Kinder Morgan files formal application for Trans Mountain pipeline expansion

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A second pipeline proposal to transport oil to Asia was officially launched on Monday when Kinder Morgan filed a project application for its $5.4-billion Trans Mountain expansion.

The project would nearly triple oil capacity to 890,000 barrels annually and bring about 400 more tankers a year into Burrard Inlet (up from about 80) if it is approved by the National Energy Board and subsequently by the federal government.

The 1,150-kilometre pipeline will carry diluted bitumen from the Alberta oilsands, starting in Edmonton, through Jasper and across B.C. to the company’s Westbridge Terminal in Burnaby.

Kinder Morgan says nearly three-quarters of the proposed expanded pipeline’s length across most of the province will follow the existing right-of-way where the pipeline was first built in the 1950s. About 17 per cent of the route, and virtually all the way through the Lower Mainland west of Fort Langley, will deviate from the current line, but would follow other existing utility corridors or infrastructure.

Kinder Morgan is promising enhanced tanker safety in its more-than-15,000-page submission, and says it is continuing discussions with First Nations, whose support is critical to large infrastructure development projects in B.C.

The twinning of Kinder Morgan’s existing pipeline has already seen years of pushback from First Nations, environmentalists and community groups concerned about the potential for spills along the pipeline and from tankers. Both Vancouver and Burnaby’s city councils have voiced opposition to the project.

The project would create about 90 permanent jobs, and employ 4,500 people at the peak of construction.

The National Energy Board must review the application and accept it as complete before an assessment and public hearings could begin next year. Any decision would likely be delivered in early 2015 because of the federal Conservatives’ new legislated, tightened timeframe for a review and decision within 15 months.

If approved, construction could begin in 2015, and the pipeline would be operating in 2017.

“It’s a very exciting day for us here,” said Kinder Morgan president and CEO Ian Anderson. “There have been many, many hours preparing what turns out to be eight volumes of the application. We expect it is likely one of the largest applications the (Energy Board) has ever received.”

He said the company’s proposal — and work that will continue during the review — should satisfy B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s five conditions to support heavy oil pipelines in the province. Those conditions include passing an environmental review, creating world-leading marine and land spill prevention and recovery systems, addressing First Nations’ rights, and the province receiving a fair share of economic benefits.

Enbridge’s proposed $6.5-billion Northern Gateway oil pipeline in northern B.C. has already completed hearings, and the National Energy Board is expected to deliver its findings before the end of the month. The B.C. government has said the Northern Gateway project does not meet its five conditions.

Reports commissioned by the B.C. and Canadian governments have raised concerns about the adequacy of tanker safety in British Columbia. Earlier this month, a federal panel concluded Canada’s oil spill response lacks federal leadership and isn’t prepared for disasters in high-risk areas, including southern B.C.

Kinder Morgan is proposing measures to increase tanker safety, including filling in gaps in tug escort between the Burnaby terminal and the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca off the southern tip of Vancouver Island.

It is also recommending the Canadian Coast Guard create an exclusion zone for vessels around oil tankers in transit, perhaps 500 metres, as is done in countries such as the United Kingdom. It would lessen the risk of collisions, said Mike Davies, Kinder Morgan’s senior director of marine development.

Finally, Kinder Morgan recommends increasing funding to the industry-supported Western Canadian Marine Response Corp. to cut response times in the Salish Sea and the Vancouver harbour in half. In the Salish Sea, for example, it would reduce the response time to a spill to about 36 hours, said Davies.

The Salish Sea encompasses the coastal waters between the southern tip of Vancouver Island and the northwestern tip of the U.S., an area already identified as particularly at risk by the federal panel because of its proximity to tankers sailing to and from Washington State.

Kinder Morgan says it has signed 46 letters of understanding, capacity funding or other agreements with First Nations, most of them in British Columbia. But Anderson acknowledged none deliver “explicit” or “final” support for the project. Discussions are continuing with First Nations, he said.

The Trans Mountain project — similar to Northern Gateway — is meant to open up new markets in Asia for heavy oil from the Alberta oilsands. Canadian oilsands producers are almost entirely reliant on the U.S. market.

The announced formal filing to the National Energy Board was immediately welcomed by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

“Bolstered market access for Canada’s energy is critical to create jobs and provide economic benefits for all Canadians,” association vice-president Greg Stringham said in a news release.

Environmental groups condemned the project application, pointing to municipalities that oppose the project and the more than 130 First Nations that have signed on to the Save the Fraser Declaration opposing “tar sands” export pipelines across B.C.

“We will be going over the application with a fine-tooth comb in the weeks ahead, but needless to say this is not the Christmas present that most people in B.C. want,” said ForestEthics Advocacy campaigner Ben West.

“The movement against these pipeline is already huge. Kinder Morgan has seen years of protest and they hadn’t even filed their proposal yet. If they think they will have an easier time getting approved than Enbridge, they have another thing coming.”

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said the province expects to seek intervener status in the application process, taking a similar approach to their assessment of Northern Gateway.

She said it is too early to say whether the project will meet B.C.’s five conditions.

“We are encouraged by Kinder Morgan’s willingness to work with us to satisfy the conditions, and the kind of outreach efforts they’ve been engaged in with B.C. communities. We think all of that bodes well. Nevertheless, there is still a great deal of work to be done as we go through the review process,” Polak told reporters Monday.

Under the Conservative government, timelines have tightened on oil pipeline reviews since Northern Gateway’s application.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said the National Energy Board review will still allow for public comment and participation, including by aboriginal peoples.

“Our government has been clear: We will only allow energy projects to proceed if they are found to be safe for Canadians after an independent, scientific environmental and regulatory review,” Oliver said in a statement.