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OPINION: 10 years later and TMX pipe is finally going in the ground in Chilliwack

‘The only Kinder Surprise now will be if it doesn’t happen’
A sign marking where the Trans Mountain Pipeline crosses Unsworth Road in Chilliwack and underneath a hay field, taken in June 2022. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)

It was 10 years ago as a reporter for the Chilliwack Times when I found out that Texas oil giant Kinder Morgan was planning a $3.8-billion twinning of its 1,150-kilometre pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to the port in Burnaby.

It wasn’t exactly investigative journalism, but no one that I could see was writing about it.

“There’s an existing oil pipeline that runs across our community?” I asked.

“Kinder Surprise” was the headline.

Very few people outside city hall or other political levels seemed to know this pipeline existed. But it did and it does.

The Trans Mountain Pipeline runs from Rosedale to Yarrow, mostly across farm fields, but as it crosses the city, the right-of-way goes underneath school fields at Vedder Middle and Watson Elementary schools. It crosses the Kinkora Golf Course, which is closed, at least for most of this golf season as construction is underway.

READ MORE: VIDEO: Trans Mountain oil pipeline construction work underway in Chilliwack

And it goes through dozens of residential back yards.

The twinning of the pipeline, dubbed the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project (TMX), is not just a doubling but will triple the amount of oil sands bitumen that can be shipped to Asia and elsewhere.

There is big money in oil, of course. Alberta knows this. In recent years, less so, but then there was more again.

As for now? The uncertainty and fluctuations in oil prices is hard to keep track of. The ups and downs are caused by numerous global, national and regional factors.

The world is, of course, moving away from oil. We have been for some time. Even in 2012, opponents of TMX complained about climate change and oil spills and aquifer protection. But there were also the practical and economic considerations, from peak oil to political decisions supporting technologies getting us off fossil fuels.

If you had told me in 2012 we would still be writing about TMX in 2022, I would have said you were crazy. And if you told me the project was literally putting pipe in the ground in Chilliwack in 2022, given the hurdles it has faced, I would have bet against it.

The initial estimated cost of $3.8-billion price tag has gone up more than fivefold to $21.4 billion. And Kinder Morgan? Four years ago, the Government of Canada purchased TMX for $4.5 billion. It’s ours now.

There has been and will continue to be Indigenous opposition. Environmentalists, and Indigenous land defenders, have sat in trees in Burnaby to stop the clearing to make way for TMX. In the process, they found bird nests, which pauses construction, something they also did just east of Chilliwack last month.

READ MORE: Mating woodpeckers put a halt to multi-billion-dollar TMX oil pipeline expansion work in Chilliwack

Other changes since 2012 include an electric vehicle revolution. We’ve also gone from talking about climate change as if it was up for debate to recognizing deniers as flat-Earthers.

More public recognition has come from seeing our world change before our eyes, not from identifying one-off weather events as climate-change related.

In the Lower Mainland, I mean that literally. We watched hundreds die thanks to last summer’s heat dome, and catastrophic flooding of farms in the Sumas prairie were the result of last November’s atmospheric rivers.

Continuing to build the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project may seem a little like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, but here we are, forging ahead.

Ten years ago I took a photo of a horse looking at me behind the pipeline sign on Unsworth in front of a fenced grass meadow.

I went back there last week and took a photo of a cow in the same field, similarly looking at me in disbelief as if to say, “You still comin’ around here?”

Is TMX happening? Looks like it. Will it ever be completed? I’m not sure.

Trees are coming down in Chilliwack, shovels are in the ground, pipe is going in.

The only Kinder Surprise now will be if it doesn’t happen.

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