Tar sands in an aging pipeline is a major concern of a new citizens' group opposed to the proposed twinning of an oil pipeline that runs through the Fraser Valley and over the Chilliwack aquifer.
The Pipe Up Network is an off-shoot of a loose organization of concerned residents that began meeting in Chilliwack last March.
The "surprising news" that the pipeline owned by Kinder Morgan also carries Alberta tar sands in the form of diluted bitumen led to the creation of the Pipe Up Network at a meeting held in Abbotsford in April.
Lynn Perrin, a public policy analyst in Abbotsford, is very concerned about the potential health risks associated with diluted bitumen.
"I cannot understand why Kinder Morgan would think they can start transporting diluted bitumen without any public consultation," she said.
The Trans Mountain pipeline has been carrying crude oil from Alberta to Vancouver since 1953, but Perrin said the company started loading bitumen onto tankers in Burrard Inlet in February, 2012.
Wendy Major, a retired school teacher in Chilliwack, said a bitumen spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 2010 "caused health problems for the people and devastated local business."
The pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners reportedly spilled an estimated 843,000 gallons of diluted bitumen into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. The cleanup and health impacts raised questions about B.C.'s ability to respond to a similar disaster.
Kinder Morgan wants to build a second pipeline here to increase daily capacity to 750,000 barrels from the current 300,000 barrels.
Opposition organizer Sheila Muxlow said if a spill occurs, the bitumen would sink to the bottom of the aquifer, unlike conventional oil which would float on top of the water.
"If there was a crack in that pipeline near the aquifer, there's no doubt that product will sink right into the aquifer," she said.
The bitumen, diluted with "volatile substances" so it can flow through the pipeline, is also "significantly more corrosive" than conventional oil, she said, increasing the risk of a rupture.
Michael Hale, a Pipe Up member in Chilliwack, said there's growing concern about the proposed twinning project.
"What is alarming a lot of people is this very old pipeline ... goes over our aquifer, over our rivers and near our schools all the way down the Fraser Valley," he said. "There's a lot of people who are concerned from up and down the valley, from Hope all the way to Vancouver."
Pipe Up is holding an information meeting June 12 at the Sardis Secondary School in Chilliwack. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. in the McAstocker Theatre.