Canadian environmentalists’ and activists’ attention over the past two weeks has been directed at the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project after more than 100 people were arrested at a protest that flared up in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby as Kinder Morgan commenced survey work on the project.
Photo by Mark Klotz
The expansion project is one of four massive pipeline projects currently being considered for approval, in addition to Keystone XL, Energy East, and Northern Gateway that would each move nearly a million barrels of bitumen per day from Alberta’s tar sands oil mines.
The company plans to expand the capacity of the 60-year-old pipeline that runs from Edmonton, Alberta to marketing terminals and refineries in the central British Columbia region. The $5.4 billion project would add 620 miles of new pipeline, 120 miles of reactivated pipeline and an expanded marine terminal in Burnaby to handle up to 890,000 barrels of bitumen per day that would be shipped to overseas markets in supertankers. Part of the project includes drilling holes in Burnaby Mountain to run an extension through the mountain and over a conservation site, which include a popular hiking area for local residents.
Environmentalists and local residents are worried not only about environmental damage from possible pipelines leaks and spills (yet another pipeline spill was reported as recently as Sunday), but also about that risk posed by increased oil tanker traffic through pristine waters that many local residents and First Nation groups depend on.
Following two weeks of protests against the pipeline at the survey site, last Friday, Nov. 28, Kinder Morgan announced that it was halting its survey work immediately and withdrawing from the site. Although those protesting the project celebrated a small victory, they know the battle is far from over.
The pipeline is currently under federal review by the National Energy Board. There is much public distrust in this process and groups opposing Trans Mountain, including Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, and are calling for the province of British Columbia to conduct their own provincial review.
“I think there’s a lot of people who have lost faith in the National Energy Board, in its impartiality, its subjectivity in considering these (pipeline projects),” Corrigan told a Canadian TV channel on Sunday. “The appointments are made from the oil industry. It appears that their allegiance is to the oil industry.”
Earlier in November, Marc Eliesen, a former BC Hydro CEO, who has 40 years of “senior executive positions in the energy sector of Canada” withdrew his participation in the National Energy Board hearings on the Trans Mountain pipeline. In a scathing letter, he called the hearings “deceptive and misleading,” and noted that there were 2,000 questions posted to Kinder Morgan by Intervenors at the hearings that went unanswered.
Thousands of British Columbians have already signed a petition demanding “Premier Christy Clark to set up a fair and independent review of Kinder Morgan’s crude oil pipeline and tanker project.”
“No matter which side you’re cheering for, it’s impossible to enjoy a hockey game if you don’t trust the referee, and it’s only getting worse,” said Kai Nagata, Energy & Democracy Director at Dogwood Initiative, a Victoria-based environmental nonprofit. “It’s the same with these pipeline approvals. Ottawa has turned the Kinder Morgan review into a game, and most people watching agree the whole thing is rigged,” he said.
“It’s time for Premier Clark to step in.”
Clark, however, has said she would support the National Energy Board’s decision in this matter
The energy board approved the Northern Gateway Pipeline earlier this year. And many suggest that given the federal governments ongoing support of further development of the Alberta tar sands the result of the Trans Mountain hearing is a foregone conclusion.
In addition to the implied support by the federal government, the process can hardly be called fair if there is no cross-examination of Kinder Morgan and the hearings are not public, critics say.
“The Harper government seems to be bending over backward to help these pipeline companies push through these unpopular tar sands export projects with less public scrutiny and participation,” said Ben West, tar sands campaign director with ForestEthics Advocacy, which has filed a suit challenging the National Energy Board’s restrictions on public comment on pipeline proposals.
There are several other legal challenges against the Trans Mountain Pipeline apart from this.
“Not only have they limited public participation into the NEB process but the scope of the review is far too narrow,” said Dr. Lynne M. Quarmby, a Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Simon Fraser University, who is a co-plaintiff in the ForestEthics lawsuit. “Climate impacts of this vast expansion of fossil fuel export are not even being considered, which in itself makes a full environmental assessment impossible.”
As opposition to further expansion of the Alberta tar sands and associated pipeline projects grows, provincial and municipal governments are making their voices heard, calling for independent reviews and demanding stringent conditions be met, as witnessed last week when three Eastern Canada provinces joined forces regarding the Energy East pipeline project.
Meanwhile, many groups are looking to the federal elections in 2015 as the battle to end all pipeline battles. It is expected that the elections will turn out to be a referendum of sorts on the tar sands mines itself.