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Update IV: Metro Vancouver (Burnaby)

The Ministerial Panel on the Proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion held its first round of meetings in Metro Vancouver, August 9 to 11, 2016, with eight sessions over three days in Burnaby. The meetings accommodated more than 500 attendees and roughly 150 presenters from municipal governments, businesses, environmental groups and members of the general public.

As in previous meetings, the quality of intervention has been very high, with many subject-area experts speaking knowledgeably and helpfully to the issues they raise. Business and labour representatives continue to speak in support of the project, indicating a degree of faith in the National Energy Board’s process and an eagerness to take up the economic benefits they anticipate from construction. Municipal input, which in previous meetings was generally supportive or ambivalent, turned negative, with representatives from the Cities of New Westminster and Burnaby, stating serious reservations on safety grounds. Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan made a passionate presentation against the project and his views were almost unanimously reflected in two large public sessions.

Many themes that had developed in previous meetings also re-emerged. Presenters were unhappy about the National Energy Board process, including the restrictions on their presentations, the potential areas of discussion (e.g., no consideration of climate effects) and no ability for intervenors to orally cross-examine and to test content and accuracy. On process questions, presenters also continued to criticize the Ministerial Panel for its tight schedule and for what some regarded as inadequate advertising or notice. The biggest new theme in Burnaby revolved around safety issues.

As with previous Panel Updates, the selection of issues below is offered as a broad representation of issues raised, not a comprehensive list. Metro Vancouver meetings continue August 16 to 19.

Safety in Densely Populated Areas – Burnaby, which is the terminus of the existing and proposed pipelines, is also a significant centre of opposition. Pointing to a 2007 spill that released 230,000 litres of oil in a Burnaby neighbourhood, many presenters objected to the building of new pipeline infrastructure through what is now a dense, urban area.

Burnaby Tank Farm – Burnaby neighbours objected that the pipeline expansion would include the addition of 20 new storage tanks to the 14 currently located at the foot of Burnaby Mountain. Neighbours posted specific concerns about the risks of a leak, explosion or fire, especially because of the proximity to an elementary school, and the toxicity of diluted bitumen in that situation.

Safety on Burnaby Mountain – Presenters who study or work at Simon Fraser University or live next to the campus said they feared that a tank farm fire could ignite the surrounding forest, prevent their evacuation and send clouds of toxic fumes over the mountaintop.

Lack of Municipal Emergency Capacity – Fire departments in both Burnaby and New Westminster say they are unprepared to manage the consequences of a major pipeline break or fire. Burnaby specifically says it is incapable of fighting a tank farm fire.

Diluted Bitumen – Presenters noted that diluted bitumen is transported under pressure and, if leaked, can break down quickly into its constituent parts, sending toxic fumes and explosive gases into the air and spilling bitumen onto the ground.

Dilbit Clean-up – Presenters also raised concern about the absence of a proven technique to clean up diluted bitumen. This could be a particular issue in salt water where there has been no experience to date with dilbit spills.

Shipping Congestion – Presenters raised concerns about the number and size of tankers making their way to the Westridge Terminal (Trans Mountain predicts that tanker traffic would increase from one a week to one a day).

Shipping Risks to Other Transportation – A presenter pointed out the risk of a ship collision with the railway bridge or the Iron Workers’ Memorial Bridge, either (or both) of which could seriously disrupt land transportation.

Air Pollution – Even without an accident, presenters said that the increase in tanker traffic and the increased handling of diluted bitumen at the terminal would degrade air quality in an enclosed airshed.

Marine Spill Responsibility – Presenters pointed out that both Trans Mountain and the National Energy Board have said their responsibility for spills ends at the Westridge dock, raising concerns about who would be accountable – and who might pay the bill – if a major spill occurred from a foreign freighter in B.C. waters.

Oil Spill Response Time – In the wake of a bunker oil spill in English Bay in April, 2015, presenters said they are worried about the response time and capacity of Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, the organization responsible for harbour cleanup. 

Emergency Plan – Chief Tim Armstrong, of the New Westminster Fire and Rescue Services, said the Trans Mountain emergency response plan was inadequate and objected that the company was refusing to share details (including who Trans Mountain would call in an emergency).

Age of Infrastructure – When the original Trans Mountain pipeline was commissioned in 1953, the company is reported to have estimated a 50-year life expectancy. Presenters said they are concerned that the line and tank farm are still in operation after 63 years.

Earthquake Zone – Presenters raised concern about bringing new fossil fuel infrastructure into a heavily populated earthquake zone.  

Right Route? – Burnaby Board of Trade President and CEO, Paul Holden, said “the justification for the project is clear,” and noted that the BBOT supports responsible resource extraction and recognizes the need to get resources to market. BBOT also acknowledged Kinder Morgan’s history of operation of its current pipeline in Burnaby, but questioned building a new pipeline through an increasingly densifying urban environment, and whether Burnaby is still an appropriate terminus after 60 years of Lower Mainland development.

B.C. Brand – Presenters said there were concerned about the damage to Vancouver and British Columbia’s brand as a tourist destination – certainly in the event of a spill, but potentially just because it would become known as an oil port.

Marine Sector Disruption – A marine researcher suggested that increased marine traffic could negatively affect marine life, as both fish and marine mammals are sensitive to noise.

Stranded Assets – Seth Klein of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives presented research that suggests that current fossil fuel shipping capacity is sufficient and world demand is (or should be) declining, raising a risk that new infrastructure would soon prove redundant – and thus a potential liability to Kinder Morgan and to a government that may give it the go-ahead.

Trans Mountain Rights-of-Way – In addition to municipalities having to bear additional costs to operate in the vicinity of oil pipelines, the City of Burnaby objected that it must actually obtain Kinder Morgan’s permission when designing or executing work within the company’s right-of-way.

Temporary Foreign Workers – Labour organizations said they worry that Kinder Morgan/Trans Mountain will try to build new infrastructure using temporary foreign workers, and that the rules of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the as-yet unratified Trans Pacific Partnership would make the use of temporary foreign workers easier and more likely.

Energy Plan – Many presenters said government should delay a pipeline decision until it develops a national energy plan and/or a detailed national climate action plan. One presenter suggested the holding of a Royal Commission.

Canadian Refining/Worker Retraining – Presenters continue to suggest that the federal government should require that industry develop capacity to refine oil sands bitumen in Canada, rather than transporting the raw product for export; they argue that this would create jobs and increase Canada’s energy security. Another option that came up is for government to invest in retraining oil industry workers to work in the renewable energy industry and/or to divert current oil industry subsidies to the renewable energy sector.

Support for Fair Treatment for First Nations – Several presenters noted the government’s responsibility to consult with First Nations and, per the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to obtain “free, prior, and informed consent” of all affected First Nations.

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