On Monday, Kinder Morgan Canada formally applied to the National Energy Board for permission to triple the capacity of its Trans-Mountain oil pipeline from Edmonton to the Pacific Coast and expand export capacity at its Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, B.C. We’ll spare you the details of the 15,000-page filing. There are five reasons why this project stands a better chance of coming to fruition than rival Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline, which is due for a ruling by federal regulators before month-end.
1. It already exists. Trans-Mountain has been operating for more than 60 years under different owners and has an exemplary safety and environmental record.
2. Kinder owns the right-of-way. Most of the line will be literally alongside the existing pipeline; the remaining 17% will follow existing utility corridors. The company already has working relationships with neighbouring First Nations and municipalities. By contrast, Northern Gateway would mostly cut through wilderness subject to often overlapping claims of aboriginal title.
3. The hardest part’s already done. Kinder twinned its pipeline through the most environmentally contentious section, traversing Jasper National Park and Mount Robson Provincial Park, between 2006 and 2009. No further work is required there.
4. Burrard Inlet is already compromised. The body of water set to see a fivefold increase in oil tankers has been an industrial and transportation hub for more than a century. It is almost totally closed to commercial and recreational fisheries already. It’s estimated the equivalent of a mid-sized oil spill takes place in Metro Vancouver every year due to oil and gas leaks from parked cars entering storm drains. By contrast, Northern Gateway introduces the risk of oil spills to a relatively pristine and commercially productive marine environment.
5. All eyes are on it. Whereas marine accidents on B.C.’s north coast might take days to even be detected, let alone responded to, any incident in Burrard Inlet or the Salish Sea beyond is likely to be spotted much sooner by the many residents and watercraft nearby. The response that could be quickly mustered in these protected waters would likewise outstrip anything the northerly route could offer.
To be fair, here are two reasons why crude oil shippers would still prefer Gateway:
1. It’s physically shorter. Kitimat, the proposed terminus of Northern Gateway, cuts hundreds of kilometres and a day’s sailing time off the nautical distance between Alberta’s oilsands and Asian customers compared to Trans-Mountain. One result, ironically, is that oil shipped via Gateway would have a slightly lower carbon footprint.
2. It could handle bigger ships. The Kitimat terminal would be designed for the largest and most economical Very Large Crude Carriers, as opposed to the smaller Aframax tankers that Westridge would load. Again, the larger ships emit lower volumes of carbon dioxide per barrel shipped.