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

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“That was kind of an eye opener as well,” she said, adding that she’s not questioning their ability to give independent opinions. She just found that many aren’t even available to hire to give independent opinions.

“So many are working within the oil and gas sector.”

Changing the month-to-month contracts with shippers to 15 or 20-year contracts could more easily allow the recording breaking amount of oil shipped through Vancouver in 2010 to become a new normal. 

A tanker moving through Vancouver's shallow waters. Photo credit: Bill Gannon.

She couldn’t help but feel uneasy though that her team was the only one ringing the alarm. 

“Why are we the only people that know?” Malcolmson wondered. 

She was convinced that a proposal that could potentially be so significant for the region would have surely been brought up already by at least a few other coastal communities. So convinced, that on the last day of a meeting in April that year with nearby municipalities, her team lost their nerve and chose not to bring forward a resolution addressing the issue. 

“If we’re right on this,” she thought, “we’ll find other ways to get the message out.” The last thing she wanted was to bring a resolution forward to be signed by other local governments only to have interpreted something wrong.

The risks that no one chose to take

After months of research, the Islands Trust Council, along with a handful of NGOs, made the deadline and sent a letter to the National Energy Board asking for more public consultation with coastal communities and more time to comment. 

The letter raised the concern that these long-term contracts would inhibit regulatory agencies’ ability to decrease the number of tankers in the Georgia Straight, a flexibility that exists for the sake of protecting the West Coast’s fragile marine ecosystem.

Two days later the Board responded.

It was not persuaded that the hearings should be moved to Vancouver or that the deadline should be extended, despite the impending decision’s direct impact on Vancouver, its waters and its surrounding coastal communities.

During the annual conference for the Union of BC Municipalities in September 2011, the City of Victoria and the City of Burnaby sponsored a resolution demanding that any decisions around oil tanker traffic on the south coast not be made without thorough consultation with the public, local governments and First Nations.

Instead, without any public consultation, in December 2011, the NEB approved Kinder Morgan’s application to seek long-term contracts with shippers. 

Financial drivers, not regulators mandated to protect the environment, nor local communities directly affected, made the decision about long-term tanker traffic in Vancouver. 

Hobenshield wrote in an e-mail that actual throughput to the Westridge Terminal varies and that 2010 was a record year with 83,000 barrels per day being transported by tankers from their terminal. 

This new approval by the NEB allows Kinder Morgan to seek long-term contracts with shippers for up to 54,000 barrels per day with another 25,000 barrels per day on month-to-month contracts.

“The bottom line is that the Firm Service allocation reflects throughput already being delivered to Westridge in recent years,” Hobenshield wrote.

Only now those high numbers can more easily become the new minimum rather than the record-breaking exception.

Kinder Morgan Canada declined a request for an interview. The Vancouver Observer was told that CEO Ian Anderson and other representative were not available for an interview for this series. 

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