The City of Vancouver wants to hit the brakes on Kinder Morgan’s application for an expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline until its concerns can be addressed.
That’s the takeaway from a May 13 presentation that deputy city manager Sadhu Johnston delivered after staff reviewed the 15,000-page proposal filed with the National Energy Board.
“Our findings were that a major spill would be catastrophic to our environment, our economy, and our international reputation,” Johnston told city council. “As a region, as a community, we are not ready for a spill. The levels of insurance are inadequate, the emergency response systems are inadequate. And so we have some grave concerns.”
Following Johnston’s presentation, Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer said the NEB process limits the city’s options for dealing with the pipeline.
“The tangible step, at this point, appears to need to be political,” she said. “We very much feel that we need to go to the prime minister. He gave himself unprecedented powers to be able to interfere in the National Energy Board not that long ago. So this is an opportunity for him to get involved and ensure that there is an appropriate technical review and much expanded public access to the process.”
Reimer said she did not support a plebiscite on the Trans Mountain pipeline held in conjunction with November civic elections, an idea that has been proposed by Green Party councillor Adriane Carr. Reimer cited concerns over a lack of spending limits in such votes.
“There is no requirement for third parties, corporations, unions, or individuals to report on their spending in a plebiscite,” she said. “I just don’t see how it would serve this issue to allow for a no-holds-barred, Wild West-style vote on an issue.”
Delivering an update on the city’s status as an intervener, Johnston systematically argued that Kinder Morgan’s application is incomplete and inadequate in scope.
Number one on his list of concerns is the proposal’s lack of a “qualitative human health risk assessment”.
“They do not consider health impacts from a spill, which seems crazy to us,” he said. “We need to look at the potential impacts of a spill and understand the health impacts.”
Johnston, former chief environmental officer for the city of Chicago, also found problems with the project’s plans for emergency management. For example, he said, spill-response preparations have only been submitted for calm water, and long daylight hours, and assume that all required responders will be available.
Another area of concern for city staff is the proposed project’s potential contributions to climate change.
“The NEB does not intend to consider upstream and downstream climate change impacts,” Johnston said. “We are already facing real costs from climate change…and at this point, that’s not allowed to even be discussed during the NEB process.”
Four hundred oil tankers a year
A twinned Kinder Morgan pipeline would triple the amount of diluted bitumen transported from the Alberta oil sands to the Lower Mainland, increasing the number of oil tankers moving through Burrard Inlet from some 60 ships per year to more than 400.
A Kinder Morgan representative could not immediately be reached for comment. An emailed statement supplied by Scott Stoness, vice president of regulatory, emphasized that Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain application was “determined complete” by the NEB.
“We understand there are many questions about our project from the City of Vancouver and as an Intervener the City has full process rights and has asked questions within the regulatory process,” it reads. “We are reviewing these questions and we are confident that our Application, which will undergo extensive review by the NEB and Intervenors, will address those interests within the review process over the next 14 months.”
In addition to problems with Kinder Morgan’s application, the city is taking issue with the process through which the NEB is assessing the proposal. Those concerns relate to what Johnston described as “unreasonable timelines” and a “lack of public input”.
“There is no public forum for expressing concerns on this,” he said. “There is no public hearings, there is no webcast, there is no opportunity for the public to express its concerns.”
Johnston added that while the NEB process for the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline was far from perfect, it was significantly more inclusive than the process through which the Trans Mountain project is moving.
For example, he noted that while Northern Gateway evidence hearings went on for 37 months, Trans Mountain hearings concluded after 11 months.
“Folks that really want to participate are being told that there is no way for them to be involved in that process,” Johnston said. “To us, that seems a little undemocratic and really inappropriate for the magnitude of this decision for our communities, for our region.”
Answers sought on 400 questions
Mayor Gregor Robertson weighed in on Johnston’s presentation via a May 13 media release.
“Today’s report exposes alarming flaws and gaps both in Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion and the National Energy Board’s process to evaluate it,” that message states. “This new information reinforces why a seven-fold expansion of oil tanker traffic through Vancouver’s local waters is not in Vancouver’s interest and poses an enormous threat to our economy and environment.”
The City of Vancouver has used its status as an intervener to submit more than 400 questions about the Trans Mountain project to the NEB.
In a question-and-answer session that followed Johnston’s presentation, most councillors in attendance expressed criticisms and concerns about the NEB application process.
The Green Party's Adriane Carr called attention to risks associated with loaded oil tankers navigating the Burrard Inlet.
“In emergency preparedness, I cannot imagine that you choose to only analyze a risk that is under best conditions,” she said. “Is not the practice of risk assessment to look at the potential and weigh the timelines for extreme events?”
NPA councillor George Affleck’s questions focused on how much staff time the city is devoting to the Trans Mountain issue.
Vision Vancouver’s Kerry Jang expressed alarm for Kinder Morgan failing to present information on the potential health impacts of an accident or serious oil spill in the Lower Mainland.
“Really, they've left human beings out of the equation,” he said. “It’s all about money or something else.”