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Opponents wonder how big new pipeline will get

An oil tanker tethered to three tugs moves in Burrard Inlet. - File
An oil tanker tethered to three tugs moves in Burrard Inlet.
— image credit: File

A plan to make the twinned Trans Mountain pipeline 20 per cent bigger than previously intended is under fire from its critics.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said the "staggering" seven-fold increase in the number of oil tankers now heading through Vancouver harbour to load from Kinder Morgan's Burnaby terminal heightens his city's "serious concerns" about the risks to the local economy and environment from a worst-case oil spill.

"Any serious spill would jeopardize tens of thousands of jobs and could leave taxpayers and businesses on the hook for billions of dollars in clean-up costs and losses," he said.

Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson said last week the larger expansion is viable because more oil firms have signed on as customers to ship oil sands crude for export and he did not rule out the possibility the project could get bigger still.

The capacity of 890,000 barrels per day now proposed – up from 750,000 – would be nearly triple the original 60-year-old pipeline's 300,000 barrel capacity, part of which goes to nearby refineries.

The project is now forecast to bring up to 34 tankers a month, instead of 25 under the previous plan and about five a month now.

"I think we'll hit a million barrels before we get to the end of the year," said Kennedy Stewart, NDP MP for Burnaby-Douglas.

Oil companies may want to book still more guaranteed space with Kinder Morgan's pipeline through the Lower Mainland if they sense Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat will be rejected or face lengthy delays, Stewart said.

He said larger volumes of oil flowing to Burnaby for export means a tightening choke point for marine shipping in Burrard Inlet because other vessels aren't allowed to sail there when one of the tankers is on the move.

The only other way to reduce the number of tankers visiting, he noted, would be if Port Metro Vancouver agrees to dredge the Second Narrows and authorize larger tankers than the ones that now load oil.

So far Kinder Morgan reps have said that's not their plan – oil would be carried out using the existing Aframax size tankers, which hold 650,000 barrels and can't be fully loaded here because of draft limits in the channel.

Stewart also thinks it possible that Kinder Morgan could propose a second terminal elsewhere in the region, such as Deltaport, although the company has denied that.

"I think they have all kinds of scenarios that will allow them to reach the coast."

Residents near the existing Trans Mountain pipeline right-of-way through the Fraser Valley, Surrey, Coquitlam and Burnaby won't learn until late this year the route of the 150-metre wide corridor within which Kinder Morgan will seek permission to build the new line.

Stewart expects it will deviate significantly from the old route – especially in heavily urbanized areas – and that tens of thousands of property owners across the region will be impacted.

Tsleil-Waututh First Nation Chief Justin George said he was dismayed by the announcement of increased capacity.

"Where will it end?" he asked. "Will they push for more than one million barrels per day? Two million? Citizens need to ask some serious questions of their leaders before this pipeline is approved."

Michael Hale, an anti-pipeline activist in Chilliwack with the Pipe Up group, accused Kinder Morgan of jumping the gun and lining up contracts too far ahead of project approval.

"This is a rogue energy company we've got here, run by an ex-Enron billionaire, trying to run roughshod over British Columbia and the legal and accepted process," he said.

Christianne Wilhelmson of the Georgia Strait Alliance said Kinder Morgan's move to push on with a bigger project shows it is out of step with broad opposition to pipelines and more tanker traffic in B.C.

Kinder Morgan's announcement came as oil tanker opponents were gearing up for the the start of hearings in Vancouver Monday into Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

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