from the expected five-fold increase in the number of tankers carrying oil from the Burnaby terminal.
Kinder Morgan is expected by year end to file its formal project application with the National Energy Board (NEB) to build a second pipeline that would nearly triple oil-moving capacity to 890,000 barrels per day.
Pitt Meadows Mayor Deb Walters was among the directors who were concerned the review could evolve into a major investment of Metro staff time and money.
“I’m concerned a bit at the scope of this,” she said.
Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman, who sits on the committee but only has a vote on parks issues, also warned Metro could face “an extremely large bill” for work that might already be done by Environment Canada or the NEB.
“It’s a duplication of other levels of government,” Banman said. “My fear is this is being used as a bit of a political football to make more of a political statement than anything else.”
Air quality and environment planning director Roger Kwan said a detailed risk analysis isn’t possible until Kinder Morgan files more specifics with the NEB.
Kwan said the aim will be to ensure Metro is well armed to influence or advise the NEB on issues that are a concern to the regional district.
Metro will also have to decide whether or not to seek intervenor status at the future Kinder Morgan pipeline hearings.
Bowen Island director Andrew Stone said one “huge” concern in the event of a spill is the “off-gassing” of solvents used to dilute oil sands bitumen that could pose serious health risks and trigger large-scale evacuations of Vancouver and North Shore neighbourhoods.
Drew, meanwhile, has exchanged a flurry of letters with Kinder Morgan officials and says he’s still not satisfied with their answers, particularly regarding the response to the 2007 spill from the Trans Mountain pipeline in Burnaby that released 250,000 litres of oil, some of which reached Burrard Inlet.
He says the cleanup response was slow and containment booms put on the water in the inlet failed to fully contain the escaped oil.
Summer weather, daylight and the proximity of response vessels all made for ideal conditions, Drew said in an Oct. 31 letter to the company, “yet there was still a considerable amount of unrecovered fugitive oil that contaminated the beaches of Burrard Inlet.”
Drew has also raised concern about tanker lights and noise, the size of the proposed new three-berth loading terminal, and the risk of earthquakes that could rupture the pipeline and trigger a hard-to-contain land-to-sea spill, possibly in conjunction with a landslide near Burnaby Mountain.
Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson a week earlier told a Vancouver business audience the risk of earthquakes is being studied closely but seismic reviews so far indicate Burnaby Mountain is “one of the most solid, secure rock bases in the Lower Mainland.”
He also told reporters the steady improvements in leak detection, valve shutoff and other technologies that would come with a new $5.4-billion pipeline would actually reduce land-based spill risks.
“It’s safe today, the overall infrastructure will be safer later,” Anderson said.
While much focus is on the risk of tankers sailing through Burrard Inlet to and from the existing Burnaby terminal, Richmond Coun. Harold Steves said he wants Metro to keep a wary eye on the potential for Kinder Morgan to switch to an alternate oil terminal near the mouth of the Fraser River if opposition to more tankers sailing past Vancouver proves too intense.