Kinder Morgan’s plan to twin the Trans Mountain pipeline surfaced in March sparking immediate fears about an oil spill — although the pipeline in Chilliwack had been operating since the early 1950s without an incident.
However, there was a pipeline ruptured by a construction crew in Burnaby in July, 2007 that spilled more than 1,500 barrels, and a 90,000-litre spill occurred in January, 2012, at a company tank farm on Sumas Mountain in Abbotsford.
And tar sands — also called diluted bitumen — pumped through an aging pipeline was the major concern of a new citizen’s group called the PIPE UP Network that organized opposition to the proposed pipeline.
Kinder Morgan spokesperson Lexa Hobenshield said pipelines “are proven to be the safest and most efficient means of transporting large volumes of crude oil and natural gas over land.”
“Our industrial safety record is first-class compared to any other way to move large quantities of energy … this is absolutely by far the safest and most environmentally sound way to do that,” she said.
But an investigation by the National Energy Board found it took more than four hours from the time the first alarm noted a possible leak at the Kinder Morgan tank farm on Sumas Mountain until the spill was discovered.
The NEB report stated “the leak was not detected as quickly as it should have been” which contributed to the large amount of oil spilled.
Pipeline opponents note that twinning the pipeline doubles the risk of a spill, which is especially concerning since the pipeline crosses the Fraser River and runs near an underground aquifer which supplies Chilliwack’s drinking water.
At a public info session in Chilliwack, one of a series of community consultations the company has promised to hold, Greg Toth, director of Trans Mountain’s expansion project, said a new “horizontal directional drill” will be used to bore under water ways like the Fraser River.
“We actually won’t do any in-stream work,” he said.
He said a “well-established safety program” called the “pipeline integrity management program” will ensure a quick response to a spill.
The $4.3-billion project must pass a number of environmental and socioeconomic assessments that will be submitted to the National Energy Board for approval.
“We have had spills along the pipeline,” Toth admitted, but only eight recordable spills (over 9.5 barrels) in 50 years, and only two spills in the last 30 years, one of those a “pinhole leak” detected by a local farmer.
But for Jonathon Wood, a 27-year-old Chilliwack resident who attended the info session, the risk of an oil spill was just too much.
“I’m against it because of the risk,” he said.
“I know they’re doing their best, but if something does happen,” he said, the potential ecological damage to water ways and water sources will “affect a lot of other industries and hurt our economy.”
And Chilliwack will see little of the economic benefits of twinning the pipeline, he said, while accepting double the risk of a spill.
If the expansion project is approved, after a two-year review by the NEB, construction of the pipeline could start in 2016 with a completion date after the summer of 2017.