VANCOUVER Nov 28 If Canada approves Kinder
Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the
company's four-year campaign for the project will be far from
over. Next up is a battle against hardening opposition amongst
some communities along its planned route.
The C$6.8 billion ($5.04 billion) project is a big step
toward opening up Asian markets to supply from Canada's massive
oil sands. Kinder Morgan plans to build a pipeline parallel to
an existing line and nearly triple capacity on the artery to
890,000 barrels per day.
Without the expansion, Canadian oil sands producers may find
it too costly to ship crude by rail, missing out on billions of
dollars of export revenue.
First, the crude must travel from the conservative heart of
the Canadian oil industry in Alberta across mountains and
grasslands to the liberal West Coast. The further west on the
route, the stiffer the resistance to the plan.
The pipeline ends at Burnaby, part of Vancouver's urban
sprawl, which already hosts fuel tanks and the marine terminal
for the existing pipeline, as well as a refinery. In opposition
to further development thousands have taken to the streets
vowing to block bulldozers if Trans Mountain construction goes
Ottawa has until Dec. 19 to decide whether to approve it,
but the decision could come as soon as this week.
Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan said he would join the protests
even if could end his political career.
"It's not nice to be a politician who has been 15 years in
this office, to be heading into the end of my career with
something that would show civil disobedience," Corrigan, 65,
told Reuters. "I lose sleep about whether or not this is going
to turn into being something ugly."
The backlash against a plan to build on sites already
dedicated to energy infrastructure shows how entrenched
opposition to new energy projects in North America has become.
It also shows how the government is struggling to soothe
public concerns despite its pledge to give local communities
greater say in the approval process.
Pipeline opponents - British Columbia municipalities,
aboriginal groups and environmentalists - are fighting the
expansion for reasons ranging from climate change concerns to
fears of tanker spills, pipeline leaks or tank farm fires.
INSPIRATION FROM THE SOUTH
They draw inspiration from the fate of Enbridge's
stalled Northern Gateway pipeline, TransCanada's
rejected Keystone XL and protests against the Dakota Access
pipeline built in the United States by Energy Transfer Partners
"Simply because the government will issue a grandiose
statement of approval does not mean the project will ever see
the light of day," Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of
BC Chiefs, an aboriginal organisation, told Reuters in on the
eve of a 3,000-strong anti-Trans Mountain rally in Vancouver's
In an emailed response to Reuters, the project's media team
cited Kinder Morgan's strong safety record in the area, but said
it had not expected consensus on the project given a wide range
of interests and opinions. It noted that the Canadian energy
regulator had approved the new pipeline with 157 "rigorous, but
achievable" conditions that address environmental and safety
concerns that Kinder Morgan is committed to meet.
The pipeline starts from a 140-acre (0.57 square km) tank
farm outside of Edmonton where, like elsewhere in Alberta, new
export pipelines enjoy public support as a way to revive the oil
province's stuttering economy.
About 800 kilometres (497 miles) west in Kamloops, a south
central British Columbia city that unlike most of the province
voted Conservative in the 2015 federal election, the local
businesses and the mayor also back the pipeline.
"Communities along the interior route have a familiarity
with resource-based projects and what they bring," Kinder Morgan
Canada President Ian Anderson said at a Kamloops Chamber of
Commerce event this month.
But further west, the sentiment turns against the pipeline.
Earlier this month Liberal lawmaker Ron McKinnon urged Prime
Minister Justin Trudeau to reject the expansion because of
"overwhelming" opposition on the west coast, where his party did
unexpectedly well in the last election.
A recent poll commissioned by one of environmental groups
found nearly a third of British Columbia's Liberal voters said
they would be less likely to support the party if Trans Mountain
From Kamloops the pipeline climbs over the steep Coquihalla
Pass, which separates interior British Columbia from the Fraser
Valley and the coast. As the vegetation turns from semi-arid
scrublands to temperate rainforest and the route enters the
fertile farming region, opposition intensifies.
GRANDMOTHERS AND BULLDOZERS
"I know five grandmothers who will go and lie down in front
of bulldozers...and I will absolutely join them," said Michael
Hale, 72, a co-founder of Yarrow Eco Village near Chilliwack, a
20-acre farm under which the existing pipeline runs.
"They may bring in the army, they may throw me in jail, but
when I get out I will come back," he said.
The pipeline ends at Burnaby Mountain tank farm near the
Westridge marine terminal, which Kinder Morgan aims to expand to
load 34 oil tankers a month from five now.
Burnaby deputy fire chief Chris Bowcock says the planned
increase in the number of oil storage tanks on Burnaby Mountain
from 13 to 27 would raise the risk of a single tank fire
spreading across the complex.
Opponents, among them Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson, also
fear a potential oil spill would cripple the local economy
powered by the Port of Vancouver, tourism, and increasingly, the
Kinder Morgan says it is investing in extra safeguards to
mitigate the probability of a tanker spill but opponents say the
risk to the rugged coastline is too great.
"Our first mother is the water," said Reuben George of the
Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, whose lands face Westridge dock.
"We will do anything to protect it and we will not let the
pipeline go through."
The aboriginal group is planning litigation if the
government approves the project.
In June, two conservation groups filed a lawsuit challenging
the energy regulator's positive recommendation saying the oil
tankers' route cut across a habitat of an 80-strong pod of
killer whales protected under Canada's Species at Risk Act.
If legal action fails, Trans Mountain's opponents say they
will resort to civil disobedience. This month in Vancouver
environmental groups gave free training on mass protests,
blockades, and de-escalating confrontations with police.
Asked how Kinder Morgan might respond, Anderson told
reporters in Kamloops the company was prepared to talk to all
who had a view about the project.
"We'll see what unfolds and hopefully we can get through
this period in a respectful way."
($1 = 1.3485 Canadian dollars)
(Editing by Simon Webb and Tomasz Janowski)