The B.C. government will take a relatively hands-off approach to Kinder Morgan's proposed $5.4-billion expansion of its Trans Mountain Pipeline, saying Ottawa has a system in place to review a project that could significantly boost tanker traffic in B.C. waters.
"We're not going to prejudge the process," B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak told reporters on a conference call Monday after Kinder Morgan filed its application with the National Energy Board. "We'll be reviewing the application and [will determine] if there is any additional information that we require in preparation for hearings that are anticipated."
The province is likely to apply for intervener status as it did with the recently concluded panel for the Northern Gateway project, Ms. Polak added.
The two mega-projects have dominated public debate and political agendas for the past year. Enbridge's $6.5-billion Northern Gateway is a twinned pipeline project that would ship crude oil from northern Alberta to the B.C. coast for loading onto marine vessels and move condensate in the other direction.
The Kinder Morgan expansion would nearly triple the capacity of the existing Trans Mountain oil pipeline from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels a day and could boost tanker traffic – currently about five tankers a month – to more than 30.
Last year, B.C. set five conditions – including world-class marine spill response and a "fair share" of economic benefits for B.C. – for pipelines to be approved in the province. Those conditions were part of the discussion leading to a framework agreement between Alberta and B.C. that was announced in November, but have yet to be formally met.
Ms. Polak said she doesn't see any need to change the government's approach this time around.
First Nations and environmental groups opposed to the Kinder Morgan project have zeroed in on the potential for increased tanker traffic, with municipal politicians, including Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, saying they opposed increased oil shipments through Burrard Inlet.
In a conference call with reporters Monday, Kinder Morgan officials outlined several steps the company would take to improve marine safety, including requiring tug escorts in areas where such escorts are not currently required.
The company has also filed a marine response plan that features new bases and vessels, including high-speed skimming vessels. The proposed route follows the existing pipeline corridor, but also involves new rights-of-way along some sections of the pipeline.
The massive application includes information about all parts of the project, including new pumping stations at locations including Kamloops.
"They [Kinder Morgan] have had good community outreach to this point and have been generally well-received," Kamloops Mayor Peter Milobar said Monday, adding that to date area residents' concerns have focused primarily on the pipeline's proposed route through one city neighbourhood.
When it comes to environmental and safety concerns, those are being weighed against other transportation alternatives.
"If you ship it by rail, you're going down the same watercourse the pipeline is running on," Mr. Milobar said. "If you ship it by tanker truck, you're going down the same watercourse – neither of which are any safer than a pipeline and many would argue are much less safe, especially when you're talking about large volumes of oil on the road. If the move is to get oil out of northern Alberta, it has to get there somehow."