Anti-Keystone ad reveals Canada’s vulnerability to U.S. politics

The airing of a jingoistic, misleading and devastating anti-oilpatch, anti-China, anti-Canada ad during Tuesday night’s State of the Union Address marks a turning point of sorts in the battle over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. This is a fight that Canada may lose. The blame, should that occur, will rest squarely with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Rarely has a policy so critical to a government’s overarching strategy been bungled so spectacularly.

The ad, to be aired on MSNBC before and after President Barack Obama’s address Tuesday, is the handiwork of NextGen Climate Group, an environmental organization led by billionaire anti-oilsands zealot Tom Steyer. Clocking in at just over a minute, it is far and away the most potent piece of propaganda levelled thus far in the Keystone debate, by either side. Applying stark imagery, crafty editing, selective use of facts and a punchy, populist script, it explicitly accuses the Canadian government of being in league with Beijing to “sucker punch” the American heartland.

The spot is blatantly misleading, shamefully tribal, and of course shockingly unfair to the thousands of Albertans and Canadians dedicated to responsible, sustainable development of the oilsands. It declares darkly that “Chinese government-backed interests” have invested $30-billion in Canadian tar sands development, and China just bought one of Canada’s largest producers.” The narrator neglects to mention that total foreign investment in Canadian fossil-fuel energy projects between 2007 and 2013 was about $100 billion, or that the U.S., U.K. and the Netherlands accounted for nearly 35 per cent of this, compared with China’s 28 per cent.

The producer referred to, Nexen Resources Inc., was indeed acquired by China’s state-owned CNOOC last year for $15.1 billion. The ad’s author misses, somehow, the protracted debate that preceded the takeover, resulting in Ottawa’s green-lighting that deal while slamming the door on future state-owned buyouts. The script twists facts to imply that a predatory China, aided by its vassal state Canada, is just beginning its nefarious quest to lay low America, if not the planet, with “tar sands” skullduggery. If it weren’t so potentially damaging, it would be laughable.

But here’s where it gets particularly galling, and where the Harper government’s cutting-edge energy diplomacy comes into play. Simply put, the prime minister himself created the conditions in which propaganda such as this could emerge, and be believed by some. He also created the conditions in which an ideologically left-leaning U.S. president such as Obama, under intense fire for years from his base for selling out to The Man, would be tempted to now cave in to the environmental lobby. The likely reason why the lobby is going for broke now: It smells blood.

It was Harper who, late in 2011, when the Obama administration first gave Keystone the cold shoulder, made a public show of an overture to China, grandly offering Canada’s energy to Beijing if America wouldn’t take it. That was a pressure tactic, intended to bolster Republicans in Congress and others in the U.S. who were pressing Obama to approve Keystone. Obama could not fail to come round, it was believed, because it was so demonstrably in America’s interest that he do so.

Problem: Even in early 2012, it was becoming clear that the U.S. was about to come into major new sources of energy domestically. According to an International Energy Agency report last November, America is on track to move ahead of Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s top oil producer by 2015, due to new horizontal drilling techniques, and shale output. American energy self-sufficiency, once believed to be a pipe dream, is now within reach. The hard argument for Keystone as a bulwark of U.S. national economic security thus becomes less potent. And Obama, like any politician, probably doesn’t much like being stiff-armed.

Then, further undermining Canada’s position, the Harper government failed repeatedly to meet its promise to impose greenhouse gas emissions standards on the oilpatch; Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver famously referred to environmentalists as “enemies” of Canada; and the gloriously wrongheaded $21.5-billion-carbon-tax talking point emerged in the House of Commons, to be recited daily by obedient Conservative backbenchers. Because we have the Interwebs, word of all this somehow leaked to the outside world. So, at the very time when Obama needed to sell Canada to his own base, as a reliable partner in environmental stewardship, Harper’s people were painting themselves as the opposite – with all-too predictable results.

Here’s what’s truly astonishing about all this: The business of pipelines, Northern Gateway to the Pacific and Keystone XL to the Gulf coast, is at the absolute heart of the Conservatives’ long-term strategic plan for Canada. Yet it lies now in near ruin, because of incompetent engagement with aboriginal groups on the one hand, and incompetent communication with the U.S. leadership on the other. Of all the Harper government’s miscues, this may be the most serious and far-reaching. It’s odd it hasn’t drawn more attention.

