U.S. agency has concerns about B.C. pipeline plans, oil sands products

SEATTLE – It’s hard to predict how bitumen from the Alberta oil fields will behave in the event of a spill, making it difficult to understand the risks, says a U.S. government emergency response official.

Gary Shigenaka, a marine biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s emergency response division, said the U.S. organization has many questions about the pipelines proposed through British Columbia and the product that would flow through them.

“As we tried to understand all of the facts about this product, it was very confusing,” Shigenaka told those attending the Salish Sea Ecosystem conference this week in Seattle.
“We’re going to be worried about how it’s behaving.”

Even figuring out if the diluted bitumen, or dilbit, would sink or float was a complicated process, he said.

“Does it float? Yes it does. When it’s mixed and when they put it in a pipeline it floats,” he said. “But it can also sink. It can sink if you mix it with sediment, so if you spill it in the environment, it mixes with sediment … then it can sink. So, there’s your answer.”

Canada’s pipeline plans are a hot topic among scientists and conservation groups at the conference in Seattle. Those pipelines include Enbridge’s (TSX:ENB) Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain proposal, as well as the Keystone XL line into the U.S.

Washington state also has several oil refinery and export proposals of its own that would add vessel traffic to the Salish Sea, Shigenaka said, most from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota.

More than 1,200 marine scientists, tribal leaders and policy makers from both sides of the border are gathered at the conference organized every two years since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada agreed to work together on cross-border issues in 2000.

The “poster child” for a fresh water oil spill remains the 2010 Enbridge pipeline rupture in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, Shigenaka said. Enbridge is the company behind the Northern Gateway project, he noted.

“There were a number of people who testified in Canadian hearings that it can’t sink, it absolutely can’t sink, then there were studies that came out that said, well, it can sink,” Shigenaka said.

“It sank in Michigan during the Kalamazoo spill.

“They’re still working on that spill from 2010 …. They’re hoping to have that cleaned up this fall. So, four years later they’re still cleaning up.”

There are also concerns about the toxicity of the diluent mixed into the “peanut butter-like” bitumen. The recipe is proprietary, so his agency doesn’t know what exactly is in it, he said.
“We’re sort of wary about occupational exposure to that diluent portion of the product.”

Eric De Place, policy director for the Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based sustainability think-tank, said Oregon, Washington state and B.C. are facing a huge increase in oil traffic.

Debate in the U.S. has focused on the Keystone XL pipeline, but that project would carry less than the two pipelines proposed through British Columbia to the Salish Sea, De Place said. Keystone would carry 830,000 barrels of oil per day to Gulf Coast and Midwest refineries.

The Northern Gateway would carry up to 525,000 barrels per day to a marine terminal in Kitimat, on the north coast of B.C. The expanded Trans Mountain pipeline through the B.C. Interior to Metro Vancouver would almost triple capacity, from 300,000 barrels a day now to 890,000.

“It’s a huge, huge, deal,” De Place told about 150 people at the conference.

“When we are having fossil fuel debates in Washington state or B.C. or Oregon, we are having debates that have genuinely global significance. There is no place, I would argue, in the world — except possibly the Gulf Coast — where we have this much responsibility on our hands and where we have this much threat.”
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B.C. First Nation launches legal challenge over Kinder Morgan pipeline

NORTH VANCOUVER, B.C. – A British Columbia First Nation is turning to the courts in an attempt to delay — and ultimately stop — a controversial pipeline project that will run through its traditional territory.

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation is targeting the National Energy Board’s review of Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion of its Trans Mountain pipeline, which would nearly triple the capacity of an existing pipeline that runs to the Vancouver area from Alberta’s oil sands.

The energy board plans to start its review of the project in August, hearing from more than 1,000 people, groups and communities, roughly 400 of which will be considered official interveners. The board is set to hear aboriginal evidence this fall, with wider hearings scheduled to begin next January.

But the Tsleil-Waututh’s legal challenge, which was expected to be filed with the Federal Court of Appeal on Friday, alleges the federal government and the energy board both failed to adequately consult the band before setting the terms of the review.

While the band’s appeal, if successful, could force the National Energy Board to rewrite the terms of the review, Tsleil-Waututh leaders made it clear on Friday their ultimate goal is to shut down the project altogether.

Rueben George, who is spearheading the band’s opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion under the banner of the Sacred Trust Initiative, said the National Energy Board review process is one-sided and designed to ensure projects are approved.

If the review was improved to properly consider the interests of First Nations people, George argued, the board would have little choice but to reject the pipeline.

“It’s a flawed process and an unjust process,” George told a news conference on the shores of North Vancouver, across the Burrard Inlet from Kinder Morgan’s oil terminal in Burnaby.

“We believe that if it was fair and they included Canadian people and the First Nations people, it (board’s eventual decision) would come out different.”

Tsleil-Waututh Chief Maureen Thomas said the band hopes to delay the project long enough to galvanize other First Nations and the public to oppose it.

The federal Justice Department said the government hadn’t yet received the lawsuit. The National Energy Board declined to comment on a case that will be before the courts.

A spokesperson for Kinder Morgan wasn’t immediately available.

Texas-based Kinder Morgan’s $5.4-billion pipeline expansion would leave it with the capacity to transport up to 890,000 barrels of Alberta oil per day to the company’s terminal in Burnaby. Currently, the pipeline’s daily capacity is 300,000 barrels.

Opposition to the pipeline expansion has been growing since the company formally filed its National Energy Board application last December, with First Nations communities and environmental groups lining up against it.

Under the current timeline, the board has until July 2015 to complete its report and recommendations for the federal government. If approved, the company plans to have the expanded pipeline operational by late 2017.

The debate over the Kinder Morgan pipeline follows similar complaints levelled against Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline between the Alberta oil sands and Kitimat, on B.C.’s northern coast.

A federal review panel recommended Enbridge’s $7-billion pipeline proposal be approved, subject to more than 200 conditions. The federal government is expected to announce a decision in June.

The Northern Gateway project is facing at least 10 lawsuits from a range of opponents including First Nations and environmental groups.

Last month, residents of Kitimat voted against Northern Gateway in a non-binding plebiscite.
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Tsleil-Wauthuth First Nation taking NEB / Canada to Federal Court of Appeal

FYI here are the videos of the announcement this morning of the Tsleil-Wauthuth First Nation taking NEB to the Federal Court of Appeal. http://new.livestream.com/tsleilwaututh/kindermorgan/videos/49756380

I hope we will all support the Tsleil-Wauthuth First Nation in launching this legal challenge.