Pipeline debate hits local streets with Kinder Morgan, Spectra spats

A pair of skirmishes over access for pipeline companies to landowners’ properties in the Lower Mainland suggests the debate over Canada’s energy future is washing up on local streets.

Today, we learned that Burnaby Council – long an outspoken opponent of Kinder Morgan’s plans to expand its TransMountain pipeline to a tanker facility in Burrard Inlet – is blocking the company’s access to Burnaby Mountain. In yet another proposed route change, Kinder Morgan is now mulling tunnelling through the mountain, for which it requires permits from the city.

Meanwhile, a group of local farmers has brought a countersuit against gas pipeline operator Spectra and its subsidiary Westcoast Energy. The claim, filed in BC Supreme Court last week, is in response to Spectra’s attempt to force its way through the courts onto Fraser Valley farmland in order to install new pipeline equipment – a step it resorted to after failing to negotiate mutually agreeable terms with landowners.

Both incidents foreshadow the future landscape of pipeline disputes, as they filter down to local streets, farms and backyards.

“Every inch of the way”
Despite Kinder Morgan’s claims of longstanding good relations with Burnaby, Mayor Derek Corrigan tells a very different story. Ever since it spilled oil in north Burnaby’s streets in 2007, Corrigan and council have been wary of Kinder Morgan. Now, with plans to triple the flow of Alberta bitumen through the community, Burnaby’s municipal leaders are upping the ante. “We’re fighting them every inch of the way,” Corrigan told The Vancouver Sun.

We’ve made it clear we are opposed to the pipeline, and they’ve made it clear they want to impose it on us whether we want it or not.
Now the company says it’s prepared to take the extraordinary step of going over the city’s head to the National Energy Board, which in rare cases can trump municipal authority over such matters. The move can hardly improve relations with Burnaby, so it looks increasingly like we’re in for a long, nasty battle in the trenches of a local community.

Existing pipeline damaged soil, hinders farming
Meanwhile, in the Fraser Valley, farmers claim that the old Westcoast Energy pipeline, which carries gas from northeast BC to the Lower Mainland, has violated the terms of its easement. They claim the pipeline has:

Damaged soils
Increased soil temperature, leading to crop mutation
Segmented harvesting, which raises costs to unfeasible levels
Wrought other constraints on harvesting
They further claim that Westcoast has failed to provide adequate compensation for these impacts – all of which add up to a breach of the original terms of the easement, meaning the company has forfeited its right to further access.

The landowners are seeking an injunction to block Westcoast and its agents from accessing their properties until these historical impacts to their land have been rectified.

The NEB’s big stick
While the above dispute is playing out in BC’s courts, the National Energy Board is being asked to intervene in the Burnaby matter, marshalling special federal powers it holds for such situations.

The NEB may wield a big stick for “resolving” local disputes on the land – but it should carefully consider the impact of using it. The Board’s recommendation of the proposed Enbridge pipeline, despite some 96% opposition – through the thousands of official submissions and public comments during the review process – has irked everyone from citizens to expert engineers to scientists, 300 of whom recently called out the panel for its unscientific reasoning.

Early on, the NEB review of Kinder Morgan’s project has already met with similar criticism for rejecting many of the applicants who sought to contribute to the process. Local NDP MP Kennedy Stewart has called out the review panel repeatedly for frustrating public participation and giving Kinder Morgan special treatment.

Backlash brewing
We’re starting to see a backlash on the ground in local communities who want to exercise their own democratic say on these issues – including Kitimat’s recent plebiscite, which rejected the proposed Enbridge pipeline. Judging by the considerable resources and boots on the ground Enbridge invested in its losing campaign there, pipeline companies are wary of the power local communities can wield, even where the law is not technically on their side.

In communities like the Hazeltons and the Kispiox Valley in northwest BC, local landowners and First Nations are getting riled up over TransCanada and Spectra’s attempts to push through gas pipelines bound for LNG terminals on the coast.

With municipal elections looming around the province, we can expect to see these energy issues play out on an increasingly local level. Alberta energy companies dominated campaign funding on both sides of BC’s recent provincial election. Now watch for Kinder Morgan, Enbridge, TransCanada, Spectra and their emissaries to start investing heavily in municipal politics this year. But in doing so, they risk further polarizing the debate and galvanizing local opposition, as they’re already beginning to see.

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