Twitter.com/mdentandt

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

Rail versus pipeline is the wrong question

Debating the best way to do something we shouldn’t be doing in the first place is a sure way to end up in the wrong place. That’s what’s happening with the “rail versus pipeline” discussion. Some say recent rail accidents mean we should build more pipelines to transport fossil fuels. Others argue that leaks, high construction costs, opposition and red tape surrounding pipelines are arguments in favour of using trains.

But the recent spate of rail accidents and pipeline leaks and spills doesn’t provide arguments for one or the other; instead, it indicates that rapidly increasing oil and gas development and shipping ever greater amounts, by any method, will mean more accidents, spills, environmental damage – even death. The answer is to step back from this reckless plunder and consider ways to reduce our fossil fuel use.
If we were to slow down oil sands development, encourage conservation and invest in clean energy technology, we could save money, ecosystems and lives – and we’d still have valuable fossil fuel resources long into the future, perhaps until we’ve figured out ways to use them that aren’t so wasteful. We wouldn’t need to build more pipelines just to sell oil and gas as quickly as possible, mostly to foreign markets. We wouldn’t have to send so many unsafe rail tankers through wilderness areas and places people live.

We may forgo some of the short-term jobs and economic opportunities the fossil fuel industry provides, but surely we can find better ways to keep people employed and the economy humming. Gambling, selling guns and drugs and encouraging people to smoke all create jobs and economic benefits, too – but we rightly try to limit those activities when the harms outweigh the benefits.

Both transportation methods come with significant risks. Shipping by rail leads to more accidents and spills, but pipeline leaks usually involve much larger volumes. One of the reasons we’re seeing more train accidents involving fossil fuels is the incredible boom in moving these products by rail. According to the American Association of Railroads, train shipment of crude oil in the U.S. grew from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 234,000 in 2012 – almost 25 times as many in only four years!

That’s expected to rise to 400,000 this year.

As with pipelines, risks are increased because many rail cars are older and not built to standards that would reduce the chances of leaks and explosions when accidents occur. Some in the rail industry argue it would cost too much to replace all the tank cars as quickly as is needed to move the ever-increasing volumes of oil. We must improve rail safety and pipeline infrastructure for the oil and gas that we’ll continue to ship for the foreseeable future, but we must also find ways to transport less.
The economic arguments for massive oil sands and liquefied natural gas development and expansion aren’t great to begin with – at least with the way our federal and provincial governments are going about it. Despite a boom in oil sands growth and production, “Alberta has run consecutive budget deficits since 2008 and since then has burned through $15 billion of its sustainability fund,” according to an article on the Tyee website. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says Alberta’s debt is now $7 billion and growing by $11 million daily.

As for jobs, a 2012 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows less than one per cent of Canadian workers are employed in extraction and production of oil, coal and natural gas. Pipelines and fossil fuel development are not great long-term job creators, and pale in comparison to employment generated by the renewable energy sector.

Beyond the danger to the environment and human health, the worst risk from rapid expansion of oil sands, coal mines and gas fields and the infrastructure needed to transport the fuels is the carbon emissions from burning their products – regardless of whether that happens here, in China or elsewhere. Many climate scientists and energy experts, including the International Energy Agency, agree that to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, we must leave at least two-thirds of our remaining fossil fuels in the ground.

The question isn’t about whether to use rail or pipelines. It’s about how to reduce our need for both.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington

National Energy Board Hearing: Have Your Say!

The National Energy Board (NEB) has begun accepting applications for participation in its review of Kinder Morgan’s application to build a new pipeline to dramatically expand the shipment of diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to Burrard Inlet.

If you want a say at the hearing, about how Kinder Morgan’s expansion will affect you, your family and your neighbours, you have very little time to apply. The window of opportunity to have a say opened on January 15, 2014 and will close precisely at noon (PST) on February 12, 2014.

The issues

It has been widely reported that the new Kinder Morgan pipeline could expand the shipment of diluted bitumen tot 890,000 barrels per day. Less known is that oil storage on Burnaby Mountain would triple, increasing storage by 3,900,000 barrels and doubling the number of tanks. The Westridge terminal would also be tripled and a retaining wall built in Burrard Inlet. The number of tankers travelling through Second Narrows and under the narrow Iron Worker’s Memorial Bridge and through Vancouver harbour will increase dramatically to more than 400 every year.

Why should you bother about the NEB hearing?

