No timeline is in sight for reopening the Trans Mountain pipeline, which provides about 90 per cent of the fuel needed in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland.
Trans Mountain Pipeline Corp. shut down its pipeline system on Monday after a deadly storm caused widespread flooding and mudslides, and washed out highways and rail lines. The 1,150-kilometre line supplies crude oil to the Parkland Refinery in Burnaby, as well as refined and semi-refined products. The company’s Puget Sound Pipeline, which branches off Trans Mountain and is also closed, supplies refineries in Washington State.
Trans Mountain spokesperson Ali Hounsell said in an interview on Wednesday that no date has yet been set to resume operations because the company is still assessing the condition of the line.
“We are a critical piece of infrastructure and that’s why we’re working so hard to get back up and running,” Ms. Hounsell said.
A 2019 report into gasoline and diesel prices by the British Columbia Utilities Commission pointed out that the infrastructure for importing refined products “has largely developed around the capacity of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.”
“If the province had to replace refined products that are currently supplied by [the pipeline], there is inadequate infrastructure in B.C. to transport, receive, store and distribute large quantities of refined fuels from any market other than Alberta,” it says.
Other options for getting oil from Alberta to the West Coast are via train and truck, but the floods damaged roads and rail lines.
While most of the oil that was being funneled through the pipe on Monday was delivered in preparation for the shutdown, Ms. Hounsell said, some product remains in the line.
An initial fly-over of the route’s most affected sections near Merritt and Hope on Tuesday showed no indication that the pipeline has leaked.
But the company still can’t get to it on the ground to conduct a full analysis or a geotechnical evaluation of the stability of mountain slopes in the area.
What Trans Mountain does know is that some of the earth that covers and protects the pipeline has been washed away, leaving it vulnerable to damage from the likes of logs and rocks, and pieces of washed-out roads and bridges.
Heavy movements of earth, including more mudslides or landslides, could also damage it.
“We want to look at the areas that we have identified over the many years as being potential risk areas, and get in there with our engineers and see what the status of those is,” Ms. Hounsell said.
Some Trans Mountain crews were expected to start covering the pipe again on Wednesday, but Ms. Hounsell said it was unlikely their work would get far, considering just how challenging it is to access the area.
Trans Mountain is twinning the pipeline to increase its capacity to about 890,000 barrels a day, but sections of that expansion project are also on hold, with crews unable to reach construction sites.
Ms. Hounsell said it’s too early to say whether any of the new infrastructure has been damaged. That’s because it – much like the existing line – lies in flood-affected areas that are tough to access.
As such, she said there’s no word on whether the project will suffer a delay.
But the fact that some crews for the expansion were on work sites when the storm began means Trans Mountain has a small head start on getting the main pipeline up and running again.
“It was similar to the fires this summer, in that we had thousands of people and pieces of equipment right there on the ground where it was really needed, which puts you a few steps ahead,” she said.
For now, crews are using equipment for the expansion project to help clear roads and blocked areas, and assist with traffic control.
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