Kinder Morgan Pipeline Safety

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Joyce Nelson
Kinder Morgan Pipeline Safety
in Summer-2012-Vol22-No3

BC Energy Minister Rich Coleman appears to be ignoring the fact that corporate ownership of the Trans Mountain Pipeline changed hands in 2005, when the Canadian owner, Terasen Inc., was bought for $3 billion by Houston-based energy giant Kinder Morgan. Regarding the pipeline, Coleman told the Burnaby NewsLeader (April 12), “This one’s been in operation for a long time, and it does show that pipelines can operate safely for generations.”

In April, Kinder Morgan announced $5 billion plans to greatly expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which brings tar sands crude to Burrard Inlet, by increasing its capacity to 850,000 barrels per day.

NDP opposition energy critic John Horgan told the same news outlet that, while he’s opposed to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline, “Kinder Morgan is a more complicated question, and one that has a track record of 50 years of more or less unblemished activity.”

But in the US, Kinder Morgan’s record is anything but “unblemished.” According to Eric de Place, senior researcher at the Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based think-tank, Kinder Morgan (KM) pipelines “are plagued by leaks and explosions.”

As a company, Kinder Morgan has been in existence only since 1997, when it was founded by billionaire Richard Kinder, the former “enforcer” for Ken Lay’s Enron, and another former Enron executive, William Morgan. Since its founding, KM has been on a buying binge. According to the New York Times (Oct. 17, 2011), KM has made “about 90 acquisitions” of smaller rivals in its short history. A change of ownership can make a huge difference in pipeline safety.

Between 2003-2005, KM had so many significant pipeline incidents on the US West Coast, that, according to the Tyee (Aug. 3, 2007), the US Dept of Transportation’s Pipeline & Hazardous Material Safety Administration ordered the company to “comprehensively address integrity threats along the entire 3,900-mile Pacific Operations unit.” By mid-decade, the company’s pipeline safety record led Carl Weimer, of the Bellingham, Washington-based Pipeline Safety Trust, to label KM “the poster child for pipeline problems.” Critics charged that KM had been expanding its business so rapidly that issues like pipeline safety had lower priority than profits.

In an April 2012 report, The Facts About Kinder Morgan, Sightline’s Eric de Place found numerous incidents involving KM’s 43,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines in North America have resulted in “deaths, felonies, and environmental disasters,” including the 2007 incident in Burnaby where 1,500 barrels of oil spewed onto homes and flowed down streets into Burrard Inlet after an excavator struck a poorly-mapped KM pipeline.

Now KM is in the process of buying El Paso Corp. for $21 billion, by which KM will become, says the New York Times (April 15, 2012), the US’s “biggest empire of oil and gas pipelines,” with 80,000 miles of pipe across the continent, transporting more than one million barrels of fuel per day. Goldman Sachs, which has two seats on the KM board of directors, owns a 19.1 per cent stake in KM, whose other investors include the Carlyle Group.

Whether Kinder Morgan can safely manage the doubling of its pipelines across the continent is something that many are questioning. And whether KM can safely transport 850,000 barrels per day of mostly tar sands dilbit through an expanded Trans Mountain Pipeline is a crucial question for BC.

KM has already had two significant pipeline incidents in Canada in the last year. In April 2011, an undisclosed amount of crude oil leaked from KM’s Trans Mountain pipeline into a creek near Wildwood, Alberta, 150 km. west of Edmonton. The leak was discovered by a husband and wife riding horses on their property. On January 24, 2012, a storage tank at KM’s Sumas Mountain facility in Abbotsford, BC leaked 110,000 litres of crude oil, causing local concerns about health, environmental safety and property values.

Recently, three First Nations issued a joint statement saying they will not deal with Kinder Morgan. In mid-April, Whispering Pines, Coldwater, and Lower Nicola Indian bands said the company does not have a permit to operate the pipeline on their reserves, has not dealt adequately with past pipeline leaks on their land, and intends to take too much land for the expansion of the right of way and a 65-metre safety zone in addition.

In 2008, Kinder Morgan completed a controversial expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline through Jasper National Park and Mount Robson Provincial Park. The expansion had been pre-approved in the 1950s for the previous owner of the pipeline, and was “grandfathered” for KM by the Harper government.

“They want to go through our territory and our reserves without rectifying existing wrongs,” Chief Michael Le Bourdais of Whispering Pines told the Kamloops Daily News (April 17). “They want to consult about the future and ignore the past without considering the impact that a pipeline that size will have on our lives.” The pipeline traverses 15 reserves in BC, as well as dozens of towns along its current route.

A phalanx of mayors is also vowing to fight the project, including Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who is calling on Ottawa to bring local governments to the table on the issue.

In an op-ed for the Vancouver Sun (April 23), Robertson wrote: “…Kinder Morgan is proposing massive crude oil exports that bypass local refineries, magnify the risk to our economy and environment, and ignore Canada’s long-term domestic oil needs. This is all happening against the backdrop of an abrupt weakening of the federal environmental review process. Which means Kinder Morgan’s proposal will face far less scrutiny, and our communities will have much less time to give it the hard looking-over it deserves.”

On April 13, Gloria Galloway of the Globe & Mail revealed that the cuts to Environment Canada mean that “the unit at Environment Canada that responds to oil-spill emergencies will be dramatically scaled back and most of its regional offices will be closed.” The staff in the Environmental Emergencies Program co-ordinate the clean-up of spills that occur within federal jurisdictions including waterways and First Nations reserves. The regional offices in Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, Dartmouth, NS and St. John’s, Newfoundland, will be “consolidated into two locations – Gatineau, Que. and Montreal.”