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Thoughts on the Kinder Morgan Pipeline Project…

This last semester, I took a course called, “Sustainable Human Economy.”  It was not quite the class that I expected it to be but, it was time well spent.  I wrote five very short papers.  Answered questions in an online format.  Gave a presentation with a partner.  Found myself slightly distressed at the level of misinformation that is out there, that many of the other students are holding as truth.  Found a little more distress at the lack of consilience that I was encountering.  Knowledge that should be easily drawn upon, I thought, was for the most part, absent in the classroom.

It takes a lot of reading to gain an insight — not an understanding, an insight — into so much of what is happening in this world.  I have been reading since I was very young.  Sometimes it is a popular novel (the literature of the future), sometimes textbooks (learning from the literature of the past) and sometimes, peer-reviewed articles (I find that these often contain phrases of inspiration and meanings past what the authors are trying for).  I look up song lyrics, sermons, poetry and plays.  I find my Condensed Oxford English Dictionary fascinating.  I find it to be a bit depressing that the university I attend does not have a physical copy of the OED.  I tutor ESL and writing at my university and I would love to walk people over to the OED and look up first instances and changes in meanings….

One of the papers that I wrote for the “Sustainable Human Economy” course was on a proposed oil pipeline.  I asked friends to give me their honest opinions on this essay and, they have!

What I talk about in this essay is responsibility.  The following essay is not about me being against pipelines (because I am not against pipelines).  It is not about jobs or a loss of jobs or deforestation or sustainability or the GDP.  This essay is simply about responsibility.

 


Kinder Morgan Pipeline Project Questions:

“On Dec, 16, 2013, Kinder Morgan submitted an application to the National Energy Board (NEB) to expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which would almost triple oil capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day in pipelines running from Alberta oilsands to the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby.  The company is seeking approval from the NEB.  All British Columbians who live, work and own businesses on the west coast will be directly impacted by the outcome of the decision whether to expand the pipeline.

Try to answer the following questions.  Try to get evidence to support your case.

  • Briefly outline the pipeline history and provide some details of the proposal[.]
  • Discuss some of the potential economic benefits of the project to our local economy.
  • Who will this project benefit and who will it put at risk?
  • Describe the potential impact of the project on ecosystem sustainability[.]”  (copyright Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Prof. A.B. Demeke)

 

A Brief History:

In 1952, an oil and gas pipeline was built by the BC Gas Company to bring crude oil, gas and jet fuel from Northern Alberta into British Columbia, to refineries in Greater Vancouver and Washington State.  This pipeline was built  to deliver products that were needed locally.  Kinder Morgan purchased the BC Gas Company in 2005 and began small expansions of the pipeline that included the construction of new pumping stations (Dhalwala, et al), almost immediately.

In 2013, Kinder Morgan filed a request to be allowed to expand the existing pipeline system to increase the flow of crude oil from a 300,000 barrel per day capacity to approximately 890,000 barrels per day.  If the goal of 890,000 barrels per day cannot be reached consistently, the backup plan is to load oil tankers, further north, along the North Coast of British Columbia.  In 2012, more than a year before the official request for the required permits for the expansion was presented to the province of British Columbia, Kinder Morgan was asked by the province to provide them with documentation of the following:

  • Successful completion of the environmental review process… a positive recommendation by the Board;
  • World-leading marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery systems for B.C.’s coastline and ocean to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy oil pipelines and shipments;
  • World-Leading practices for land oil spill prevention, response and recovery systems to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy oil pipelines;
  • Legal requirement regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights are addressed, and First Nations are provided with the opportunities, information and resources necessary to participate in and benefit from a heavy-oil project; and
  • British Columbia receives a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits of a proposed heavy oil project that reflects the level, degree and nature of the risk borne by the province, the environment and taxpayers. (Hearing Order)

The province of British Columbia was supplied, not with documentation giving  details of the preceding requirements but, with “heavily redacted Emergency Management Program documents… [that] do not enable the Province to determine whether Trans Mountain is prepared and able to respond to a Project-related spill” (Hearing Order).  “The proposal is designed to export oil sands products to foreign markets.  As a result, the pipeline is not required to meet domestic fuel needs.”  (Dhalwala)

The record of the court proceedings between The National Energy Board of Canada, The Province of British Columbia, and Kinder Morgan go into great detail in regards to the lack of detail that Kinder Morgan has provided to the Province over the four year period that this issue has been in front of the provincial and federal courts.  The province states that they can only act on the information that has been provided to them and what was provided was not what was asked for.

 

Economic Benefits and Risks to British Columbia:

Short term benefits of the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline will include construction jobs.  Over the term of the project various trades will be brought in to facilitate construction.  Kinder Morgan’s reputation is such that it is unknown whether local trades will be hired or if foreign workers will be brought in for the expansion project.  At the end of the project it is estimated that only 50 permanent jobs will be created (Dhalwala, et al).

Since 1952 there have 78 oil spills in British Columbia.  The four most recent oil spills have been in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley Regions of the province.  Three spills have been leaks in the current pipeline and one was a leak from a seal in a tank.  The amount of oil spilled was well over 1 million litres (Dhalwala).  This is not much more oil than what just one of the new oil super freighters that Kinder Morgan will have traveling along the coast of British Columbia and into the ports of the Greater Vancouver Regional District will be carrying.

