This Article is part of the Tar Sands Reporting Project special report See the full report

Southern Gateway: An American pipeline giant's plans for Vancouver

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According to Kinder Morgan Canada spokesperson Lexa Hobenshield, the project will cost approximately $4 billion, of which 99 per cent will be spent in Canada on goods and services. In an e-mail to the Vancouver Observer she wrote,

"This expenditure is estimated to lead to increased Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Canada of approximately $3.5 billion, labour income of approximately $2.3 billion and approximately 37,000 person-years of employment."

Yet, according to BC's Environment Minister Terry Lake in a CBC article, Kinder Morgan needs to prove the project is in the public interest of BC before it can go ahead.

Quiet incremental expansions

Kinder Morgan’s plans for expansion were never exactly secret but their incremental approach to expansion so far has allowed them to avoid the same degree of public scrutiny as other pipeline projects such as Enbridge’s Northern Gateway or the Keystone XL. 

When Kinder Morgan bought the Trans Mountain pipeline in 2005, 225,000 barrels of oil flowed through it each day and 22 tankers traversed the inlet to pick up crude oil bound for Washington and California. 

The Trans Mountain pipeline is operated by Kinder Morgan Canada and owned by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, both subsidiaries within Kinder Morgan's "family of companies."

Three months before the 2007 Burnaby oil spill that Kinder Morgan's subsidiary (Trans Mountain Pipeline L.P.) would later be charged and convicted for under the provincial Environmental Management Act, the company added ten new pump stations and boosted the pipeline’s capacity to 260,000 barrels per day. 

A year after the spill, before the investigation into its cause was even completed, the company finished expanding that same pipeline at a section that runs through Jasper National Park. The expansion increased the pipeline’s capacity to 300,000 barrels per day. 

Communities on the West Coast were never consulted despite being on the receiving end of the extra amount of oil.

By 2010, 71 double-hulled tankers made their way through Vancouver’s harbour to Washington, California, and China, three times as many as when Kinder Morgan first bought the pipeline in 2005. 

Buried underneath the public outrage against Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway, are plans as significant in magnitude for the populated metropolis of Vancouver. With the only existing pipeline connecting Alberta’s oil sands to Asian and other markets, Vancouver’s aspirations to become the greenest city on Earth are about to be put to the test.

While celebrities in the U.S. were getting arrested in front of the White House last summer at the Keystone XL pipeline protests, environmentalists in British Columbia were making pleas to keep the northern coast and Great Bear Rainforest pristine and free from Enbridge’s oil sands pipelines and tankers. 

The Kermode or white Spirit Bear is a black bear with a recessive gene native to the Great Bear Rainforest. Photo credit: Jackmont, Creative Commons

Overshadowed by the iconic images of hand-cuffed celebrities and the Great Bear Rainforest’s mysterious white Kermode or Spirit Bears are grand plans for the south coast of BC, plans that some on the coast would discover by accident.

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