A lack of public involvement may be used to indicate public support. But more importantly, the hearing will give everyone accepted a voice in the critical decision to expand the shipment of diluted bitumen through residential and farm areas, under important fish bearing rivers and through Burrard Inlet and Vancouver Harbour and the Salish Sea.

Participation

There are two options for participation in the NEB hearing which are: “commenters” can participate by submitting a letter of comment while “intervenors” can request further information from Kinder Morgan. Kinder Morgan is required to respond to information requests and present final evidence. Intervenors can also apply for participant funding from NEB.

The NEB will hear from any person who is directly affected by the granting or refusing of a project application. The NEB considers applications individually and a key consideration is the degree to which your interest is “specific and detailed”, rather than a general public interest. Examples include : commercial, property or other financial interest e.g. your place of employment, your house or lands that you own.

Being “directly affected” can also mean you personally use or occupy land and resources that could be affected or you use affected land and resources for traditional Aboriginal purposes.

Personal use has not been well defined and could include :

Recreational use e.g. fishing, birdwatching, clean water,

Your children’s school lies close to the pipeline (say how close),

The pipeline could affect your local water supply (say where this is in comparison to the pipeline),

The pipeline or tankers could affect the aesthetic value of the place you live, your school, park or beach,

The presence of the pipeline or tankers could affect your property value, and

A marine spill could affect the whole Salish Sea.

In your application explain the connection between your concerns and the project, e.g. how is the air quality likely to be affected by a much larger tank farm and a much larger terminal in Burrard Inlet, how will property values be affected, how will the expansion affect businesses and public access to conservation areas.

The likelihood and severity of harm that you are exposed to is also important. Examples could include the chance of injury or death from pipeline or tankers spills, the chance of a pipeline rupture affecting your business operation, disturbance to your right of way, view aqnd/or land. How will the project affect you during construction phase and when completed? The NEB will also consider how often and for how long you use the area near the project (frequency and duration) of your use.

What counts as “Relevant knowledge and expertise”?

Outline your experience, studies or qualifications, your local or cultural knowledge and how this knowledge or expertise is relevant to the project. Explain how your knowledge and expertise is unique and how it will help the NEB make the best decision in the public interest. General knowledge and expertise, available to the NEB from other sources, are unlikely to be accepted. Specific knowledge about a relevant area e.g. it’s natural history or knowledge of aboriginal use not be in the public domain are more likely to be classed as relevant. Your knowledge is important.

Help is available at meetings and online

A number of community and environmental groups are ready to answer your questions, provide workshops and provide support to those interested in participating. Kennedy Stewart, MP Burnaby North will be holding a workshop to help people apply on Jan 25th at the Confederation Center in Burnaby, BC and will also be helping people at his office. There will be volunteers at his office to help. The Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion is helping Kennedy Stewart’s efforts and groups throughout the area. Feel free to contact any of the following groups for additional help: Sierra Club BC, Pipe Up Network, Raincoast, ForestEthics Advocacy, Georgia Straight Alliance, the Wilderness Committee.

An NEB advisor can also support the public. Contact Reny Chakkalakal, Telephone: (toll free) 1-800-899-1265, or email: transmountainpipeline.hearing@neb-one.gc.ca. The NEB will also offer training sessions: http://www.neb-one.gc.ca/clf-nsi/rthnb/pplctnsbfrthnb/trnsmntnxpnsn/trnsmntnxpnsn-eng.html#s11.

Footnote: This backgrounder is based on a prior document released by the Seira Club, ForestEthics and Pipe-Up and can be found here http://www.sierraclub.bc.ca/publications/other/kinder-morgan-neb-application-information/at_download/file
You can also contact the NEB Team at BROKE at info@brokepipelinewatch.ca and your Burnaby MP, Kennedy Stewart at http://letbcdecide.ca/

How Smaller, Off-Coast Quakes Could Badly Shake BC

A new scientific study indicates that southwestern B.C. faces some little-understood threats from earthquakes — not just from the Big One, but from weaker quakes occurring within 100 kilometres of Vancouver. The implications for construction safety codes could be important, especially for the seismic retrofit program that’s been strengthening B.C. schools.

The report, published today in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, finds that the geology of the Georgia Basin tends to slow down waves from nearby crustal earthquakes, causing longer, more intense shaking. The basin underlies the Straits of Georgia and Juan de Fuca, as well as Puget Sound, and much of Greater Vancouver is built on it.

