Jonathon Wood, a 27-year-old Chilliwack resident training to be a heavy equipment operator, is one of many in the Fraser Valley that Trans Mountain hopes to convince that its pipeline expansion proposal is a good idea.
“I’m against it because of the risk,” Wood said, at an info session held Tuesday in Chilliwack.
“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 believes, while accepting double the risk of a spill.
Clean potable water will soon outstrip the value of oil, he predicted, so sources like Chilliwack’s underground aquifer should not be placed in any risk.
“Water is worth a lot more than oil,” he said. “We can live without oil, we can’t live without water.”
But 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.
As for the Chilliwack aquifer, he said, an issue raised by local government as well as the public, Trans Mountain has a “well-established safety program” called the “pipeline integrity management program” to ensure a quick response to a spill.
“I think people should feel comfortable that our pipeline is safe,” he said.
Trans Mountain has “an excellent safety record,” he added, and 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 said, 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.
“If we do have a spill or an incident along the pipeline, we have a very vigorous internal investigation program and we look at the cause of the spill and do everything we can to correct it and prevent it from happening again.”
Routing of the proposed pipeline is another issue raised at the series of public info sessions – 36 over two months – that Trans Mountain is holding in the Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland.
Toth said these sessions are the first “roll-out” of the proposal, and, based on feedback from the public and local governments, including First Nations, further consultations will be held in each community along the pipeline.
He said a “workshop format” may be used to discuss alternate routes in areas where housing has gone up around the pipeline.
“We are looking for alternatives that will cause the least disruption to individual landowners,” he said, which could involve using “trenchless technologies” to bore under a property to lay the pipe.
With 2,200 landowners between Edmonton and Burnaby, he said, “there’s a lot of discussions going on.”
First Nations are also being consulted, he said, but “a few” are insisting that any discussions involving rights and title take place on a government-to-government level.
Despite opposition parties’ criticism of recent changes to environmental legislation by the Conservative government, Wood said Trans Mountain does not see them as a “relaxation” of the rules.
“We’ve monitored the federal changes and what’s proposed, and we don’t see it as a relaxation of the environmental rules,” he said. “Where it is a benefit to us, it provides a prescribed timeline for the regulatory reviews.”
“Our intent is to approach the environmental values and environmental protection the same way we have in the past,” he said.
That approach allowed the company to build 160 kilometres of pipeline through Jasper National Park in 2007 under “the most stringent” environmental rules, he said.
Perhaps startlingly, safety of the marine environment has also been an issue of concern raised at info sessions in the Fraser Valley.
“I think people are fairly well-read,” Wood said, “and they are aware of what the issues are so they are curious and they do ask questions.”
One group asking questions, the PIPE UP Network, had a number of members outside the Chilliwack info session presenting an “alternate” view of pipeline safety, and the transmission of diluted bitumen – or tar sands.
Spokesperson Michael Hale said Trans Mountain officials at the info sessions “seem to want to minimize the risks.”
“I think what residents are more concerned about is what are the facts – don’t play it down,” he said.
For more information about the pipeline opposition.
For more information about the project, and to submit questions.
You can also follow the company’s info sessions on Twitter @transmtn