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

Kinder Morgan oil sands pipeline expansion plan said to pose risks beyond leaks and spills

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 third of a five part series, Southern Gateway: An American pipeline giant's plans for Vancouver.

The Kinder Morgan terminal in Vancouver. Photo credit: ems-tech.net.

With the BC government's release of a report on heavy oil pipelines on Monday, oil spills and pipeline leaks are coming under increasing public and government scrutiny. For some, the bigger concern is what happens when heavy oil leaks into the air. 

This is one of the reasons Wilderness Committee campaigner Ben West is alarmed about Kinder Morgan’s proposal to “twin” the Trans Mountain pipeline -- the only up-and-running pipeline connecting Alberta’s oil sands to the West Coast.

“It’s not as if all these oil tankers don’t spill then everything’s still hunky dory,” said West.

In his opinion, a piece from the satirical Onion News Network put it best when it stated that there had been a horrible disaster because an oil tanker had actually successfully made its way to its destination and was now burning the oil and releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

“That to me was beautiful poetry,” West said.

Massive record-breaking flooding submerged the Canadian prairies throughout the summer of 2011. The year before, a giant iceberg four times the size of Manhattan floated towards Nova Scotia. Up north, buildings sink and roads buckle as the permafrost melts. It’s unprecedented events like these that make West feels the risks of more oil flowing through Vancouver include consequences for the whole world.

An iceberg four times the size of Manhattan that broke away from Petermann Glacier in the summer of 2010 is the largest known ice calving in Greenland's history. Photo credit: NASA Earth Observatory, 16 August 2010.

Texas-based Kinder Morgan plans to more than double the capacity of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which runs from Edmonton to Burnaby and onto Bellingham, Washington. If successful, the expansion would increase capacity to 750,000 barrels of oil per day and result in up to 300 tankers visiting the Burrard Inlet each year to pick up oil sands crude for export. The jump in tankers would equal a thirteen-fold increase since the company purchased the pipeline and its Burnaby Westridge terminal in 2005.

The company states that it will begin public consultations on their expansion plans in September and will apply to the National Energy Board in 2013.

West, 34, is working with veteran Greenpeace activist Rex Weyler to fight the transformation of Vancouver into a major artery of oil sands expansion. 

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