Dr. Sheri Molnar of the University of British Columbia’s department of civil engineering is the lead author of the report. She and her colleagues wanted to see how the basin’s geological structure might influence the intensity of a quake in Greater Vancouver. They chose one spot 40 km west of the city, another beneath San Juan Island, 80 km south, and a third 80 km east-southeast near Deming, Washington. All three have shown recurrent seismicity, but have no known geological faults.

The researchers made some assumptions about the kind of faults that could have generated those earlier earthquakes, and then calculated what the effect would be if an event like the 6.7 Northridge, California quake of 1994 occurred in these locations.

The Georgia Basin has been filling up with rocks and sediments for a couple of million years. Greater Vancouver is largely built on those rocks, but they have been compacted by bearing the weight of the last few glaciations. Elsewhere, the basin is relatively soft. This is where a problem arises, Molnar said.

Focusing the quake

“Waves increase as they travel from stiff materials to soft,” she said. “The waves can even resonate” — that is, two waves may overlap and form a much larger wave.

The structure of the Georgia Basin also tends to focus the surface waves caused by a quake. “Overall,” the report says, “the amplitude and duration of shaking is increased within the basin; focusing of surface waves in the narrow and deep southeast portion of the basin causes high-amplitude surface waves.”

In other words, the heaviest, longest shaking would occur just off the Fraser River delta and western Vancouver. Richmond and Ladner would feel the impact, Molnar said, and soil liquefaction could result — that is, the ground could turn to loose mud, unable to support the weight of the buildings resting on it.

Buildings across Greater Vancouver would experience “strong to very strong shaking” — the kind that creates highly visible damage. On the Modified Mercalli Intensity scale, this shaking would hit levels VIII (destructive) to IX (violent). Some structures would collapse or suffer considerable damage.

The structure of the Georgia Basin would make matters worse, Molnar found. If the basin didn’t exist, the scenarios showed, earthquake waves would pass quickly through Richmond and Ladner. But the basin increased the duration of moderate and higher shaking by eight to 15 seconds.

Averaging the outcomes of “events” at all three sites, the study finds that the Georgia Basin “significantly increases the level of periodic long-period ground motions” — meaning “very strong to severe shaking MMI VIII-IX.”

Gone in 40 seconds

Molnar said that this shaking could last for up to 40 seconds. That’s not long compared to the minutes of violent shaking that a 9.0 quake could cause, but it’s long enough to inflict considerable damage — especially on weaker older buildings. To counter the threat, the B.C. Seismic Mitigation Program is gradually strengthening school buildings in the Lower Mainland, the Sunshine Coast, and on Vancouver Island.

Molnar also noted that the present Seismic Retrofit Guidelines don’t specify the time that a structure is expected to withstand shaking. To look into that issue, The Tyee contacted Graham W. Taylor, a seismic consultant and a member of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C.

Taylor said retrofits have to consider three different types of quakes, each with typical shaking times. Shallow crustal quakes, like the ones Molnar’s paper discusses, normally cause about 20 seconds of shaking in a given location. Subcrustal quakes, like the Nisqually earthquake of 2001, last about 45 seconds, and a subduction quake (the Big One) would cause shaking for 60 seconds or even longer.

Seismic upgrading, he said, has to consider all three. “We pick typical earthquake records to match our seismicity model,” he said. While a subduction quake would occur off the west coast of Vancouver Island, it would still be felt in the Vancouver region. So Vancouver-area school upgrades have to factor in likely shaking times — “40 seconds is short for a subduction quake,” Taylor said.

But duration is significant, he added, and Molnar’s paper would be carefully reviewed in developing the new set of retrofit guidelines which will begin development starting this spring, with publication in fall 2017. The subduction-quake hazard will be dominant, Taylor said, which means duration of weaker quakes will be automatically factored in.

‘Just a first step’

While the Molnar study is an important advancement in understanding earthquake hazards in B.C., it also indicates how much more needs to be learned. “We knew the basin existed,” Molnar said. “Now we know it intensifies earthquakes by three to four times.” The effects are strongest in quakes coming from the south and southwest, though not from the north.

“We’ve just made a first step,” Molnar said, pointing to California, where teams of researchers are creating modern hazard maps based on different models.

Similar research clearly needs to be done in B.C. — not only to ensure good data for strengthening old school buildings, but for all major construction in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. But governments may need a good shaking to awaken them to the need.

Burnaby MP inundated with Kinder Morgan requests

The phone is ringing off the hook at Kennedy Stewart’s office. The Burnaby-Douglas MP is helping people sign up as intervenors in the National Energy Board’s hearing for the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion.

