Cheerful corporate insiders ignore vehement outsiders at Kinder Morgan public meeting
There were two parallel realities at the Kinder Morgan public meeting Tuesday night. Outside the PNE administration building, people set up a tent in the rain to show their vehement opposition to the Kinder Morgan proposal which would double the capacity of the Trans Mountain pipeline that transports Alberta bitumen to Canada's west coast. Inside, however, a sunny optimism prevailed. At times, the room seemed populated by more company employees than ordinary Metro Vancouver residents.
Kinder Morgan Canada's director of engineering Michael Davies said that he hadn't spoken directly to any of the people who came to the session handing out flyers opposed to the pipeline expansion. He said a big part of what Kinder Morgan was doing was trying to understand the community's concerns.
"With a big project like this, there's going to be some controversy about it, and we respect that. As part of the process we'll go through to make sure as many of those concerns are addressed as we can," he said.
As Kinder Morgan opened the doors to its public information session, environmental advocacy group staff and volunteers set up their tent outside with banners, brochures, and newsletters.
Throughout the three hour drop-in information session, green-clad Trans Mountain employees and people handing out brochures against the pipeline walked around the room, painting two very different pictures of the controversial pipeline proposal.
"The Trans Mountain pipeline was originally built in 1952 to ship Alberta light crude to refineries in the Vancouver area, for use by Canadians. That is not what the pipeline's new owners, ex-Enron American billionaires Richard Kinder and Bill Morgan, are doing with it. They are converting and expanding the pipeline to export unrefined tar sands bitumen, primarily to Asia, for increased profit. This is NOT 'business as usual.'" reads one flyer from the tent.
Inside, Kinder Morgan employees greeted people with folders containing a Discussion Guide, Project Update newsletter, and feedback form.
One of the sections in the 30-page Trans Mountain Discussion Guide describes in bullet-point form the many benefits for Canada and BC, such as boosts in oil prices, an "important boost" to the BC and Alberta construction industries, "investments and advancement in areas such as pipeline development and spill response."
On one point, both sides seemed to agree: the second Trans Mountain pipeline would be geared specifically to meet growing demand for oil across the ocean.
"The proposed Trans Mountain Expansion Project will allow Canada to promote its resources on the oil market where oil commands world pricing," stated the Trans Mountain Discussion Guide on page 17.
Not clear how photos, video taken at public information sessions will be used
"Please note video and photography will be taken at tonight's session for use in project materials," was written on a whiteboard, below a welcome message and a list of the groups and organizations present to answer questions.
The session was part of Kinder Morgan's ongoing public relations blitz before officially applying to the National Energy Board (NEB) to construct a second pipeline and pumping stations from Edmonton to Burnaby. The new pipeline would mostly transport bitumen, or heavy oil, from Alberta oil sands to be shipped from Vancouver's ports to meet growing demand from overseas markets. Kinder Morgan has stated that it plans to make an official application to the NEB in late 2013.
When asked what the photos and videos will be used for, a spokesperson said she didn't know what they would be used for exactly.
"We're even taking photos and footage of some of our people tonight because we don't have them," she added.
Residents call for public forum-style info sessions
Residents concerned about the prospects of an oil spill said that the informational placards, folder, and the Trans Mountain expansion project staff did not provide adequate information, nor did it satisfy their desire for a public forum-style format.
"I don't think this is a public consultation," said Purnima Gosavi, a Vancouver resident. She sat at a table in the centre of the room where people were invited to sit and fill out feedback forms. Gosavi was one of the eighty eight people who signed in to the three hour session, by Kinder Morgan's count.
Sitting to Gosavi's right was Vancouver resident Joan Janzen.
"We came with the hopes of asking questions that aren't answered directly in the presentation," Janzen said.
Janzen and Gosavi are members of Communities Against Pipelines, which Janzen describes as a "neighbourhood effort" by Vancouver residents opposed to the new pipeline. Their first meeting was in June, she said.
