TransMountain pipeline expansion fatally flawed

All Canadians, including Albertans especially, must insist that all shipping of dilbit and exports of low-value raw bitumen end.


"What’s really important to me is that … we process the bitumen from the oil sands in Alberta which creates a lot of jobs, and a lot of job activity, and… that would be a better thing to do than merely sending the raw bitumen down the pipeline.”

—the late former Alberta Premier The Hon. Peter Lougheed in a 2011 interview.


On December 16, 2013, Kinder Morgan filed application to the National Energy Board to expand its TransMountain Pipeline to the West Coast.

The application contains three major flaws —any one of which ought to be fatal.

The first is that Kinder Morgan has not applied to relocate the pipeline’s Westridge marine terminal from Burnaby, BC to Tsawwassen/Delta. 

By purchasing BC Ferries’ Tsawwassen terminal, all tanker traffic would be removed from Vancouver’s central and inner harbours, from underneath the Second Narrows and Lions Gate bridges, past Stanley Park, and from Burrard Inlet and a good part of the Salish Sea.  Deep water at Tsawwassen would allow safe loading of much larger tankers, reducing additional Salish Sea tanker traffic by three-quarters. The Burnaby mountain tank farm could be dismantled and a new pipeline through Burnaby, the third most densely-populated municipality in the Lower Mainland, would no longer be required.

A Tsawwassen marine terminal eliminates two major pipeline crossings of the Fraser River.  And it would eliminate the need to bring jet-fuel tankers up the Fraser River to a new jet-fuel marine terminal at Riverport and the need for a jet fuel pipeline through Richmond.  

Proceeds from the sale would allow BC Ferries to construct a new terminal near Vancouver’s airport, reducing Island transit times, not the same as crossing times, by half for many Lower Mainlanders and Islanders. The airport/ferry connection is fast and efficient with an extension of the TransLink Canada Line LRT to the Iona ferry terminal.

Other options include enlarging the Deltaport coal/container jetty to include a marine tanker terminal or building a new marine terminal jetty to the north of the Deltaport jetty.


Tsawwassen Ferry/Terminal Options, Re-located BC Ferries Terminal, and new Pipeline. Source, Mike Priaro. Base map, Johomaps.


Moving the Westridge marine terminal to Tsawwassen/Delta might provide incentive for Chevron, or acompetitor, to replace the small, marginally-economic Burnaby refinery and marine terminal with a larger, world-class environmental showpiece refinery like Irving Oil’s EPA-award winning refinery in Saint John, NB. Such a refinery could meet all of the Lower Mainland’s and Islands’ needs for petroleum products —including jet fuel which could be barged directly from the new refinery to the airport or to a new marine terminal. A new pipeline utilizing the existing railway right-of-way could connect to the proposed TransMountain pipeline without crossing the Fraser River.

The second is that the expanded pipeline will send dilbit to the West Coast for export. There is no more environmentally-damaging crude than dilbit if spilled and no more economically-disadvantageous crude to export than the raw bitumen diluted with solvent that makes up dilbit. British Columbians should insist on an agreement that any dilbit shipped down the expanded TransMountain pipeline be completely phased out in favour of upgraded bitumen and conventional crude over an agreed-upon period —say 15 years, encouraged by an ever-increasing “environmental” levy. And all Canadians, including Albertans especially, must insist that all shipping of dilbit and exports of low-value raw bitumen be phased out. 

Regardless, the third is that Kinder Morgan’s application makes no provision for the creation of a strategically-located, world-class, oil-spill response centre. The existing Western Canada Marine Response Corporation falls far short on response times, personnel availability, knowledge, experience, equipment, and location to handle a large dilbit spill in the Salish Sea. Funding to create a world-class spill response centre should come from crude producers, crude buyers, the pipeline company, marine shippers, the Province of Alberta, and the federal government. A world-class spill response centre must also have: on-going funding; dedicated personnel on-duty 24/7; on-going drills, training and research; support from academia, industry and government; water-front facilities, dedicated vessels and aircraft; specialized equipment and warehoused supplies; a command center with centralized communications; and, written and rehearsed emergency response plans to begin to effectively respond to the largest dilbit spill, say 100,000 bbl, in the Salish Sea within one hour —day or night, weekdays or holidays, good weather or bad.


It might be possible to negotiate with U.S. Salish Sea and Puget Sound jurisdictions, regulators, and industry to co-operate on a joint Canada-US spill-response centre.


Unfortunately, it is well known that only five to 15 percent of any light crude spill in ocean waters is ever recovered with current technology and the percentage recovery for a dilbit spill is likely to be much lower.


The elimination of dilbit exports must be the imperative goal of all Canadians but this will require one or two decades to achieve. British Columbians have an opportunity to play a key positive role in achieving this important environmental and economic goal by demanding an agreement that dilbit volumes using an expanded TransMountain pipeline be phased out over, say, 15 years, or face an escalating environmental levy. Such a levy will recover some of the economic benefits lost by the export of raw bitumen and by the high costs of diluent and compensate British Columbians for the disruptions and risks of an expanded TransMountain pipeline.




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