What is the Trans Mountain (Kinder Morgan) Pipeline?

There is currently a pipeline which transports primarily diluted bitumen from Edmonton (the Alberta Tar Sands) to our coast in Burnaby (Westridge Marine Terminal), where it is loaded onto tankers and shipped to off-shore buyers. These tankers are maneuvering through the First and Second Narrows, Vancouver Harbour, English Bay, Georgia Strait, the active channels of the Southern Gulf Islands, Haro Strait and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The original pipeline was built in 1953 and its purpose was to supply our local needs of oil and natural gas. However, after Kinder Morgan purchased the pipeline in 2003 they started to ship diluted bitumen rather than conventional crude oil, and now the pipeline primarily carries diluted bitumen. This means that our local Chevron refinery is no longer able to fill its need for conventional crude oil from the pipeline and has needed to receive oil by train. Today the pipeline is over 60 years old, and is in need of some serious updates if it is going to continue to be used. Many spills have occurred on the existing line, and more will happen if it stays active.

What is the proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline?

Kinder Morgan now wants to expand the existing pipeline by twinning it (adding another line nearby). This expansion would increase the amount of diluted bitumen travelling through our communities and to our coast by 590, 000 barrels per day (from 300, 000 to 890, 000), and increase the number of tankers leaving our coast by about 30 per month. This means that the risk of a spill is increased significantly.

Who is Kinder Morgan?

Kinder Morgan is a Texas based multinational company which owns and operated Trans Mountain Pipeline. Richard Kinder and Bill Morgan are ex Enron employees, the company responsible for a huge fraud scandal in the USA, and Kinder Morgan was originally an “Enron tax shelter” called Enron Liquids Pipelines. Richard Kinder, current CEO and Chair of Kinder Morgan, was a member of the Enron board of directors, its president and chief operating officer. He was directly involved in some of the scandals. Six of the nine original Kinder Morgan directors and officers were ex-Enron employees.

 Kinder Morgan is NOT a Canadian company, in fact Canadians own only 2% of KMP.

However, Canadian-based Kinder Morgan Canada Inc owns 25% of the shares for Western Canadian Spill Services LTD. A company that profits from the clean up of oil spills. Therefore, while they are likely to avoid paying for the clean up of a spill, they will profit form it.

 

What are the risks of the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion?

By looking at the reputation of Kinder Morgan and other similar companies, we know that we can expect oil spills both on land and in the water. Kinder Morgan has a history of not responding to spills in a timely manner, and past spills have had effects on local school children. The new pipeline would come close to many schools, cut through 3 provincial parks, 1 protected area, 13 First Nation reserves and go across 500 streams and rivers. Locally this includes the Vedder and the Fraser River, which supports the most salmon runs in the world. Cleaning up diluted bitumen spills is significantly more difficult, and if a tanker spills the cleanup is basically impossible due to ocean currents.

On top of direct effects of the proposed expansion, there are also upstream and downstream effects to consider. The product comes from the Tar Sands, which have significant risk associated with them, and creation, transportation and use of the product all contribute to climate change. It has been determined that in order to keep below 2 degrees Celsius warming, we need to keep 74% of Canada’s oil reserves in the ground, meaning that there is really no excuse to be building new bitumen pipelines now.

Another major concern about this project is the review process, which has been described by the mayors of Burnaby and Vancouver as a “sham” that has given them an “absolute lack of confidence” in the process. These concerns include the lack of ability to discuss upstream or downstream effects of the pipeline (including greenhouse gas emissions and tar sands extraction), no oral cross examination for intervenors, limitations on public participation, lack of answers from Trans Mountain to intervenors, and a lack of regard for First Nations constitutional rights. 

What is diluted bitumen?

Bitumen from the tar sands is not like conventional oil. It is a thick tar-like substance and in order to transport it through a pipeline it must be diluted. Common diluents are natural-gas condensate, naphtha, and synthetic crude (whose contents are often proprietary and containing carcinogenic compounds such as benzene). When a spill occurs these chemicals off-gas and can be inhaled by anyone in the area. No one seems able to predict what happens when diluted bitumen is in water. Depending on salinity, sediments, temperature, and wave action, it might sink, separate, or float. This makes emergency preparedness extremely difficult.

What about jobs and Taxes?

The main benefits we hear about are through job creation and tax revenue. In total, 50-100 permanent direct jobs are predicted from the project, and between 4000-12000 jobs per year for the three years of construction. The higher job number comes from Kinder Morgan estimates while the lower number comes from an SFU report which found that Kinder Morgan had overestimated job creation by a factor of three. Richard Kinder has structured his companies to evade taxes. From 2009 - 2013 Kinder Morgan made $172 million per year for its U.S. based owners, yet received on average a tax refund of $1.5 million a year in Canada. A Report found that the communities along the route of the expansion will only gain on average 1% of their usual tax revenue from the expansion. While Kinder Morgan boasts that it will contribute to Canada through taxes, they do their best to pay as little as possible.

Robyn Allan explains that, “There is nothing I have found in the past year of my research into Kinder Morgan that supports the claim that the Trans Mountain expansion project represents a net financial or economic benefit to the Canadian economy, or federal and provincial public treasuries. It's just the opposite -- Kinder Morgan drains financial wealth from our economy and does not pay its fair share of taxes”

For More information: SFU Report & Robyn Allan's economic analysis

For more information: Kinder Morgan/Trans Mountain in depth