Oil pipeline shut down as second leak in as many weeks plagues Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain near Hope

HOPE, B.C. — As one Kinder Morgan crew worked on stemming an oil leak from its Trans Mountain pipeline in British Columbia on Thursday, another worked on winning over the province’s reluctant public for a major expansion of the line.

It was the second time in as many weeks the company was forced to shut down the only pipeline linking the Alberta oilfields with a West Coast shipping port because of a leak, this one about 40 kilometres east of Hope.

While the company held another of its open houses in Burnaby Thursday night to elicit feedback on the proposed route of the new pipeline, across town, roughly 50 people opposed to the expansion gathered at a Burnaby’s McGill Library.

about five kilometres from the terminus of the existing pipeline, to ask New Democrat MP Kennedy Stewart what they could do to stop it.

“People are getting more and more entrenched against it, so now you’re getting fewer questions and more definite ‘nos,’”Stewart said after the meeting.

Electrical engineer Kei Esmaeilpour said he is opposed to the expansion because it is not in Canada’s national interest to export products like bitumen, which have no value added.

“I am not as environmentalist as maybe the others are, I am more in favour of the economic development,” Esmaeilpour said.

Greg Toth, senior project director for the Trans Mountain expansion said after the spill, “We have, really, a culture of zero tolerance. Our focus, our job, is to keep the oil in the pipe.”

The company was alerted to an “anomaly” in the line and sent a crew to the area Wednesday. That crew discovered oil on the ground and the line was shut down.

A 15-member crew worked through the night, and Kinder Morgan said Thursday that between 20 and 25 barrels of oil spilled, or up to 4,000 litres. Two weeks prior, several barrels of oil seeped from a crack in the line near Merritt.

“We’re disappointed that it happened but I think you can point to the fact that both of these leaks were found as part of our ongoing integrity program work. We were there on the right-of-way to dig up these features and it’s unfortunate that they began to leak before we got there,” said Mike Davis, the senior director of marine development for the expansion project. Repairs were underway on the latest leak Thursday, and a National Energy Board emergency response team was on site to monitor the repair and cleanup of the rural site, about 150 kilometres east of Vancouver. There was no sign of contamination to the nearby Coquihalla River, which the company continues to monitor, and there were no homes near the spill, according to agency spokeswoman Rebecca Taylor.

The energy watchdog said its investigators will look at whether the two incidents are isolated or similar in nature. Taylor said the board could not yet confirm the company’s estimated release volume, but said 80 cubic metres of contaminated soil was removed.

Pipelines and the oil tankers that go with them have been a hot-button topic in B.C., and Toth said they have been recurring themes in the 37 public meetings his team has hosted in communities all along the would-be route.

Resolutions have been passed opposing the expansion by the city councils of Vancouver and Burnaby, where a 2007 construction accident rained down 230,000 litres of oil on a neighbourhood near Kinder Morgan’s Burrard Inlet terminal.

The cleanup cost roughly $15 million, including the 70,000 litres that flowed into the inlet, and 250 residents were temporarily evacuated.

Retired elementary teacher Mary Hatch was one of them. The 66-year-old is now one of the forces behind the grassroots organization Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan’s Expansion (BROKE) that hosted Stewart Thursday night.

As BROKE’s first anniversary approaches, “our main outlook, our main opinions, haven’t really changed, we just have more concerns,” Hatch said Thursday.

Their say their opposition to the project has hardened in spite of the Trans Mountain team’s local, community-by-community approach touted by Davis.

“We’ve been here for 60 years, so I think we really do understand the political culture here in B.C.,” Davis said.

The proposed route will stray significantly from the existing line because of the amount of development that has occurred since the original pipeline was constructed in 1953. The company will attempt to avoid private land, routing the line along abandoned railway lines if possible.

Essentially, the existing 1,150-kilometre line will remain in place, carrying refined products, synthetic and light crude. The “expansion” involves 980 kilometres of new line that will carry heavy oil, or diluted bitumen, as much as possible of it laid in the ground beside the current line.

The capacity will increase from the current 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels.

Kinder Morgan spokesman Andy Galarnyk said the exact cause of the leak has yet to be determined, but the company’s own investigation and repairs were already underway.

“As soon as we can get it repaired, and have discussions with the board on that, we’ll try to get this line up and running.”

With a file from Mike Hager, Vancouver Sun

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