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Trans Mountain pipeline project faces barrage of new questions

Demonstrators from Communities Against Pipelines protest the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in Vancouver on Oct. 5, 2012.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project is facing a barrage of new questions from municipal, provincial and state governments.

Several government bodies have filed requests to the National Energy Board for more information about the $5.4-billion project to triple the capacity of an existing pipeline between Edmonton and Burnaby, B.C.

Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC, which is operated by Kinder Morgan Canada and owned by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, L.P, filed a detailed pipeline application with the NEB in December. Monday was the deadline for intervenors to file written questions in response.

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Mary Polak, the B.C. Environment Minister, said the questions her government posed span just about every aspect of the project, both the land-based pipeline and the shipment of oil by tanker through Vancouver harbour and southern Georgia Strait.

"Our staff have identified gaps in information, places where they don't believe the information from Kinder Morgan is complete or gives us sufficient information to determine whether or not we can support the project," she said.

Ms. Polak said the provincial objective is to uphold B.C.'s five conditions for pipeline approval that were established in response to Enbridge Inc.'s proposed Northern Gateway project. That project has been processed by the NEB and is awaiting a federal cabinet decision.

B.C.'s five points require successful completion of an environmental review, world-leading plans for response to and prevention of spills in water and on land, First Nations involvement, and a fair share of economic benefits for the province.

Ms. Polak said the demands B.C. made of Enbridge, and the tough questions now being put to Trans Mountain, do not signal provincial opposition to the projects.

"Most British Columbians I have heard from are expressing concerns about what might happen if there are not sufficient safeguards . . . They aren't necessarily against pipelines point blank," she said. "Our five conditions require they have those safeguards in place and we won't support any heavy oil pipeline through British Columbia unless it meets those five conditions."

Among other things, B.C. asks for "a full record of all spills from Kinder Morgan pipelines, including the [Trans Mountain] system, involving liquid hydrocarbons over the past 30 years."

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B.C. also asks Trans Mountain to detail its oil spill response times, to provide more information on scenarios it has run with simulated spills in rivers, and to explain how the company would clean up heavy oil if it sank in water, rather than floating like lighter crude.

The State of Washington Department of Ecology sought information on the $750-million in spill liability insurance held by Trans Mountain, asking if the company would be liable to the state for natural resource damages and spill response costs.

The District of West Vancouver was also concerned about that issue.

"In the last 30 years, how many times has an insurer denied coverage for a Trans Mountain or Kinder Morgan client?" asked the district. "What would happen if the insurance company became insolvent or was otherwise unable to meet its contractual obligations?"

The District of North Vancouver sought information "on the earthquake vulnerability" of the marine terminal and wanted to know if there is an evacuation plan "in the event of the worst-case scenario of a fire and/or explosion of flammable material in the Burnaby tank farm."

Scott Stoness, vice-president of regulatory for Kinder Morgan Canada, said in an e-mail that the company has received thousands of information requests from intervenors who have posed many questions to the NEB. "We are in the process of reviewing these questions with a goal of having answers submitted to the NEB by the June 4 deadline," he said.

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About the Authors
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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