With Kinder Morgan Canada poised this month to unveil its application to twin the Trans Mountain oil pipeline, Metro Vancouver politicians are scrambling to decide how to respond.
The Metro board voted Friday to begin its own preliminary analysis of the $5.4-billion project so the regional district can raise tough questions when the National Energy Board begins formal hearings in 2014.
But there's a wide spectrum of thinking on the board, from mayors who have already come out against the new pipeline that will triple Trans Mountain's capacity to 890,000 barrels per day to those who prefer a wait-and-see stance to press the company for better safety measures.
"This isn't about bargaining, this is about saying 'no' to something that we know is going to be disastrous for our communities in the long run," Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said Friday. "I do not want to leave this as my legacy as a politician."
Metro's board had been expected to endorse concerns raised by Belcarra Mayor Ralph Drew, who has exchanged letters with Kinder Morgan officials for the past year in an attempt to probe their plans and seek improvements.
But, at Corrigan's urging, directors voted to defer that endorsement pending more study.
"I don't want to be in a position where the National Energy Board says 'Well, Metro says it's okay as long as we do whatever Belcarra has indicated are the appropriate measures,'" Corrigan said.
Councils in Vancouver and Burnaby already oppose the project and Drew said their strategy of refusing to talk directly to Kinder Morgan is a mistake.
He fears a pipeline rupture spilling into Burrard Inlet and has argued for faster spill response assurances, potentially by pre-staging booms and other necessary equipment near the Burnaby terminal to quickly contain escaped oil.
North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton noted oil has been shipped through the harbour for a century, albeit in much smaller quantities.
"There have always been risks," he said. "There are risks now and, regardless of whether or not the Kinder Morgan project goes ahead, there will be risks in the future."
Walton said the planned seven-fold increase in tanker traffic could actually result in less risk to the environment than posed by the current shipments if regulations tighten and Kinder Morgan and other responders are compelled to improve pipeline monitoring and cleanup capability.
West Vancouver Mayor Mike Smith said Metro must let the NEB process unfold, adding it's premature to take any position.
Richmond Coun. Harold Steves fears opposition to shipments through Burrard Inlet may prompt Kinder Morgan to switch to an alternate terminal in the Fraser River estuary that would risk a catastrophic spill.
Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore said a defeat of the project as currently proposed might bring other risks, such as a proliferation of oil-carrying rail cars rolling through local cities as oil moves by rail instead.
"If a pipeline doesn't get built, I can probably foresee our rail yard – Port Coquitlam has the biggest rail yard in B.C and the second biggest in Western Canada – will become a mobile pipeline."
Also referred to staff for further recommendation was a request from Delta Mayor Lois Jackson that officials from Kinder Morgan, the NEB and Port Metro Vancouver appear before the Metro board to answer questions.
Other directors warned that couldn't be done without also hearing delegations from dozens if not hundreds of project opponents.