The application period opened on Jan. 15, and the deadline to apply is Feb. 12. Stewart, whose riding is home to the pipeline’s terminus, is critical of the NEB, mainly for having cancelled a public info session in Burnaby on how local residents can get involved in the process.

“The whole way the NEB has been doing this has been very upsetting,” Stewart told the NOW, adding that the board did not put out a media release the day the application period opened. “It’s been such a sneak attack.”

Stewart has recruited 15 volunteers and set up extra computers in his office to help people sign up as intervenors. He’s also sent direct mailings to everyone in his constituency and a voicemail phone broadcast to 30,000 homes in the riding, he’s taken out ads in bus shelters and local newspapers, and he’s hired an extra staff member to help with the workload. He’s also launched a website called LetBCDecide.ca.

“The phone has just been ringing off the hook today, and we’re closed,” he said on Monday. “I really think this is the key part of my job, to alert the community about things that are happening here and to try and get them involved. This is the biggest project to come to Burnaby, and because it’s federal jurisdiction, I think it’s a key part of my responsibility. I think people will be very upset if this pipeline is approved and they didn’t have a chance to be heard.”

The National Energy Board allows people who have relevant expertise or are directly affected by the project to act as intervenors in the Kinder Morgan pipeline hearing. Intervenors will be able to ask Kinder Morgan and other intervenors questions and present evidence that supports their position, be it for or against the pipeline expansion.

At press time, 50 people had signed up as intervenors, and Stewart estimates half of those people have either been in contact with his office or signed up directly at his office.
“We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of calls that we’re dealing with,” Stewart said.
As for Stewart’s criticism that the NEB is staging a “sneak attack,” spokesperson Sarah Kiley said that’s not the case.

“I really want to be firm on this there’s no desire on our part to limit participation,” she told the NOW.

Kiley pointed out that the NEB is hosting sessions online and on the phone for anyone who needs help with the application process. The upcoming sessions are on Jan. 22, 27 and 28. Go to www.eply.com/TransmountainPipelineHearing to register.
Kiley confirmed the NEB did not issue a press release when the application period had opened on Jan. 15.

“We’ve never really done one in the past, but we tried to follow up with media … on a more personal level,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can to make it easy for people to sign up.”

For more info on applying as an intervenor, either through Stewart’s office or the NEB, go to Jennifer Moreau’s blog or call Stewart’s office at 604-291-8863.

Mayor Derek Corrigan calls BC a “banana republic”

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan calls it like he sees it regarding corruption in BC and the Surrey Fraser Dock’s proposed expansion of Coal Trains transporting Toxic US coal through our communities and through our ports to China. We know that coal dust and diesel exhaust kills Canadians along the route every year. The Federal Government need to stop covering up Senate abuses, and spend more time ensuring we live in a healthy toxic free environment.

Gulf Islands Outreach

RainCoast Foundation and the Gulf Islands Alliance is organizing outreach events in the Gulf Islands: Salt Spring – 27th Jan, Galiano – 28th Jan, Gabriola – 29th Jan, Thetis – 31st Jan, Pender – 7th Feb
Sponsors
RainCoast Foundation, Gulf Islands Alliance

Earthquakes Versus Pipelines

B.C. Premier Christy Clark has made it a condition of her support for heavy oil exports that project proponents and federal agencies ensure “world-leading” marine and land-based spill prevention, response and recovery. What would those systems look like in an active earthquake zone?

A new seismology study published Monday carries direct implications for pipeline construction in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland. Twenty years after a serious oil spill blackened the Santa Clara River in California, the report invites reflection on what “world-leading” protection would cost along the Fraser River, and what it could require of engineers.

On Jan. 17, 1994, the Northridge earthquake struck the San Fernando Valley in southern California. The shaking began at 4:31 in the morning. Freeways and apartment buildings collapsed, killing 57 people and injuring thousands. Buried out of sight, an old pipeline operated by the Atlantic Richfield Company tore apart at the seams. Welds failed at nine different points along a 56km stretch, including at a pumping station on the banks of the Santa Clara.

Coast Guard commander Thomas Leveille reports what happened next: “The oil flowed across the parking lot, into a storm drain, then into a drainage ditch to the Santa Clara River.” In total, 190,000 gallons poured into the wide, shallow waterway, which was running that night at about gumboot depth. ARCO workers discovered the spill at 5:35 AM, alerting government officials two hours later. As ambulances raced to help victims of the earthquake, cleanup crews scrambled downriver to stop the flow of oil.

