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Burnaby MP asks what BC gets out of Kinder Morgan's pipeline expansion

Starting in September 2012, Texas-based pipeline giant Kinder Morgan will begin public consultations for an estimated $4 billion expansion of its Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands in Edmonton to through Metro Vancouver. Their plan is to more than double the capacity of the pipeline by 2017. The project rivals Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, which aims to export crude oil from Alberta tar sands through the Great Bear Rainforest. With the benefit of an existing right-of-way, could Kinder Morgan succeed in making Vancouver the first major artery of oil sands expansion on the West Coast? Or will their record of oil spills tar up their plans?


This is the fourth of a five part series, Southern Gateway: An American pipeline giant's plans for Vancouver.

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Supping up the SUV economy

Stewart agrees that climate change and getting off of fossil fuels is a real concern and challenge we must face. He thinks about it when he’s flying on an airplane or driving back from the airport, he said, pointing out that we can’t give up oil “cold turkey.” 

“I think right now we’re an SUV economy,” he said. “We need to move to a hybrid economy, and then we move to the electric car economy.” 

None of it can be done overnight and he said that harnessing the “great wealth” of Canada’s resources, such as the oil sands, can allow us to make that change. 

Instead, the Harper government has been reinforcing the SUV economy, he said, supping up the engine, filling it full of airplane fuel to make it go faster.”

In their budget bill C-38, the Harper government repealed the Environmental Assessment Act and plan to reduce the number of departments doing environmental reviews from 40 to three, in order to quicken the approval of large resource projects geared at export, such as Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipelines or Kinder Morgan's pipeline expansion. 

Tsleil-Waututh First Nation insist the risks are too big

As local municipalities in BC demand full public consultation and the highest level of environmental assessment for any further expansion of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline, the question remains to be answered whether there is really any stopping a pipeline that already has a right of way, especially when the government is reworking laws to approve ones that don't, such as Enbridge's proposed pipelines that would cut through northern BC.

Tsleil-Waututh First Nation Chief Justin George (far left) wrote in a letter opposing the pipeline, "This is not just a Tsleil-Waututh issue or an aboriginal rights issue." Photo credit: Rain City Group.

The Tsleil-Waututh, also known as the ‘People of the Inlet’, have declared their opposition to Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion. In a letter they wrote,  

“It is just too big of a risk to allow more oil to be transported through Burrard Inlet for export.

“This is not just a Tsleil-Waututh issue or an aboriginal rights issue,” wrote Chief Justin George. “This is an issue that could impact everyone’s quality of life. Residents of the Lower Mainland, local and regional governments, the environmental community and all First Nations rely on the health of marine ecosystems to sustain their culture and wellbeing.” 

Eleven First Nations groups have claim in the metro Vancouver area alone.

“The biggest nightmare for any company is if the First Nations start to work together,” said Stewart, adding that while environmental groups raise awareness, they don’t have the same constitutional standing as a First Nations.

The Tsleil-Waututh signed the “Save the Fraser Declaration” near the beginning of July, an Indigenous law that bans oil sands pipelines through traditional territory. One hundred First Nations have signed it so far. 

What does BC get?

While climate activists deem pipeline projects, such as Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, unjustifiable from a global perspective because of climate change, Stewart points out that as it stands, it doesn’t seem justifiable from a local perspective. 

And he's not the only one.

BC Environment Minister Terry Lake told CBC News that Kinder Morgan needs to prove that the Trans Mountain expansion project is in the public interest of BC before the project can go ahead.

The province is asking to take on a huge amount of risk with very little economic benefit, he said. 

"While Alberta and the federal government get revenues from the oil sands, and Kinder Morgan and ship owners profit from transporting the oil, what does BC get?" Stewart asked.

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