Healthy Oceans. Healthy Communities.

Pipeline review process should go back to the drawing board

December 1, 2015

Living Oceans has asked Prime Minister Trudeau and cabinet ministers to put the National Energy Board’s (NEB) environmental review of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion on hold. During the election the Prime Minister stated that, if elected, his government would overhaul the NEB assessment process and apply the new rules to projects currently under assessment (Kinder Morgan’s TMEP and TransCanada’s Energy East).

Map of proposed tanker ban area.

“We were pleased to hear that the Liberals recognize the need to consider upstream impacts, such as the development of new tar sands projects that would be made possible by adding to pipeline capacity, and downstream impacts, including the air quality and climate implications of burning these fossil fuels,” said Karen Wristen, Living Oceans Executive Director. “It makes little sense to put all of the parties through the process of final argument and ask the NEB to deliberate on the evidence that is before them, when the government has already indicated that it knows the scope of the hearing was too narrow.”  Final arguments on Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion are currently scheduled to begin in December.

Trans Mountain Pipeline

Kinder Morgan wants to expand the capacity of the Trans Mountain Pipeline to 890,000 barrels of oil and diluted bitumen per day. If the expansion is approved tanker traffic in the Salish Sea will increase from 70 to 90 Aframax oil tankers each year to 300 of the much larger Suezmax tankers. tanker comparisonDiluted bitumen is a mixture of tar sands bitumen and a byproduct of natural gas production called ‘condensate.’ Dilbit sinks in seawater and there is no technology that can clean it up. In the event of a spill of regular crude oil the level of spill preparedness on the West Coast is insufficient to respond as witnessed by the relatively small spill from a freighter in English Bay in May 2015.

It seems that the fossil fuel industry thinks that adding a climate test to pipeline and tanker assessments is just an attack on the oil patch, at least according to executive Murray Mullen who was quoted in the Globe and Mail: “You’re really attacking the energy industry. That’s what climate change is all about.”

Living Oceans has intervenor status in the Trans Mountain hearings under a rejigged approval process created by the Harper government that stripped the NEB of its decision-making authority and removed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency from the review entirely. Several intervenors have called the hearings a farce and have dropped out. Last summer the Harper government appointed a Kinder Morgan consultant to the NEB in a conflict of interest that caused the hearings to be postponed and allowed Kinder Morgan to bolster its case with new evidence only weeks before final arguments are due.

“The process has been plagued from the outset,” said Karen. “The trigger was pulled on those tight new timelines when the application wasn’t even complete and it all went downhill from there. The paper process that was meant to replace cross-examination just hasn’t worked out; First Nations are furious with the lack of consultation and we don’t feel our experts have had adequate time to assess some of the evidence.  Stopping the process now, until the new rules are in place, could help cure some of the issues.”