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The Aqualegend crude oil tanker is escorted by tugboats as it arrives at Kinder Morgan’s Westridge marine terminal in Burnaby, B.C., in July. Kinder Morgan plans to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline and ship much more crude from Vancouver. (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)
The Aqualegend crude oil tanker is escorted by tugboats as it arrives at Kinder Morgan’s Westridge marine terminal in Burnaby, B.C., in July. Kinder Morgan plans to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline and ship much more crude from Vancouver. (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)

OIL AND GAS

Trans Mountain: The other Pacific pipeline Add to ...

Beyond the water, the pipeline itself is controversial. The Trans Mountain pipeline was built in the early 1950s, entering operation in 1954. A half-century has dramatically changed the land it crosses: Burnaby alone has quadrupled in size since then. To make the point, Kennedy Stewart, the NDP MP for the Burnaby region home to the pipeline, tank terminal and marine dock, directs a weaving route on roads that follow the yellow signs marking the pipeline’s underground path. It crosses beneath sidewalks, beside roads, past schools, through a golf course and beneath landscaped gardens. At an apartment co-op, Mr. Stewart gets out to walk, showing where it runs mere feet from backyard play sets.

Kinder Morgan has said it “will look at alternatives” in areas where buildings have cropped up close to the route. But Mr. Kennedy calls the pipeline right-of-way a “potential expropriation zone,” since people might be forced out of their homes if they stand in the way. It is, he acknowledges, an inflammatory description, but the rhetoric is intended to echo in Ottawa, as West Coast pipelines take on national importance.

That’s true for the environmental groups, too. Kinder Morgan has split its application into several parts, first working to establish tolls for the expansion. That application would normally concern only oil companies and refineries. But Vancouver’s Ecojustice, an environmental law firm, has drafted a letter it hopes municipalities, first nations and landowners will submit to the National Energy Board, in hopes they can argue for higher tolls to cover the cost of cleaning spills.

“It’s a bit novel and it’s not been tried before,” says Karen Campbell, a staff lawyer with the firm. “But we’re trying to figure out how to shine a brighter spotlight on this entire issue – and, frankly, how to slow it all down.”

Yet for all the concern, fighting this pipeline may prove difficult. Burnaby, for one, acknowledges there is little it can do, outside of helping stir up opposition. Kinder Morgan already has its dock, and substantial legal rights to the land where its pipe lies.

“It’s a 60-year pipeline on an existing right of way. They’ve had tankers there for years,” Ms. Campbell says. Compared to the battle over Northern Gateway, an entirely new pipe that would introduce tankers to waters that see very little oil movement today, fighting Kinder Morgan “is way harder.”

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THE ART AND SCIENCE OF PILOTAGE

They are a rare bunch: the 100 men tasked with guiding ships safely through the coastal waters of British Columbia. In many ways, the safety of the vessels that sail on Canada’s Pacific coast lies in their hands.

So it’s small wonder becoming a pilot isn’t easy. It involves writing what Kevin Obermeyer, who oversees the pilots as chief executive officer of Pacific Pilotage Authority Canada, calls “one of the hardest exams in the world.”

Don’t believe him? Take a look and see for yourself. Those winding black lines show coastal features and islands. But it is intentionally blank. The test: first determine which of the 27,000 kilometres of B.C. coast the blank map depicts. Then label it, with the names of islands and points and inlets, showing where navigational aids are located, marking hazards, noting minimum depths and pencilling in safe routes. That’s just one part. Another involves starting with a completely blank page. Would-be pilots have to draw from memory whichever stretch of coast the examiner asks for.

Just getting in to write the exam is tough: only those with more than 700 12-hour days as captains on the B.C. coast can start the process, which begins with a familiarization program, where candidates must ride along on at least 10, and sometimes 30, trips.

Even then, fully 83 per cent fail the written test, where they need a 70-per-cent grade to pass.

Mr. Obermeyer points to those entry requirements as part of the reason why last year, with 12,400 vessel movements that had pilots on board, “we had four minor fender benders.”

“I’m supremely confident in their knowledge and their ability,” he says.

Nathan VanderKlippe

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Follow on Twitter: @nvanderklippe

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