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ABBOTSFORD, STO:LO TERRITORY - Residents of Abbotsford, Chilliwack, and the surrounding areas gathered at the University of the Fraser Valley on Wednesday evening to learn more about Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline. In many cases, it literally runs through their backyards.
This morning, Texas-based Kinder Morgan announced that the company will go ahead with a five-billion-dollar expansion of the pipeline, increasing its capacity to 850,000 barrels per day. The company's plans also include an expansion of the Westridge terminal in Burnaby, on the Burrard Inlet.
"This makes Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain the biggest proposed tar sands export pipeline," states a Wilderness Committee press release issued today in response to the company announcement. "This expansion alone would be equivalent in size to the proposed Enbridge pipeline."
Originally built in the early 1950s as a multi-use pipeline, since its operation by Kinder Morgan from 2005 to present, the Trans Mountain pipeline has been transporting some 300,000 barrels per day of tar sands crude through Jasper National Park across the Rockies and down through the Fraser Valley to the Burrard Inlet. After a series of spills in recent years, local residents are increasingly concerned about impacts on ecosystems and the health of their communities.
"It goes right by my property on Lickman Road, by my neighbour, and then it goes underneath the Vedder river," Chilliwack resident John Kupp told the Vancouver Media Co-op, expressing his skepticism about the safety of the aging 60-year-old pipeline. "I don't know how in the hell they can rationalize that. These pipelines are so old."
For decades, Kupp worked in the commercial fishing industry up and down the west coast. After witnessing first-hand the impacts of overfishing and irresponsible logging practices on Pacific fish populations, he decided to work on the restoration of fish habitat back home, starting with a series of springs and streams running through his property and that of his neighbour.
"I saw a sign there: Trans Mountain pipeline," Kupp explained. He called up the company, told them he wanted to do some work by some springs near the pipeline, and very soon had company workers and equipment on site. A year or so later, the company was back in the area to dig near his neighbour's property, unearthing the pipeline and its protective covering approximately ten feet down.
"I've never seen such a rusty mess in my whole life," Kupp told the Vancouver Media Co-op.
Years after his first encounter with pipeline company representatives and their hasty response to his telephone call, Kupp has been calling Kinder Morgan offices with his concerns about the aging pipeline's lifespan and the impacts a potential spill would have on local salmon habitat. The response has been entirely different, he says: "I can't seem to get any answers from Kinder Morgan."
Potential future oil spills are not the only concern for local residents. Since 2005, there have been four pipeline ruptures along the Trans Mountain pipeline, both in Abbotsford and in the lower mainland. They have all been considered minor incidents in terms of pipeline accidents, but have had serious impacts for local communities.
A pipeline rupture at the Sumas Tank Farm in Abbotsford occurred earlier this year, on January 24, 2012, spilling approximately 110,000 litres of tar sands crude. People living in the area reported odours, nausea, headaches, and fatigue. Another spill occurred in July 2005, when approximately 210,000 litres of crude were released into the area surrounding the Sumas facility, making its way into Kilgard Creek on Sumas Mountain.
"They're still monitoring that spill and they're still cleaning it up," longtime Sumas Mountain resident and Fraser Valley Watershed Coalition member John Vissers said of the 2005 incident. "They didn't call it a spill. They called it a release."
"People were getting violently ill," said Vissers, adding that local residents noticed effects for five days before the company discovered the spill. "And the industry responded very glibly, and all they did was try to spin the event out of existence."
Abbotsford resident Lynn Perrin also expressed her concern regarding health impacts, and particularly concerning children's health: "I live five houses away from the pipeline... I know that there are five schools near me that are close to the pipeline."
"It's not just about direct contact with oil; it's also about the fumes - about the toxins in the fumes," said Wilderness Committee Healthy Communities Campaigner Ben West, adding that little information is publicly available about the Sumas facility spill less than three months ago. "We still don't know exactly what caused this spill."
"There really is no such thing as cleaning up an oil spill," explained West. "The majority of that oil remains in the ecosystem."
In July 2007, a construction crew working with an excavator ruptured the Trans Mountain pipeline near the intersection of Hastings Street and Barnet Highway in Burnaby. For approximately 25 minutes, 234,000 litres of crude shot 30 meters into the air, covering dozens of homes and seeping into the soil, storm drains, and later into the Burrard Inlet marine environment.
