The City of Chilliwack is not happy with the National Energy Board’s (NEB) decision announced on Thursday to allow the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion realignment closer to the city’s drinking water wells.
“I was disappointed to learn of the National Energy Board’s decision to approve the Kinder Morgan route realignment in Chilliwack, especially given the probability that oil from a leak could make its way to our water wells,” Mayor Sharon Gaetz said in a city hall press release. “We presented compelling evidence at the National Energy Board hearing in January as an intervenor and will continue to make our case at every opportunity, including the detailed route hearings in September.”
Whether or not the pipeline will ever go ahead at all remains an open question as the provincial government is strongly opposed, and Kinder Morgan announced on the weekend it was suspending non-essential spending on the Trans Mountain pipeline project.
Nevertheless, the city and other intervenors in the realignment application are unimpressed with the NEB’s decision to run the new pipeline in the same right-of-way in the same residential Chilliwack backyards as the existing pipeline.
The application for realignment for the 1.8-kilometre stretch was required because the NEB approved the pipeline project, but approved a route in the BC Hydro right-of-way to the north of the existing pipeline, which runs through Watson elementary’s school yards and dozens of homes in the Roseberry/Montcalm area and near Canterbury Road.
The decision comes after four days of oral hearings Jan. 15 to 18 in Chilliwack where the NEB panel heard from intervenors including the S’ólh Téméxw Stewardship Alliance, the City of Chilliwack and the WaterWealth Project.
The city’s main concern has been protection of the Sardis-Vedder aquifer in the event of an oil spill. The city presented evidence showing the pipeline reroute is in the city’s well capture zone, meaning leaks and spills could flow into the wells within 126 days of an initial leak.
“Despite knowing this, Kinder Morgan has not supplied adequate information about the steps they will take to ensure the City’s drinking water will remain safe and clean.”
The WaterWealth Project was also an intervenor at the NEB hearing in January. Program director Ian Stephen said he was “deeply disappointed” with the decision.
“This NEB decision puts supposed public interest ahead of public safety.” Stephen said. “Not only does this alignment increase risks to City of Chilliwack wells, it also runs between rows of homes where access for construction and future maintenance is exceptionally difficult and disruptive, and where if there is ever a pipeline emergency Kinder Morgan admitted that ‘permanent structures’ may have to be removed.”
The S’ólh Téméxw Stewardship Alliance did not issue a statement after the NEB decision, but during the hearing a lawyer for the Sto:lo expressed concern they did not receive enough information from Kinder Morgan to evaluate realignment.
The NEB sided with Trans Mountain saying the benefits and expected burdens of the realignment were weighed, and the realignment is “in the public interest and is consistent with the requirements of the NEB Act.”
Some of the expected burdens of putting the new pipeline in the existing right-of-way, according to the NEB, include: “one additional road crossing and 20 additional utility crossings; slightly higher probability that oil from a pipeline leak or spill that makes its way to the groundwater would then make its way to the City water wells; and construction would take place close to existing residential housing.”
The expected benefits of the realignment decided upon by the NEB, include most importantly the avoidance of the BC Hydro infrastructure, something BC Hydro said was critical. Other benefits include: a proposed fibre-optic leak detection system that could also detect ground disturbances for the existing pipeline given the proximity; the pipeline will be 500 metres shorter in length; and staying in the existing right-of-way “leverages the knowledge and experience of landowners already familiar with living in proximity to an existing pipeline.”
The NEB also noted that no residents along the realignment route expressed objections with the board.