Kinder Morgan making careful moves

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Three weeks after B.C. laid down the conditions for getting a pipeline endorsed, the president of Kinder Morgan wrote a six-page letter to Premier Christy Clark.

It gives a glimpse of how the company – which is planning to twin an existing line to metro Vancouver – is trying to differentiate itself from the Enbridge Northern Gateway effort to build a line to Kitimat.

The public argument over that proposal is reaching peak volume just as debate on Kinder Morgan’s plan is getting underway.

And the impression is building that the Kinder Morgan project – which is a year or two behind Enbridge in the approval process – is the one to take seriously.

Enbridge is now facing a wall of opposition from multiple sectors. Even the B.C. Liberals seem to be growing steadily more skeptical about the idea of pumping bitumen through mostly virgin wilderness to a new oil port on the wild west coast.

Kinder Morgan’s idea – known as the Trans Mountain Project – has its share of critics, too. But the company is pressing ahead with a plan to make a formal application in late 2013 to twin an existing line from Alberta to metro Vancouver by way of Kamloops and have it finished by 2017.

After the B.C. government set down the conditions, company president Ian Anderson wrote Clark. The letter was made public late last month in response to a freedom-of-information request by a researcher.

Anderson said it comprised the company’s “initial thoughts” on the conditions.

“A key distinction between the two pipeline proposals, irrespective of geography, is that Northern Gateway is a greenfield proposal and Trans Mountain, with its 60-year operating history, is not,” Anderson wrote.

He said it’s obvious that “heavy oil” is a concern of the government and the public.

“The existing Trans Mountain pipeline has been transporting increasing amounts of heavy oil for the past 30 years,” he said.

Anderson said it represents about a quarter of the volumes now shipped through the line. “Contrary to much of the public misinformation regarding corrosiveness and oil spill cleanup … heavy oil is not significantly different than conventional oil.

“The Trans Mountain pipeline is not corroding nor is effective oil-spill response hindered because of it.

“In my view, focusing on heavy oil mischaracterizes many progressive and excellent ideas advanced in the [B.C. government’s] report.”

B.C.’s conditions are: Successful completion of environmental review, world-leading safety standards on both the marine and terrestrial sides, respect for First Nations’ rights and a fair share of the benefits for B.C.

Anderson said he is confident Trans Mountain will pass the environmental review. He said that was “not out of a lack of respect for the process,” but because they built 160 kilometres of pipeline through Jasper National Park and Mount Robson Provincial Park four years ago, a job that required the highest standards.

He lauded the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, an oil-spill co-op founded in the 1970s. Although the company had a disastrous spill on land in 2007, when a work crew ruptured a line in Burnaby spilling almost a quarter-million litres, Anderson said the co-ordinated response was first-rate.

Addressing aboriginal treaty rights is simply a law that must be complied with, he said. The existing line crosses 15 reserves and the traditional territories of many more. Anderson said they might not get agreements with all First Nations, but will seek solutions, and fulfil the obligation to consult and mitigate.

The last and touchiest issue – a fair share – is “outside the direct control” of the company. But Anderson said he would welcome talks on the issue and the company could play a role in helping find a solution.

So it’s building on a 60-year history, through mountains that have already been climbed, to a port that’s not nearly as exposed.

But it has another advantage at this point – the NDP opposition is withholding judgment.

With the widespread assumption the NDP will win the election next May, the party’s views are crucial. Leader Adrian Dix has completely rejected the Northern Gateway, but he’s non-committal on Trans Mountain because the application hasn’t been filed yet.

In his lengthy statement against the Enbridge proposal, Dix put most of the emphasis on the increased tanker traffic that would ensue on the north coast.

If it’s a fresh new NDP government that has to make the call on Trans Mountain, it may not be the automatic rejection some people expect.

lleyne@timescolonist.com
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