The Trans Mountain pipeline at Jasper.

The Trans Mountain pipeline at Jasper.

Mixed reaction in Chilliwack to approval of Trans Mountain pipeline expansion

Protection of Chilliwack's drinking water source, the Sardis-Vedder Aquifer, was cited as paramount

Most Chilliwack voices in the wake of this week’s federal approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion mentioned protection of the Sardis-Vedder Aquifer as paramount.

Mayor Sharon Gaetz said there were still differing opinions on city council about the TMX pipeline project.

“But our main concern was that if the pipeline expansion was to be approved, it would have to meet all the safety standards to protect our aquifer.”

City of Chilliwack letter of comment to the NEB stated: “Once contaminated, it is unlikely that the aquifer could be remediated adequately to use for drinking water purposes again.”

The final federal approval for the $6.8 billion pipeline expansion has triggered the next steps, and plans for construction phases.

“This is a defining moment for our Project and Canada’s energy industry,” said Kinder Morgan president Ian Anderson.

Trans Mountain will be seeking necessary permits, and planning for construction to begin in September 2017, with plans to be in service by late 2019.

“This decision follows many years of engagement and the presentation of the very best scientific, technical and economic information.”

Chilliwack-Hope MP Mark Strahl views the pipeline expansion as “necessary.”

The MP’s public survey on the project had 54% in support, with 46% against.

“The Trans Mountain Expansion project is necessary to upgrade the existing 60-year-old pipeline going through our community and to increase capacity so that we can safely ship Canadian oil to foreign markets,” said Strahl.

“This will allow Canadian oil to be sold at a better price, resulting in more money for governments to support things like health care, education and social programs.

Strahl said he supported the project because “moving oil by pipelines is much safer than shipping by rail or by truck,” and the NEB review determined it could be “built safely,” subject to the 157 conditions.

The TMX will allow Canada “to access world markets” by building on an existing system, according to KM in the press release. They cite benefits like $46.7 billion in taxes and royalties for governments, more than “800,000 person years of employment” over the life of the project and enabling producers to capture an additional $73.5 billion in revenues.

City officials are now working with Kinder Morgan, on “safety measures” from ensuring a thicker walled pipeline is used, as well as additional shut-off valves.

“The thicker walls are far more expensive and we had to negotiate that,” she said.

Three of the city’s drinking water wells can be shut off from the rest of the system, in the terrible scenario of a spill.

“That was a comfort for city council,” Gaetz said.

The routing is not finalized but the preferred routing for Chilliwack is a twinning of the existing route, said Gaetz, rather than pursuing the right of way option down Highway 1, as urged by Water Wealth Project, or routing down South Sumas Road, which was also rejected.

The routing option on Highway 1 got the thumbs-down, “a flat no,” she noted, from Ministry of Transportation and Highways.

“Our job is to eliminate all the risk that we can,” said Gaetz.

The Fraser Valley Regional District has received commitments from Kinder Morgan about respecting “no-go” zones through the Cheam Wetlands, and other sensitive habitats, according to Jason Lum, newly elected FVRD chair.

“The FVRD will continue to monitor the project, and hold KM accountable for the promises it has made to the board,” said Lum.

It is heartening, he said, that they’ve shown some willingness to listen to concerns.

“I would hope they apply that same willingness listening to the concerns of the public around protecting the aquifer and drinking water sources with the latest routing,” Lum said. “It’s also incumbent that Canada ensure the project lives up to the stringent standards laid out in the conditions.”

Ian Stephen of Water Wealth Project said whether you’re in favour of the pipeline or not, it’s clear it would better be built off of the Sardis-Vedder aquifer.

He sees water protection as key in any post-approval discussion, asking for rerouting of both the new and the old pipeline from the area.

“That move would eliminate the threat to the city water supply, and also move the pipeline away from two salmon habitat enhancement areas, the Vedder River, and the Vedder Mountain Fault,” he said.

If the expansion project goes ahead, it would be “foolhardy to miss the opportunity to remove that risk from the water supply,” Stephen wrote in his NEB submission. “Frankly, even if the expansion project does not go ahead, it would be responsible action for our governments and the regulator to require that old pipe be moved off of the aquifer.”

It’s been a big topic of discussion locally.

One of the next steps is an NEB process on the route.

During the process landowners are going to get the chance to submit written objections of the proposed location of the pipeline on their property, and a detailed route hearing may be held to further consider the best possible detailed route at that location, or the most appropriate methods or timing of the construction of the pipeline.

The NEB final report on TMX stated: “The Board is of the view that the opportunity exists for detailed route alignments that may further minimize impacts to those directly affected.”

There may be some wiggle room with that.

“It only makes sense that one of those detailed route alignments be to move the pipeline off of the aquifer,” said Stephen.

The route runs under and along Highway 1 between Hope and Chilliwack. It crosses under the highway again west of Chilliwack.

“If the expansion goes ahead they could continue their trench alongside the highway through Chilliwack, put both pipes in the new trench and decommission the old pipe where it sits over our water supply.”

The current route runs across the aquifer Chilliwack and Yarrow use for water supply, intersecting capture zones of city wells.

“There’s no doubt that having this aging pipeline sitting over our drinking water is a daily risk,” Stephen said.

Carrielyn Victor of the Sto:lo Tribal Council, a Cheam member, said there had to be a better way.

“We have spent the last four years jumping through federal hoops to no avail.”

Their teachings say they must ensure “there is land and water” for their children, and their children’s children, if it is in their power to do so.

Victor vowed to make personal changes and choices, and to stand in opposition to the approval.

“I have seen enough evidence these pipelines burst, rupture, crack, blow up and destroy. It is only a matter of time. We need a new way.”

For activists who’ve opposed the TMX, it was tough to see it approved.

It’s a “step back,” said Michael Hale of Pipe Up Network, who has been against the expansion from the get-go. It doesn’t make sense to approve a tar sands pipeline project like TMX, since Canada can supply its own needs.

“The fight is on now,” said Hale.

“There is no consent from B.C., no consent from First Nations directly affected and no way to mitigate the impact on resident orcas of the spill risk.”

The voices at the TMX Ministerial Panel in Chilliwack were also mostly negative.

It’s time to think about transitioning to clean energy, Hale said.

There are already seven court challenges pending, the spill risk is just too high.

“No technology exists to clean bitumen that sinks.”

He’s frustrated that the NEB “just accepted” what Kinder Morgans said in terms of the risks, and the economic benefits, which he said are inflated.

Despite that, Hale said he doesn’t think it will ever be built.

“The people won’t stand for it,” he said.