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Kinder Morgan: First Nations frustrated by Trans Mountain "fair share" requirement

Environment Minister Terry Lake announcing new requirements for heavy oil pipelines in Vancouver, BC. Screenshot from YouTube.

Environment Minister Terry Lake wrote to environmental groups this week to highlight what he called the government's new “aggressive requirements” for heavy oil pipelines. But for some First Nations who stand to be affacted by Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, those requirements are not aggressive enough.

Tsleil-Waututh Nation Band Council Member Carleen Thomas, who lives directly across from the oil port in the Burrard Inlet, said the issue is about much more than about getting a "fair share" of the pipeline revenues. 

"As People of the Inlet, it is our birthright and obligation to care for the lands and waters of our territory. Pipeline expansion is a risk too great to accept," she said.

"No amount of money will be able to replace, restore, or rehabilitate a natural environment decimated by a spill."

The "fair share" clause was one of five minimum requirements for heavy oil projects presented on July 23. Initially, news media focused on a rival oil pipeline project, Calgary-based Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway Pipeline, as BC premier Christy Clark exchanged public barbs with Alberta's Alison Redford throughout the following week during the Council of Federation conference.

However, Lake's announcement only fueled the concerns of communities affected by the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.

BC's stance on heavy oil pipeline not enough

Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob said it was about time the province took a position on this issue. 

“It’s a step forward, but just not enough,” he said, noting that the government has made no mention of the moratorium on tanker traffic along the northern coast of BC. 

The Squamish Nation remains opposed to the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, he said, and there’s no amount of money that will change their minds. 

Super tankers plying the west coast is too high a risk, he said, adding that the BC coast is in a seismic zone. Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion and its associated tankers impose just as much risk on BC’s waters as Enbridge’s Northern Gateway’s plans. 

“The same risks that apply up north also apply down here,” he said pointing out that allowing such projects would contradict their nation’s vision of revitalizing the Salish Sea.

Trans Mountain pipeline expansion could mean an extra 600 tanker movements in and out of south BC coast

Texas-based Kinder Morgan plans to more than double the capacity of its Trans Mountain pipeline so that it can handle 750,000 barrels of heavy oil per day.

If approved by the National Energy Board (NEB), Kinder Morgan’s project would lead to an extra 300 tankers in and out of the southern coast of BC.

Marine traffic vessel density along the coast of BC in 2003. Source: MoE 2006 State of the Environment Report.

Adding extra risk is the fact that large vessel movements of all types along BC’s coast are expected to increase over the next 15 years.

Container traffic is projected to increase by 300 per cent, bulk cargo vessels by 25 per cent, and cruise ships by at least 20 per cent, according to the government report.  

"We know that if the Kinder Morgan pipeline is expanded and tanker traffic in the Inlet is greatly increased, it won't be a case of 'if' there will be a spill, it will be 'when'." 

Thomas pointed out that oil spills are a reality for oil pipeline operators and recent events, such as Enbridge's latest spill in Wisconsin, are proof of that. She sees the government's request for money to compensate for a potential spill as their acceptance of a spill as inevtiable.

She echoed an earlier statement from the nation, which resolved to remain opposed to the Trans Mountain expansion.

The Tsleil-Waututh experienced first hand the devastating lingering effects of an oil spill after a excavator punctured a Kinder Morgan pipeline in 2007 and unleashed approximately 234,000 litres of oil into the Burrard Inlet and its surrounding area. 

"We witnessed the lack of emergency preparedness and environmental management systems in place to reduce the impact to the environment," she said.

Only a fraction of the oil that entered the Inlet was recovered, she said, and the spill crushed the community's long-term goal of once again harvesting seafood from their traditional waters.

Extra risky business: heavy oil unlike anything else we transport

The new government requirements followed from BC premier Christy Clark's announcement that Enbridge's Northern Gateway project posed a "very large risk" to BC for a "very small benefit."  

The Environment Minister acknowledged in his letter to environmental groups that heavy oil poses particular environmental challenges. 

“It is unlike anything else we transport across Canada,” he said, pointing out that some critics argue that BC's position is unfair because the country transports other commodities freely across provincial borders. 

“There is simply no comparison,” he wrote.

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