 

Ecosystem  Sustainability Impacts:

On November 13, 2015, Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, instructed Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport, to: “Formalize a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic on British Columbia’s North Coast…”  This moratorium only affects the north coast of British Columbia, not the West Coast where most of the tanker traffic for this project will be situated.  Further, I do not know whether the moratorium has been formalized or not.  I was unable to find more information or to clarify my questions as to what has been done in this regard.

The coasts of British Columbia are home to some of the most diverse and productive marine habitats in the world.  Kinder Morgan’s reputation is one of non-responsibility.  They have received “strong criticism” for their lack of attention to leaks and to clean up efforts (Dhalwala, et al).  In a major oil spill, they would be responsible for clean up to a maximum of 1.34 billion dollars (Dhalwala, et al).  Major oil spills have cost 10 times that amount to clean up and Canada does not have the capacity to deal with major spills in a timely or effective manner (Dhalwala, et al).  This is one of the many reasons for the proposed moratorium on tanker traffic on the north coast.  We just don’t have the means to be responsible for what can happen.

On the Kinder Morgan, Trans Mountain Pipeline information website, Kinder Morgan states that they are responsible for, “reporting spills greater than 1.5m3 or any spill to a water body regardless of volume.”  The page goes on to define “[a] spill or release… [as] a discharge, spray, spill, leak, seep, pour, emit, dump and exhaust” of products being transported.  “That means if water is released from a pipeline or facility, that incident is also reported.”  However, in 2007, a spill at the Sumas Tank Farm in the Fraser Valley went unreported because “the Sumas pump station was not part of a leak detection system” (Dhalwala, et al).

Kinder Morgan’s responsibility for the products they are transporting ends as soon as the product has been loaded onto a receiving vessel.  The University of Victoria studied “ship source liability” and found that cost recovery for a major spill, from the international companies owning these ships, whether in Canadian waters or at sea, would be difficult even if the ship’s owners were found to be at fault (Dhalwala, et al).   The University of British Columbia (UBC)  looked at direct costs and the economic impacts of a major oil spill on British Columbia’s north coast.  Regional economic impacts could be in the range of $189 million to $380 million with estimated direct clean-up costs of $2.4 billion to $9.4 billion (Dhalwala, et al).  The Department of Ecology in Washington State estimates that a major oil spill could up to $10.8 billion (USD) and “adversely affect 165,0000 jobs… in addition to direct clean-up costs” (Dhalwala, et al).  Kinder Morgan’s financial responsibility ends at $1.34 billion.

The Port of Vancouver trades in excess of $74 billion worth of goods each year (Dhalwala, et al).  A major oil spill would partially or even fully close the port for an undetermined length of time while clean-up took place.  UBC only looked at the possible costs of an oil spill along the north coast of British Columbia.  Away from the Port of Vancouver, there is a local fishing industry that adds more than $1 billion a year to this province’s economy.  I could not find authoritative information on how an oil spill might affect the fish and the fishing industry of British Columbia or Washington State.

Long term effects of oil spills are only now beginning to be realized.  Clean-ups involve what we can see.  Oil dispersants used to clean up oil spills creates gel-like blobs of oil that are easier to collect.  These blobs have a tendency to sink and therefore, to be out of sight, quickly.  Thirty to fifty years later, these blobs of oil are still being found in the silt and sand of river bottoms and along coastlines where there is a history of oil spills.  Out of sight is not good enough.  We are now beginning to see and study the environmental impacts of the lack of proper containment and clean-up.  There are many unknowns and many more unforeseen consequences of our actions.

 

Conclusion:

Canada cannot afford to export bitumen to foreign buyers.  At this time the possible risks and associated costs to British Columbia, and to Canada, far outweigh any benefits.  Mining the tar sands of northern Alberta has been a boon to the Alberta economy.  Fish, wildlife and forestry have been the historic boon to the British Columbia economy.  British Columbia seems to be looking to emulate the Alberta economy by piggy-backing on the sale of bitumen.  But the entire benefit to British Columbia is 50 permanent jobs.  The sale of bitumen is being made in Alberta and the tax credits that will come to British Columbia do not seem to even have been worth calculating.

 

References

Dhalwala, M., Frank, E., Frank-White, R., la Porta, D., McDowell, L., Shende, B., Stafford, T., and Sumaila, R., 2013.  Assessing the risks of Kinder Morgan’s proposed new Trans Mountain pipeline.  Conversations for Responsible Economic Development (CRED).  Retreived from http://credbc.ca/wp-content/uploads/201/11/Trans-Mountain-Risks.pdf

Province of British Columbia, 2016.  (2016).  Hearing Order OH-001-2014, National Energy Board:  Final Argument of the Province of British Columbia.  Province of British Columbia. Retrieved from http://www.eao.gov.bc.ca/pdf/BC_NEB_Trans_Mountain_Final_Argument_11Jan2015.pdf

Trudeau, J., 2015.  Minister of Transport Mandate Letter.  Retrieved from http://pm.gc.ca/eng/minister/honourable-marc-garneau