Kinder Morgan Inc.'s proposal to twin its 60-year-old pipeline across British Columbia is in big trouble.
Because the company already has a pipeline on the route, a long-established marine terminal and a commendable safety record, the project has been seen by many as a sure thing. But Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project is running into growing resistance in the Lower Mainland where urban politicians are digging in to stop it.
The latest sign of confrontation came a few days ago when the City of Burnaby filed a request for information with the National Energy Board, posing some tough questions for Trans Mountain.
"This project … will require Burnaby and its citizens to live with significant new risks and costs for many years," states a background summary prepared by the city's legal counsel, Greg McDade. "A project of this magnitude should not be imposed on a major municipality without the social licence from its citizens and consent from its democratically elected government."
The city then asks: "Will Trans Mountain seek the assistance of the NEB to make orders imposing this project on Burnaby against the will of its citizens?"
It is hard to imagine how Trans Mountain, which has until June 4 to file a response with the NEB, can provide an answer that is acceptable to the City of Burnaby. A "yes" means it will try to push its way through Burnaby, which would trigger a political and legal battle. But a "no" means Trans Mountain will let Burnaby decide its fate. Either way, it could be a pipeline showstopper.
But there are more tough questions.
"There is no rationale or analysis provided as to why expanding the pipeline, tank facilities and marine terminal in a major metropolitan area is the best alternative or in the public interest," states the city summary. "It appears that Trans Mountain chose this option merely because it already had an existing pipeline and facilities from the 1950s … If no other options were considered, please advise why not. If the existing pipeline route is no longer viable … why does the proposal not provide for its abandonment in favour of a consolidated new route?"
The summary also raises the possibility that Burnaby could simply refuse to issue permits for construction, for water use, or to provide emergency services.
Trans Mountain is asked to explain how it will build without the city's support. It is asked to provide details on the number of "security, fire and emergency personnel that will be required," to be trained and posted in Burnaby and it is asked how the company would respond to a catastrophic event.
"Is it possible that it may be necessary to let a storage tank fire burn itself out?" asks the city, which points out such fires have burned for four days in other jurisdictions.
The city notes that "a boil over tank fire" could discharge molten crude from storage tanks. And then it notes the tank farm, which would be greatly expanded, is already dangerously close to urban housing and to a school.
In an interview Mayor Derek Corrigan said it would be "a big problem" if Trans Mountain can't adequately answer the tough questions being asked by Burnaby.
"This may be one of the few times that an organization … [which] appears to be an unstoppable force, has met an immovable object," he said to signal his determination.
Mr. Corrigan wants Trans Mountain stopped, and he doesn't think any oil pipeline should be built anywhere in Canada, until a national energy strategy has been devised.
"The reality is that there is no national energy policy, there is no operating mind behind all of the decisions being made. We are relying entirely on the invisible hand of the marketplace," he said.
And for the City of Burnaby, letting industry decide how, where and when oil should be exported through its midst simply isn't acceptable.
Mr. Corrigan is not alone in this regard. On Tuesday, Vancouver city council will consider a motion submitted by Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr, which calls for a pipeline plebiscite question on the civic election ballot next November.
The motion states the Trans Mountain project will pose "increased risks of oil spills and leakages that threaten the health of Vancouver's citizens, environment, shorelines, beaches and tourism economy."
The motion doesn't suggest how the plebiscite should be worded. But it's hard to think of any question that would lead to a yes for Trans Mountain.