Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project and Gabriola Island

What does the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project (TMX) have to do with Gabriola?

If approved, Kinder Morgan will expand the Trans Canada pipeline system from Alberta to Burnaby, with a slightly different route than the original system which was built in the early 1950s.

Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion route
Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion route

A brief timeline

1953:  The original pipeline (shown in black) had a capacity of 150,000 bpd (barrels per day). Some people claim that the system has run flawlessly ever since but there was an incident in January 1985 when there was an oil spill near Edmonton. Back then, they were shipping flowing oil through those pipes, not the thick sludge that has to be diluted.

2005: Kinder Morgan, the largest pipeline company in the world, founded by two ex-Enron executives, bought Trans Mountain pipeline in 2005.

2006-7: Kinder Morgan reactivated another 160km section of unused pipeline that went through Jasper National Park and Mount Robson Provincial Park between Hinton, Alberta and Hargreaves, BC. This brought the pipeline’s capacity to 300,000 bpd.

2010: Kinder Morgan started to plan for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX). They wanted to raise money to build the TMX. So they began charging the oil companies a fee per barrel which passes through the existing pipeline. This surcharge isn’t considered revenue for Kinder Morgan. Also, those same fees are expensed by the oil companies using the pipeline.  That reduces the oil companies’ taxes payable.

So who is subsidising the TMX? The Canadian taxpayer. So far we have funded this project by almost $150 million.

Kinder Morgan Canada President, Ian Anderson, told investors: “there’s $29 million a year coming in for Firm 50 fees [the surcharge] that is being used to offset all of the development costs for us in the [TMX] project…there’s no risk to us.”

Kinder Morgan has a debt load of $49 billion. They’ve rolled over $10 billion of debt every year, and they’ve done that for the last five years. Is this convenient accounting in case there is an oil spill? Then who will pay for the clean-up?

2013: Kinder Morgan applied to the NEB for approval of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.

How did the Trans Mountain Expansion Project get approved?

2015: In a conference call to investors in December 2015, Kinder Morgan CEO Steve Kean told investors that even with the changeover in the federal government he fully expected the National Energy Board to give them “our permit” in May 2016, with approval from the federal cabinet later in the summer. Is he a psychic? Or did he get reassurances from the new Liberal government that his project would get the go ahead?

2016: The NEB (National Energy Board) approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project (TMX) in May 2016 with 157 conditions. About half of the conditions such as engineering and safety apply throughout the lifecycle of the project and may have no specific filing requirement. Only 40 of these involve the environment.

Even though the expanded pipeline system has a capacity of over 1.1 million bpd, the NEB restricted its review to the applied-for capacity of 540,000 bpd. The NEB did not allow interveners to cross examine Kinder Morgan officials, instead opting for a written format to test evidence.

Here are just a few things that the NEB said were irrelevant:

  • Kinder Morgan pays almost no Canadian corporate taxes
  • no Emergency Management Plan (EMP) in case of an oil spill
  • no environmental impacts of tanker traffic

Oil tankers parked off of Gabriola

Not only are Gabriolans faced with the possibility of LNG supertankers scraping up the rare glass reefs off the shores of Gabriola Island, but there is a very real possibility that some of the TMX oil tankers will park there too.

The Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby would also be expanded. Oil would be loaded onto tankers in Burnaby and shipped through the Salish Sea to Washington State, California and Asia. They estimate this expansion will bring 35-40 tankers a month to Burnaby.

Another panel to ‘hear’ the public

In January 2016, the Federal government announced the Ministry of Natural Resources would create a new panel to conduct additional consultation on the TMX.

On May 17, 2016, just two days before the NEB announced its recommendation to approve TMX, the Minister of Natural Resources announced that Kim Baird, Tony Penikett and Dr. Annette Trimbee would comprise the TMX Ministerial Panel.

  • Kim Baird is the former Chief of the Tsawassen First Nation and has been called out for her conflict of interest with Kinder Morgan.
  • Tony Penikett is a former Premier of the Yukon Territory.
  • Dr. Annette Trimbee was a deputy minister in the Alberta government. Currently she is the president of the University of Winnipeg.

The panel was scheduled to hold rountables in seven communities across BC. Victoria is the only community on the oil tanker route being consulted. Some say that this is worse than the NEB hearings. The majority of people in attendance so far have been personally invited by the government. There is no official recording of the meetings.

There will be one Public Town Hall meeting in Victoria on Tuesday, August 23, 2016 from 4pm to 8:30pm at the Marriott Inner Harbour Hotel, Pacific Ballroom.

If you can’t attend, you can send an email with your comments to the panel

Panel members submit their report to Minister Carr in November 2016. The Panel’s final report will be made public.

Trans Mountain Expansion Project Status

Trans Mountain Expansion Project Approval
Trans Mountain Expansion Project Approval

There are currently seven applications to be heard by the Federal Court of Appeal contesting the NEB’s approval of the TMX. Will all seven be heard by December 2016 when the Federal government makes its final decision?

85 Orcas need your help!

There are only 85 Southern Resident Orcas left in the Salish Sea. They only eat Chinook Salmon which currently under duress because of the warm sea temperatures. The whales’ acoustic bubbles will be further diminished because of the increase in underwater noise from tanker traffic.

What will happen when there is an oil spill? Will there be any fish to swim up the Fraser River?