Opinion: More pipeline questions than answers

A federal panel looking into Trans Mountain Expansion Projects asks if the proposed route across Chilliwack's aquifer is the best. So do we.

Anyone hoping for answers from the Ministerial Panel on the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project will have to wait a little longer.

The panel, which released its 58-page report on Thursday, asked six questions instead – questions it says need to be addressed if the $6.8 billion project is to proceed.

The panel was appointed by the newly elected Liberal government this year in response to wide-spread concern the earlier National Energy Board hearings were inadequate.

Those hearings led to the eventual approval of the project, contingent on Kinder Morgan meeting more than 150 conditions. The federal government still has final say on whether or not the project will proceed; it’s vowed to release its decision before the end of the year.

If approved, the Trans Mountain Expansion Project would add a second pipeline along most of its existing pipeline corridor, allowing more than 890,000 barrels of bitumen a day to be shipped from the oilsands in Alberta to the company’s terminal in Burnaby for export.

The route cuts through the centre of Chilliwack, bisecting neighbourhoods, travelling though backyards and crossing over top of the city’s only source of drinking water.

The risk to Chilliwack’s aquifer was identified by the City of Chilliwack in its submission to the NEB. And it was identified again in the panel’s report.

Of the six questions listed by the panel, one asks if the route chosen by Kinder Morgan is the best option.

“If approved, what route would best serve aquifer, municipal, aquatic and marine safety?”

It is a legitimate question to ask. Just because the existing pipeline crosses Chilliwack’s aquifer, that does not mean other options should not be explored.

As the City of Chilliwack points out, “Once contaminated, it is unlikely that the aquifer could be remediated adequately to use for drinking water purposes again.”

Critics of the pipeline proposal argue the remaining questions asked by the panel make it impossible for the Liberal government to grant its approval.

That may or may not be the case.

But one thing is certain. Chilliwack residents are entitled to the federal government’s answer as to why their aquifer is the only option for a major pipeline.