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Activist pulls back curtain to show Kinder Morgan pipeline flaws and Kinder Morgan questions his credentials

Close up photo of Trans Mountain pipeline by David Ellis
Kinder Morgan has quietly been removing some 5005 cubic metres of oil-contaminated soil from its Trans Mountain pipeline near Coquihalla Canyon, near Hope since June 28, according to the National Energy Board (NEB). "I think there's been more oil spilled than they're saying," Vancouver-based pipeline critic David Ellis said, about the reported 25-barrel figure. And while a Kinder Morgan representative told the Vancouver Observer there were "no Kinder Morgan-branded trucks" moving any contaminated soil, NEB spokesperson Rebecca Taylor confirmed that soil was indeed being removed, a good part of it "definitely directly contaminated". Oil-soaked soil biodegrades over time, but can harm vegetation at its roots and can be toxic to animals if ingested.

Ellis has photographed places where the pipeline was exposed and corroded and signs indicating where pipeline anomalies may be. A bookseller specializing in Western First Nations literature and a former fisheries planner, Ellis raised an alarm when he saw trucks moving soil to Tervita Corporation in Richmond, which specializes in disposal of industrial waste.

Questioning credentials and demanding answers

Ellis treks out on weekends to pipeline excavation sites (where security has received orders not to let him pass) and frequently sends the NEB inquiries accompanied by photos about the pipeline's condition. By his estimation, there are 35 recent urgent repair sites along the pipeline where the company performed hydrostatic testing in October. The Texas-based company's plans to twin the aging pipeline and expand capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels of oil per day, in his view, could place British Columbians at risk for a big spill, Ellis told the Vancouver Observer. 
Given that Coquihalla Canyon is a provincial park area teeming with wildlife (and only 40 kilometres from Hope), people should be relieved that Kinder Morgan has been removing the soil and replacing it. 
Except that four months and 600 truckloads later, the company is still taking out soil, and that leads him to believe something isn't right. Kinder Morgan spokesperson Andy Galarnyk insisted that "the large volume of soil removed (from Coquihalla Canyon) was not considered hazardous waste, but was removed to meet strict clean up criteria because of its location within a provincial park." The NEB agreed that its cleanup standards mean removal of soil until it is tested to be completely safe. Galarnyk added that Ellis "does does not have any experience or qualifications to comment on pipeline operations".

But the bookseller, who has a Masters in Science from UBC and extensively documents the pipeline around the Coquihalla and Kamloops, has raised questions that are getting harder to dismiss. 

As safe as it was 60 years ago? 

Ellis, a plain-spoken man who readily admits he's no expert, came to prominence after he accurately predicted a Kinder Morgan pipeline spill along the Trans Mountain pipeline near Merritt and Hope one year before it happened. On a pipeline more than 1,000 kilometres long, he had said when and where the it would leak. "It was where high corrosion meets high pressure due to a sudden altitude drop," he said. 

The Globe and Mail wrote in September that Ellis' "plodding, unrelenting opposition" to the pipeline has started to get noticed, and he's been an on-the-ground source for photos and documentation of Trans Mountain pipeline's aging condition. 

While Kinder Morgan CEO Ian Anderson said at a Vancouver Board of Trade event on Tuesday that the pipeline is "just as safe and secure as it was 60 years ago, even more so", Ellis isn't sure it was very secure to begin with.

What he's found in a rare 1954 book, The Building of Trans Mountain: Canada’s first oil pipeline across the Rockies, suggests that the pipeline was made in 1952 with construction methods and materials that would not be acceptable today. There are passages documenting thinner walls along the pipeline to save costs near Hope, where the leak occurred in June. Pipeline walls, it says, were made thinner in the last 12 miles around Hope.  

Excerpt from The Building of Trans Mountain, which mentions funds saved by avoiding the need for a heavier wall pipe near Hope.

What's more, he says, the old pipeline doesn't appear to have been very well maintained over the years. 

"There's poor maintenance. There are even some areas where tree roots are digging into the Trans Mountain pipe, already weak after 61 years," Ellis said. Tree roots can damage the protective coating around a pipeline and come in direct contact with the steel pipe, causing faster corrosion. 


Photos of tree roots along pipeline near Coquihalla by David Ellis

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