“Initial response efforts were hampered by several earthquake-related problems,” writes Leveille. Closed roads and broken communications infrastructure slowed everyone down. Booms were eventually pulled across 25km down from the pumping station, halting the slick. Over the days that followed, a crew of more than 500 people vacuumed crude out of the river and catalogued dead animals: “4 mammals, 10 amphibians & reptiles, 59 birds, and 650 fish.” Then they got to work digging out 100 acres of contaminated vegetation along the riverbank.

ARCO settled three years later with the California Department of Fish and Game, paying $7.1 million for restoration costs, on top of “many tens of millions” spent by the company in the aftermath. “Cleanup of the river included removing oiled vegetation, excavating soil and sediment, backfilling, and grading of the river bed,” according to a 2002 environmental assessment. In total, 150 acres of the river bottom was replaced. Twenty years later, the plant and animal life has mostly returned.

“It’s very close to fully recovered,” says Ron Botorff, a retired aeronautical engineer who chairs the non-profit Friends of the Santa Clara River. “We’ve done sampling and haven’t found any residual oil. What they didn’t get would have been washed out in a major flow.” In heavy rainfall, the foot-deep creek swells to a raging torrent. Botorff says it’s lucky the river stayed shallow while crews built an earthen dam, containing the damage. “The worst effect would have been if it made it all the way to the estuary”.

The Trans Mountain pipeline has run through the Lower Mainland for 60 years, with a mixed record of leaks and spills. In December, Houston-based Kinder Morgan submitted a proposal to build a second, larger pipeline, closer to the Fraser River. Both would cross into Coquitlam near the Port Mann bridge, in tunnels drilled beneath the water. “If it’s in an area that is subjected to major earthquakes,” says Ron Botorff, “I would say that’s a very questionable idea.”

The Big One

Geological evidence suggests that every 300 to 900 years, the subduction fault off Vancouver Island lets go, producing a large “megathrust” earthquake and associated tsunamis. Wave records in Japan corroborate First Nations oral history, pinpointing the date of the last Cascadian subduction quake: January 26th, 1700. That event had an estimated magnitude of 9, and the waves wiped out whole villages. Three centuries later, seismologists say we’ve entered the window for the next “Big One”.

On Boxing Day in 2004, a massive earthquake hit off the coast of Sumatra, sending waves up to 30 metres high crashing through coastal communities. At least 230,000 people died. Struck by the similarity of the subduction zone in the Indian Ocean, seismologist John Cassidy at the Sidney office of Natural Resources Canada began plugging data from the Sumatra quake into computer models of the B.C. coast. “The Boxing Day images were a graphic reminder of what can and likely will happen in the future,” Cassidy told Canadian Geographic. “The key is to use the information and learn from it.” One thing his simulations showed was tsunami waves, zooming up the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Tankers leaving the Kinder Morgan terminus in Burnaby currently sail that route at a rate of five per month. Under the proposed expansion, that number would increase to 408 return trips per year. On average, that’s more than one full oil tanker every day. The operational lifetime of the Trans Mountain pipeline may only be a few decades, and the “Big One” might not happen in that time. But subduction quakes are not the only kind to strike the Pacific Northwest.

In a new report covered by The Tyee, UBC seismologist Sheri Molnar looks at the scenario of a shallow “blind-thrust” earthquake closer to Vancouver, originating a few kilometres down in the earth’s crust. By coincidence, Molnar and her co-author John Cassidy based their models on the 1994 Northridge earthquake in California — the one that destroyed the ARCO pipeline. The results of their simulations are surprising.

Molnar and Cassidy found the bowl-like shape of the Georgia basin would likely amplify seismic waves, producing longer periods of shaking and greater ground movement than previously predicted. “If it occurred 50-80 km from Vancouver, on the other side of the basin,” says Molnar, “that would cause the greatest ground motion in Vancouver.” She hopes her research can be helpful to engineers. “Our results are important for very tall structures or long structures, such as a pipeline.”

Quake-proof design can cost billions

Engineering solutions do exist to protect pipelines and oil tanker terminals from seismic activity. On a November afternoon in 2002, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake rocked the Denali fault, which is crossed by the Trans-Alaska pipeline. “Due to a rigorous design which took into account seismic activity similar to the 2002 Denali earthquake, the pipeline withstood the ground movement at the fault,” wrote a senior engineer in response to questions provided to communications staff. Most importantly, nothing leaked.