Fellow group member Mike Gillan sat across from Janzen and Gosavi. All three said they had come expecting a public forum about Kinder Morgan's proposal to build a second pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby that would transport Alberta oil sands bitumen overseas through Vancouver Harbour and the Burrard Inlet.
People read information about Kinder Morgan at a public information session on Nov 13 in East Vancouver. Photo by Beth Hong.
"They had this huge presentation, an audiovisual display and printed words, but they just have a pittance, just one page about the emergency response," Gosavi added. "I want to know more of what they have for emergency response. There are a couple of previous leakages, right?"
"Lots, yeah." Gillan said.
"They have not been addressed, as yet. And what if? What are their plans? Like there is a major disaster?" Gosavi asked.
BC NDP waiting for Trans Mountain NEB application before passing judgment: Simpson
Shane Simpson, NDP MLA for Vancouver-Hastings, said that his constituents had also expressed frustration about the format of the information sessions.
"They were hoping it would be a meeting...[that] there would be an opportunity to hear from people, from Kinder Morgan about what the scope of this might look like, the opportunity to ask questions in more of a meeting kind of venue," he said.
"That's not going to occur, at least this evening, but I would hope that Kinder Morgan will in fact have some kind of public meeting and invite people to come and have a conversation where people can hear each other and how they feel about this project."
Simpson compared the Kinder Morgan project to the other major proposed pipeline project currently under NEB review, the Enbridge Northern Gateway.
"There are a number of aspects of this project that are similar to Enbridge, we have some concern about that. But what we're really waiting for is what the actual application looks like," he said.
"Clearly they're going to have to address issues of tanker traffic and the potential impact on the coast they're going to have, and to address First Nations issues. They're going to have to address other significant environmental issues. And there's some expectation that they'll explain the benefits to British Columbians here," he continued.
"At this point we don't have answers to any of those questions so we'll be looking to see how Kinder Morgan responds to those questions and move from there."
Audio visuals and information about the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Photo by Beth Hong.
Too early to pass judgements, say North Vancouver residents
Standing nearby the audiovisual display of the proposed pipeline and a route map were North Vancouver residents Ken Gill and Gordon Dunnet. Gill, 69 and retired, drove down from his home in Deep Cove located near the Burrard Inlet. He had come at Dunnet's invitation.
"We're just concerned about the increase in tanker traffic," Gill said. "Big vessels-- there's noise and pollution and increased possibility of an oil spill which would be catastrophic in such a small area."
Dunnet, 65, shared Gill's concern about tanker traffic. He said he asked the representatives from Port Metro Vancouver at the information session about his concerns.
"It's a start, anyway," he said about whether he was satisfied with the answer.
"I think it's just preliminary information. there isn't a huge amount of detail right now but obviously it's going to have a big impact," Gill added.
"It seems like a reasonably transparent process so far, but it's very much the beginning of the process, so we'll see what unfolds. This is an initial public relations exercise, isn't it?"
Meanwhile, cheerful Trans Mountain employees walked around the room, answering questions and conversing with people. Kinder Morgan staff walked around the room, taking photos with their cameras and shooting video of people talking to Trans Mountain staff.
The Trans Mountain pipeline is a 1,150 km pipeline that runs from Edmonton through terminals and refineries in the central British Columbia region, the Greater Vancouver area (ending at the Westridge Marine terminal in Burnaby), and Washington state. The current pipeline transports 300,000 barrels per day of mixture of crude oil, refined and semi-refined products. The proposed pipeline, if approved, would carry heavy crude oil, or bitumen, pumped from Alberta tar sands.
If approved, the project would result in 750,000 barrels per day of oil flowing between Alberta and BC, and a five-fold increase tanker traffic in Vancouver's harbours from five to twenty-five tankers a month.
The next Kinder Morgan public information session in Vancouver will take place Thursday Nov 15 at Harbour Centre, Segal Hall (515 West Hastings Street) between 5pm to 8pm. All upcoming dates and locations for public information sessions can be found at the Trans Mountain site.