Oil pipeline may have slowly leaked for ‘weeks’

Critics say last week's Kinder Morgan spill near Merritt, B.C., proves spills are inevitable

The existing Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline passes underneath residential backyards in the Watson Road and Canterbury Drive area.

The existing Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline passes underneath residential backyards in the Watson Road and Canterbury Drive area.

The Trans Mountain pipeline may have been slowly leaking for an extended period of time before Kinder Morgan Canada crews found crude oil on the ground.

The small spill now estimated at about five barrels of oil 40 kilometres southwest of Merritt was discovered Wednesday morning and prompted the company to shut down the pipeline.

Hugh Harden, Kinder Morgan Canada’s vice-president of operations, said Thursday crews are expected to install a permanent repair sleeve allowing the line to reopen by Friday evening.

He said it’s difficult to say how long oil had been escaping.

“I would say it was a matter of days or weeks rather than months or years,” Harden said. “It was a very, very, very slow leak. It’s almost classified as a weep.”

At five barrels of oil, the spill would technically be below the National Energy Board’s 1.5 cubic metre (approximately 10 barrel) threshold for reporting spills that don’t reach water courses.

Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline in Chilliwack passes through several residential neighbourhoods and agricultural lands, a route that the planned second line is expected to follow.

The only oil spill in Chilliwack’s history was one cubic metre released on the line in 1988, according to the National Energy Board. Kinder Morgan’s documents indicate that the former Wahleach pump station past Rosedale spilled 440 barrels of crude in 2007. Abbotsford’s Sumas Mountain station and line has spilled 2,250 barrels of crude in the last decade.

Harden said the Merritt leak was found because Kinder Morgan crews arrived to check that section of the pipeline after an in-pipe inspection device flagged it as having a potential defect.

They noticed an oily patch the size of a wagon wheel and called the control centre, which shut down the pipeline.

Otherwise, workers would have excavated the pipe to inspect its exterior for leaks or problems.

“The fact that the tool found it is actually a good thing,” Harden said. “It tells us our inspection process is valid and we’re finding these very small defects.”

Chilliwack residents along the route of the Trans Mountain pipeline hold an easement agreement from the 1950s indicating that Kinder Morgan has the right-of-way to access their land at any time. The agreement was signed before housing subdivisions were built on top of the pipeline.

Tom and Liz Chisholm, on Watson Road, are concerned about Kinder Morgan’s plan to build a twin pipeline tripling capacity to 890,000 barrels per day because of the area’s high water table. Another resident, Sharon Fayant off Canterbury Drive, is considering selling her house because of the expected drop in value with the installation of a second pipeline.

“Just because it’s on the existing easement doesn’t mean I want anything to do with a second line,” she said on Thursday.

None of the three households on top of the pipeline with whom The Progress consulted knew what recourse they would have in case of a spill.

Environmental groups who oppose Kinder Morgan’s planned twinning held up the Merritt incident as proof spills are inevitable.

“By a stroke of luck, the spill did not enter any waterways, saturate a farmer’s field, or worse yet, a school yard,” said Chilliwack resident Jordan Wilson of the Pipe Up Network.

“Kinder Morgan says that there has been no impact to any water course and no threat to the public, but what about the next spill?” asked Gabriel George of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation. “They are proving that they can’t eliminate the threat posed by their pipeline.”

With files from Alina Konevski