Trans-Alaska pipeline is built to slide on rails when shaken by an earthquake. 1977 price tag: $8 billion.

A key feature of the Trans-Alaska pipeline is that for more than half of its 1275 kilometre length, it sits above ground. Sections are kinked to allow for flexibility, and in some areas, shiny metal rails support the pipe at intervals along a wide, level gravel pad. The pipeline sits perpendicular to the rails on teflon sliders, allowing it to shimmy back and forth under stress. “The original pipeline design accommodated 6.1 m (20 ft) horizontal and 1.5 m (5 ft) vertical movement at the Denali Fault Crossing,” wrote the engineer.

As far as tsunamis go, “the 1964 earthquake was taken into account when designing the Valdez Marine Terminal,” writes spokesperson Kate Dugan. “However, if you look at a satellite map of Port Valdez, you can see why the risk for a tsunami-like event would be lower where our facilities are, due to the angle of an incoming wave, as well as the depth of the water in front of the terminal. Additionally, our tanks are several hundred feet above sea level.”

That safety comes at a price. When the Trans-Alaska pipeline was completed in 1977, the oil companies funding its construction had spent $8 billion. In today’s US dollars, that’s equivalent to more than $30 billion. By comparison, Kinder Morgan estimates it will cost $5.4 billion to build the new Trans Mountain line and expand the Westridge tanker terminal in Burnaby.

Kinder Morgan’s application to the NEB includes simulations of a spill where the new pipeline would cross the Fraser River.

Combing through the 15,000-page application submitted by Kinder Morgan to the National Energy Board, there are few references to seismic risk. “Over the last 60 years, the existing TMPL pipeline has operated in a corridor where statistically few significant geohazard events have occurred,” notes Volume 7. Borrowing an assessment performed for Enbridge in that company’s application to build the Northern Gateway pipeline, the section concludes: “Given the similarity in routes and historical observations along the TMPL pipeline corridor, a similar range of geohazard frequency values can be expected across the TMEP project.”

Kinder Morgan media relations staff were unable to find a spokesperson to comment on seismic risk or spill response capacity along the Fraser River.

Oil and water

The ARCO pipeline that failed in California was nearly 70 years old. Cdr. Leveille’s report states “there were indications that there may have been failure of the girth weld and lack of penetration at the locations.” Kinder Morgan’s pipeline in B.C. is more up-to-date, having opened in 1953. However, the ARCO line was only 10 inches in diameter, compared to the 24″ pipeline that currently runs through the Lower Mainland. The expansion proposal would add a 36″ line, travelling along a new route closer to the Fraser River. Together, that’s more than eighteen times the capacity of the ARCO pipe.

Unlike the Santa Clara, the Fraser cannot be walked across in gumboots. Deep and wide, the average flow rate near the mouth of the river is 3,475 cubic metres per second. Unlike the Santa Clara, the Fraser is home to some of the world’s largest remaining populations of salmon.

The product carried by the two pipelines would also be different. The ARCO line, not pressurized at the time of the breach, was holding “San Joaquin” blended crude oil. The diluted bitumen that Kinder Morgan moves to Burnaby is heavier and stickier, requiring it be blended with condensate for transport. In 2012, The Tyee reported on the unique hazards created when an Enbridge pipeline spilled 843,000 gallons of “dilbit” into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The bitumen portion sank and the solvents evaporated, sickening residents who breathed in the fumes.

Oil floating on surface of Southern California’s Santa Clara river after earthquake tore apart a pipeline 20 years ago.

Last week a federal government report confirmed that bitumen sinks in seawater, too. Study results suggest a major factor in the product’s behaviour is the presence of sediments in the water, which cause the oil to bind into heavy blobs. The Fraser River appears brown in colour because of a high concentration of suspended particles. It deposits 20 million tons of sediment into the Pacific every year.

Kinder Morgan’s own simulations, included in its application to the National Energy Board, appear to show that a spill in the Fraser could deposit oil on beaches as far away as the Gulf Islands, Sunshine Coast, Bowen Island, Stanley Park, Point Grey, or Point Roberts. The question is, how probable is that scenario?

