Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has suggested that Kinder Morgan might have an easier time selling British Columbians on the expansion of its controversial Trans Mountain pipeline if it altered the proposed project to bypass Burnaby and instead end farther south in Delta.
During a week-long trade tour to drum up outside investment in her province, Ms. Notley told a New York crowd at a Bloomberg-sponsored conference on Wednesday the company might "have to be creative" in its attempt to sidestep fierce local opposition to expanding the pipeline, which ends in the residential area north of Burnaby.
But building a bitumen export terminal off Delta's sensitive foreshore may only inflame criticism of the $5.4-billion project, and the Texas-based company maintains that the expansion of its existing facilities remains its best option.
Vicki Huntington, Delta South's independent MLA, called Ms. Notley's suggestion "unfortunate" and "ill-considered," noting that ending the pipeline there would "put the most valuable ecological habitat in Canada at risk."
"The Fraser River delta is an internationally significant area for millions of salmon and shorebirds, and I am firmly opposed to any such suggestion," Ms. Huntington said in an e-mailed statement. "I hope the Premier's future statements will reconsider Delta and the Fraser River Estuary as non-negotiable with respect to Kinder Morgan's proposal, as well as any future oil export proposal."
But Delta Mayor Lois Jackson said her community's existing coal export facility poses no real ecological threat to the area and she would welcome discussing the Kinder Morgan suggestion with Ms. Notley.
"Anything's possible, of course, but I think it's a long way from reality at the moment," she said.
Ms. Jackson's views are in stark contrast to those of Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, who has vowed to go as far as getting arrested for civil disobedience to stop the expansion. (Mr. Corrrigan is out of the country on vacation and none of his representatives could comment on Wednesday.)
In its submissions to the National Energy Board, the company said it preferred expanding its existing Burnaby terminal because the Delta site would cost $1.2-billion more and require 40 new hectares of land for tank storage.
Ending a new pipeline there could also infringe upon the treaty rights of the Tsawwassen First Nation and create large environmental concerns for the nearby Fraser River estuary, which welcomes "more than five million migratory birds" and is part of "the most important salmon spawning river in the world," according to the company's NEB submissions.
Kinder Morgan wants to nearly triple Trans Mountain's capacity to almost 890,000 barrels a day. The NEB is set to release its final decision on the proposed expansion next May.
"Trans Mountain is confident that expanding our existing facilities is the best option, and the one we chose to pursue," Kinder Morgan spokeswoman Ali Hounsell said in an e-mailed statement. "Given the current terminal's proximity to the existing pipe, its proximity to a working harbour with spill response resources and well-established tanker transit routes and protocols, we feel [the Burnaby] terminal is the safest location that will also result in the least environmental impact."
Werner Antweiler, an economics professor at the University of British Columbia, said moving the terminal farther south, and directly across from the Georgia Strait, might silence pipeline critics opposed to the expansion of tanker traffic through busy Burrard Inlet. But moving the pipeline to Delta, he said, would still mean "the same number of tankers would have to go and anchor somewhere" in an area where a relatively small bunker fuel spill shocked the province earlier this year.
And moving the pipeline's endpoint still won't placate those vehemently opposed to any project that increases the carbon-intensive extraction of Alberta's oil sands, he added.
Meanwhile, upon hearing Ms. Notley's comments, B.C. Premier Christy Clark said she and her Alberta counterpart still need to discuss oil pipelines in more depth.
"I am looking forward to talking to her more about where she sees these projects that would carry Alberta bitumen, where she sees them going," Ms. Clark said. "Whatever the solution is that Alberta lands on, it is going to have to meet [B.C.'s] five conditions.
"There will be no expansion on the movement of heavy oil to British Columbia from Alberta unless all five conditions are met ... and none of the projects have met those conditions yet."
Ms. Notley has said it is essential to link Alberta's oil patch with overseas markets. She has supported Kinder Morgan's expansion and TransCanada's Energy East pipeline to the East Coast, while opposing Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline to northern B.C. and appearing less confident in the ability to push the Keystone XL project south of the border.
With a report from Justine Hunter