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Four firms charged in 2007 crude-oil spill

A joint B.C/federal investigation of the 2007 pipeline rupture that blanketed a seaside Vancouver neighbourhood in black crude oil has resulted in a battery of charges against four companies, including pipeline giant Kinder Morgan Canada Inc.

Nearly 234,000 litres of crude oil gushed out of the underground line leading to a waterfront shipping terminal after an excavator digging a sewer-line trench punctured the 61-centimetre pipe beneath the Barnet Highway in Burnaby in July, 2007. The resulting puncture created a 15-metre geyser that sprayed homes, soaked birds and resulted in crude seeping into nearby Burrard Inlet.

Provincial conservation officer Scott Norris said Kinder Morgan faces a total of seven counts under the provincial Environment Management Act, the federal Fisheries Act, and Migratory Birds Act. Trans Mountain Pipeline also faces seven counts, while two smaller companies, B. Cusano Contracting and RF Binnie & Associates, are each charged with six counts.

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Each count carries a maximum penalty of a $1-million fine or six months jail time, Mr. Norris said.

The charges were laid in July, but only came to light Monday when the companies appeared briefly in court.

In March, a Transportation Safety Board report concluded that a 50-year-old pipeline map combined with lax construction procedures triggered the massive oil pipeline rupture.

The contractor digging the new sewer line assumed the 1957 map showing the pipeline route under the roadway was accurate, when, in some places, it was out by several metres. The real position of the line should have been verified before construction, but a combination of miscommunication and incorrect assumptions by the contractor and Kinder Morgan led to the use of a backhoe in a spot where proximity to the line required digging with hand tools, the TSB said.

In a statement, Kinder Morgan Canada said it "believes the charges have been inappropriately laid against it, and intends to defend the regulatory charges vigorously." The company said it has conducted a thorough investigation into the 2007 incident and that it has concluded that the spill resulted from the actions of a third-party contractor working on behalf of the city of Burnaby.

Kinder Morgan and Trans Mountain pipeline filed civil suit in December against Burnaby, RF Binnie and an unnamed contractor.

Mr. Norris said his own year-long investigation was wrapped up before the TSB report was published.

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