Kinder Morgan: Vancouver’s fate in the rush for black gold

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 Metro Vancouver. The company plans to more than double the capacity of the pipeline by 2017. The project rivals Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, which aims to export oil sands crude 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 the company's record of oil spills tar up its plans?


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

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“If Kinder Morgan could expand capacity by upgrading the pipeline's pumping power similar to Northern Gateway, the daily supply reaching Burnaby could be 1.1 million barrels a day ...," Allan wrote. "This could significantly raise the volume of tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet beyond the anticipated one tanker a day. Under an expanded capacity destined for marine export, the traffic volume could reach 475 crude oil tankers a year. 

“Coupled with Northern Gateway's 340 [tankers], this represents 815 crude oil tankers a year transiting BC coastal waters.”

It’s not a far fetched scenario. 

In 2007, Kinder Morgan added ten new pump stations and boosted the pipeline’s capacity by 35,000 barrels per day. The incremental expansion took place just three months before their subsidiary helped trigger the largest oil spill in Vancouver’s history. A 30-metre black geyser coated the seaside suburb of Burnaby’s Inlet Drive with 224,000 litres of oil sands crude, as a result of human error.

Tyranny of small decisions

There’s a theory that’s been floating around since the 1960s that’s so versatile that it has been used by economists to explain market failure and  by biologists to critique the practice of medicine. It’s called the tyranny of small decisions” and describes what we lose when we fail to see a holistic vision and only make decisions about the things that are right in front of us. After inumerable small decisions, the result is one big decision that no one really meant to make.

Biologist William E. Odum, wrote in 1982 that a tyranny of small decisions governs the environment with disastrous consequences. An example he provides is the loss of wetlands on the eastern coast of the United States.

“No one purposely planned to destroy almost 50 per cent of the existing marshland along the coasts of Connecticut and Massachusetts. In fact, if the public had been asked whether coastal wetlands should be preserved or converted to some other use, preservation would probably have been supported.

“Each endangered species owes its special status to a tyranny of small decisions," Odum wrote.

A kind of series of small mistakes.

Allan wrote an open letter to premier Christy Clark in April, asking her to avoid making one of those small mistakes with big consequences.

When it comes to Kinder Morgan's expansion, she wants the premier to avoid what she sees as Godron Campbell's mistake: signing away the province's right to do an environmental assessment for Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipelines under the Environmental Assessment Equivalency Agreement

Allan also wants to make sure that the NEB takes into account the full impact of their proposed expansion, including any possibilities for incremental expansion.

Otherwise, if decisions about Kinder Morgan’s plans remain siloed and assessed in piecemeal then a series of small decisions could be paving the way for something huge. 

A series of small mistakes

At the BC Provincial Court on November 10, 2011, a number of men in suits filed in to hear Provincial Court Judge C. Bagnall sentence the companies responsible for the 2007 Burnaby oil spill. 

Bagnall peered down through her glasses as she speedily read through a detailed recap of the events leading up to and coming out of the oil spill. 

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