The risk of a marine oil spill dominated the first public information sessions Kinder Morgan is hosting in the Lower Mainland on the planned twinning of its Trans Mountain pipeline.
But the expected five-fold increase in the number of tankers sailing through the Second Narrows is not what worries Belcarra Mayor Ralph Drew.
He believes the twin hulls, two pilots and three tethered tugs shepherding each big tanker, along with other precautions, mean the diluted bitumen should move safely through Burrard Inlet once it’s loaded.
Instead, Drew is focusing on the Westridge terminal in north Burnaby as a critically vulnerable point where safety improvements are needed – whether or not the pipeline expansion proceeds.
“That loading terminal sits directly on top of a fault zone,” Drew said. “The scenario I believe is possible is an earthquake that causes a rupture of the pipeline.”
It might be a seismic event similar to the one that sheared off the side of Burnaby Mountain 50,000 years ago, he said, this time sluicing oil into the ocean nearby.
Much would depend on how fast Kinder Morgan could shut off the flow of oil and how quickly crews respond to contain and clean up any oil that reaches the water.
And Drew says he remains dissatisfied with the speed of the response to a 2007 spill in north Burnaby and concerned that federal safety regulations only cover the pipeline itself and tankers, but not the terminal.
Kinder Morgan is charged with cleaning up land-based spills and its responsibility only extends to the end of its pipe, while shipping firms take responsibility only once a full tanker leaves the dock.
That leaves a potential legal “black hole” if a terminal or pipeline accident puts oil into the water before a ship leaves, Drew said.
“So long as that ship’s at Kinder Morgan’s dock it’s their loading terminal, it should be their responsibility,” he said, adding the company should be required to have its own trained emergency responders on site.
He said Western Canada Marine Response Corp., the cleanup response agency contracted by shipping firms, should act only as a backup at the terminal.
Drew proposes double booms separated by an inflatable spacer be set up in the water around the terminal and tanker zone, instead of the single boom now used – making it much less likely that oil might escape in a bigger spill or choppy water.
Residents along Burrard Inlet are also concerned about the bright lights and noise pollution at night from the big ships and Drew said he’s urging Port Metro Vancouver to address the problem now.
Information sessions in the second half of November shift further inland along the Trans Mountain right-of-way, which runs through Burnaby, Coquitlam, Surrey and up the Fraser Valley near Highway 1.
The pipeline was built nearly 60 years ago and homes, schools and other development has since sprung up along the route.
But residents won’t know how close the new pipeline may come to their property until Kinder Morgan formally applies in late 2013 to build the $4.3-billion project and unveils the proposed corridor, which could deviate from the current one in some places.
“They should definitely provide a clear route,” anti-pipeline activist Sheila Muxlow said. “It seems to us Kinder Morgan is going through this process in a backwards fashion.”
Muxlow and others with the Pipe Up Network intend to bring their own protest message to the meetings and press Kinder Morgan over the firm’s safety record and capacity to handle spills.
The potential risk to groundwater aquifers from an oil spill in Chilliwack and Abbotsford will be a key issue, she said.
“In Chilliwack we don’t have a backup plan for our water supply,” she said. “The water contamination risk alone is enough to really mobilize people to say ‘Whoa, that’s not worth the risk.'”
Others, she added, increasingly believe it’s wrong to “build more infrastructure that holds us hostage to a fossil-fuel based economy.”
A spokesperson for Kinder Morgan said the company wants advice from residents on where the route should go, adding that will help guide the engineering and environmental teams planning the pipeline corridor.
“We’re very early on,” said Lizette Parsons-Bell, adding more rounds of consultation are expected next year and then again after the formal project application is filed.
Trans Mountain information sessions are slated for Vancouver (Nov. 13, 15 and 17th), Abbotsford (Nov. 17), Coquitlam (Nov. 20), Surrey (Nov. 21), Langley (Nov.22). More sessions are expected in the last week of November or first week of December in Burnaby, Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Hope before shifting to Vancouver Island. For specific times and locations see Trans Mountain’s meeting calendar or see www.transmountain.com.
TRANS MOUNTAIN PROJECT
– $4.3-billion construction of second pipeline from northern Alberta.
– Increases capacity from 300,000 to 750,000 barrels per day.
– Tanker visits to rise from five to 25 per month.
– Original pipeline to carry refined fuels like gasoline and lighter crude oils, new pipeline would carry heavier oil, including bitumen from Alberta oil sands.
– New pump stations along 1,150-kilometre corridor and extra storage capacity in Sumas and Burnaby, along with expansion of terminal.
– Regulatory review expected in 2014-15, followed by construction in 2016-17.