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OPINION w/ VIDEO: Work forges ahead on Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in Chilliwack

It’s almost as if there is no opposition to the project as land is cleared and pipe is stockpiled
Crews unloading sections of pipe for the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project at a stockpile yard in Chilliwack on Jan. 26, 2021. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress) Crews unloading sections of pipe for the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project at a stockpile yard in Chilliwack on Jan. 26, 2021. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)

As soon as Joe Biden took the helm of the White House, he cancelled the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline project prompting “disappointment” from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

And while the promised move by the incumbent U.S. president also prompted Alberta Jason Kenney to set his own hair on fire, another Canadian pipeline project is quietly moving forward.

Or is it? Anyone driving between Chilliwack and Hope – and who knows the route of the Trans Mountain Pipeline – has seen work ramping up on the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project (TMX).

All along the route from Popkum to Hope, which for long stretches parallels Highway 1, and all the way to the Coquihalla summit there is active construction. Land is being cleared, utilities are being moved, and there is surveying, flagging and staking going on.

For months, pipe has been stored at a site at Laidlaw Road, and more recently people may have noticed pipe being stockpiled at an industrial site just west of Chilliwack Mountain. The location is referred to as the “Lackaway Temporary Stockpile Site and Construction Yard.”

There are a lot of people working on this project, a pipeline expansion deemed ever more important now that KXL seems dead.

As a reporter, there is no story that I’ve written more column inches about in the last decade than TMX. I got wind of the proposed pipeline twinning in early 2012. Then owned by Kinder Morgan, the price tag for the proposed 1,150-kilometre pipeline twinning (to triple capacity) was $3.8 billion.

In a page one Chilliwack Times story in May 2012 with the headline “Kinder Surprise,” I explained what few people realized: There already is a pipeline that carries hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil a day underneath local farmers’ fields, school yards, suburban lawns, a golf course, and even the Vedder River.

Since then, the project has faced numerous roadblocks, both financial and environmental, from activists and Indigenous groups. Now, TMX is owned by the Canadian government and the expansion price tag has more than tripled to $12.6 billion.

RELATED: TC Energy halts spending on Keystone XL, says it’s ‘disappointed’ with Biden move

RELATED: Trans Mountain shuts down pipeline expansion project to address worker safety

There is also interest from a wholly-owned First Nations company to buy the pipeline. The Western Indigenous Pipeline Group is pursue a majority stake in the project, in part to “mitigate environmental risk through the development of a First Nation-led social enterprise.”

And while work continues on TMX right here in Chilliwack and all the way to the Alberta oil sands, there are those who say it is for nought.

“TMX will never be built,” Neskonlith First Nation Chief Judy Wilson said in a press release this week. “The pipeline has already been delayed five years, only a fraction of it has been built and the world is a different place. For the pipeline to proceed, all First Nations along the route would need to provide their consent – this will never happen.”

The press release came from a coalition of groups that include West Coast Environmental Law (WCEL), the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and the Wilderness Committee.

The group says Trudeau needs to follow Biden’s lead, and ensure TMX’s fate is the same as KXL’s.

“It was easy for Prime Minister Trudeau to play the role of climate leader with Trump in the White House over the past four years,” according to WCEL lawyer Eugene Kung. “However, on his first day in office, President Biden has now passed Trudeau by cancelling an unnecessary oil sands pipeline, while Prime Minister Trudeau continues to cling to Trans Mountain and support KXL. These positions will forever tarnish his reputation as a leader on climate and reconciliation.”

But with KXL dead, wouldn’t it seem that TMX is more important than ever to get Alberta oil sands bitumen to international markets?

“Even the Canadian Energy Regulator’s own forecasts demonstrate that with any climate policy, neither KXL nor TMX, nor Line 3 are needed to meet projected supply,” Kung added.

The only thing that is certain about TMX is that after talking and writing about it for nearly a decade, we aren’t done yet.

RELATED: Chilliwack trustees divided on Trans Mountain pipeline route near two schools

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