"This oil spill was pretty dramatic," said West, showing a slide of the oil spewing into the air. However, he added that "it was actually pretty small in terms of oil spills."
Approximately 1200m of shoreline along the Burrard Inlet were affected by the 2007 spill in Burnaby, and the wind and tides spread the oil in the marine waters below the spill site. However, West explained that pipeline spills are not the only concern regarding the Burrard Inlet; massive oil tankers ply the coastal waters to transport crude from the Trans Mountain facility in the Inlet to markets in the United States and Asia.
Oil tanker traffic in the Burrard Inlet has increased from 22 tankers in 2005 to 79 tankers in 2009, after Kinder Morgan expanded its operations in 2008. According to West, Kinder Morgan's expansion plans would mean that in 2016 there will would be 280 tankers plying the coastal waters. To illustrate the magnitude of the tanker traffic, he explained that there is three times as much oil on each tanker in the Burrard Inlet as there was on the Exxon Valdez, which struck a reef off the coast of Alaska in March 1989 and spilled hundreds of thousands of oil.
"It's not about local oil consumption, or [local people] filling their gas tanks," said West, adding that from four former local refineries, the remaining Chevron oil refining facility only has the capacity for some of the crude transported from the tar sands in Alberta to the lower mainland. "It's about Kinder Morgan filling their pockets with money while we take all the risks."
"That's directly where we come from," remarked Tsleil-Waututh Nation community development leader and Sundance Chief Rueben George, pointing to a slide showing an oil tanker in the Burrard Inlet near the Westridge terminal. The name Tsleil-Waututh translates as 'People of the Inlet.'
"I haven't eaten out of that water for twenty years," said George, describing how as a child he and so many others would walk out at low tide and gather crabs and clams. These days, he says, the levels of fecal coliform, oil, and other contaminants prevents people from eating the shellfish: "The pollution is so high."
"What happens to our relationship with the land? What happens to the relationship to the water?" George asked the local residents gathered on Wednesday evening. "What we want is to continue our connection to that water."
Farmers in Abbotsford, Chilliwack, and the surrounding areas also expressed their alarm at the potential impacts of pipeline ruptures on soil and food. Many farmers already have to deal with the pipeline, decades after Trans Mountain came through in the early 1950s, in some cases paying a one-time fee to secure the right-of-way. Farmers also denounced the pipeline expansion plans.
"It's going to impact the food that we have available locally," said longtime local organic farmer and Organic Certification Association of BC president Mary Forstbauer. "As the new lines are going through, there are farms that are going to lose one full year of production."
"Twinning the pipeline would make the right-of-way from 60 feet to 100 feet," said Brian Kingman of the Amazing Almonds farm in Abbotsford. Where it cuts through the farm that has been in his wife's family since the late 1880s, the oil pipeline is only three feet deep, he explained: "To bring our hay wagons across [the right-of-way], we have to call them."
"I've experienced a lot of trouble with Trans Mountain for the last 25 years," concluded Kingman.
"We share respectful, open relationships with many communities and organizations interested in our business," said Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson in the company press release today. "We are committed to an 18 to 24 month inclusive, extensive and thorough engagement on all aspects of the project with local communities along the proposed route and marine corridor, including First Nations and Aboriginal groups, environmental organizations and all other interested parties."
Despite the company promises of "engagement," the same press release indicates that Kinder Morgan has secured strong 20-year-term binding commitments from new and existing customers to ship 660,000 barrels per day. The company also annouced plans to file an application for regulatory review with the National Energy Board in 2014, to begin construction in 2016, and for the expanded project to become operational in 2017.
"We need to put an end to this whole order based on power and greed," Skway First Nation elder Eddie Gardner told those present, after he welcomed everyone to Stó:lō territory. "The only way that it's going to stop is with the power of the people."
"Opposition to this pipeline should be so strong here in the Fraser Valley. We have absolutely no reason to support it," John Vissers told the dozens of people gathered at the University of the Fraser Valley on Wednesday evening. "This is the beginnings, I believe, of a truly active movement in the Fraser Valley in opposition to this monstrosity - to the tar sands, and our role in it."
Sandra Cuffe is a freelance journalist, researcher, and Vancouver Media Co-op contributing member.