As far as plate movements go, seismologist Sheri Molnar is clear that a large, shallow earthquake in the Lower Mainland is a statistically rare event. “The rate of occurrence for a magnitude 7, Northridge-type earthquake within 100 kilometres of Vancouver or Burnaby is 15,000 to 20,000 years.” But big subduction quakes occur on average every 500 years, with three centuries elapsed since the last one. For a weaker, magnitude 5 quake, the average jumps to one every 20 years.

Molnar, who moved to Vancouver to study earthquakes, says there are still many unknowns when it comes to modelling seismic events in the area. “Unfortunately we haven’t recorded any large earthquakes in the last 100 years. We know they’ll happen, we just don’t know how.”

Read more: Energy, BC Politics, Environment

Kai Nagata is a contributing editor to The Tyee. Find his previous articles in The Tyee here.

Kinder Morgan billionaire sees big fortunes in oil by train and tanker

One of the richest men in America is boasting about the massive profits to be made from the transport of “tremendous” new volumes of oil from Alberta tar sands and U.S. shale oil deposits.

Kinder Morgan’s reclusive billionaire CEO Rich Kinder said his company’s pipelines, including the proposed Trans Mountain expansion project through British Columbia, are not enough to handle this surge of new oil, measured in millions of barrels per day.

Consequently, he told analysts last week on a teleconference call that his company is investing a combined $1.1 billion on a new oil tanker fleet and a crude-oil-by-rail terminal near Edmonton, to get the oil to market.

“We’re primarily a pipeline company of course… but there are reasons why pipelines don’t satisfy everybody’s needs. An outgrowth of that is obviously crude by rail. Another outgrowth of that is the Jones Act,” said Kinder, from Houston, Texas.

The “Jones Act” is a reference to the transport of oil and gas by ocean tanker. It’s not clear if the tankers would move petroleum out of Burnaby, or simply U.S. ports.

Kinder Morgan stock pumped

Kinder said for an “old Texas oil man” like himself, he’s never seen brighter days ahead for oil transport.

As proof, the former Enron president bragged about his purchase of roughly $26 million USD of “undervalued” Kinder Morgan stock in December. He even goaded other investors to sell their stocks, so he could snap them up.

“You sell, I buy, and we’ll see who comes out best in the long run,” sniped Kinder.

The CEO also spoke about the company’s steadily increasing footprint of pipelines and terminals. The company now controls 130,000 km of pipelines – enough to circle the Earth three times.

“I look out there and I see this huge damn footprint across North America, and every time we turn around, we see more ability to extract value out of it,” said Kinder.

Rich Kinder’s annual salary is famously reported as just one U.S. dollar — even though he made $60.9 million in one-year from other forms of compensation.

Oil by rail

Kinder Morgan’s new Edmonton train terminal, announced in December, is a 50 per cent partnership with Imperial Oil. It will soon rail out 250,000 barrels of crude per day, or half the volume of Northern Gateway.

By the Vancouver Observer’s estimate, that’s three full trains, totaling 350 rail cars, discreetly moving explosive and toxic diluted bitumen through communities and wilderness, every single day.

Not easing concerns has been the flurry of recent oil-by-rail derailments in the industry, including most dramatically, the nighttime explosion of railed crude in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec last July. That incidence killed 42.

Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is company’s “biggest project”

The Kinder Morgan quarterly update also revealed just how important Canada is to the profits of the company.

“Of course our biggest project is in Canada – the $5.4 billion Trans Mountain expansion,” said Steve Kean, President of Kinder Morgan.

The executive trumpeted the new speedier process by which the Texas-based company hopes to have its pipeline considered by federal authorities, and ultimately, the Harper cabinet.

“We did cross a key milestone… our voluminous facilities application is now with the National Energy Board, which starts that process under a defined time frame,” said Kean.

When stacked, the 15,000 page application stands more than 2 metres (7 ft.) in height, with 37 binders.

The pipeline would intersect B.C’s densely populated urban areas, rivers, reserves, and provincial parks.

Unlike past mega-pipeline projects, the public must apply to participate in the NEB hearings, due to new Harper government rules.

The process has been heavily criticized, with many saying the amount of red tape involved is intentionally restricting public participation at the hearings. Controversially, Kinder Morgan will also get a copy of every application to participate at the hearings, and can argue to have any person or group removed.

It’s not clear if the board will allow the type of oral presentations, given by 1,179 people at the Northern Gateway hearings, for example.

The board says it has tried to improve is application process with a new online form. A citizen, however, must have either a government user ID number, or a bankcard with one of five financial institutions, to begin the online application.