Kinder Morgan Backgrounder
The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain project is a 1100 km pipeline expansion that would triple the size and capacity of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline running from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, BC.
This pipeline has been approved by Canada’s National Energy Board with 157 conditions. Expanding this pipeline would increase Canada’s bitumen exports to Asia and other markets and enable the further expansion of the Alberta tar sands. The pipeline crosses the traditional territories of many Indigenous peoples and most of the cities in Metro Vancouver, and will enable the sevenfold increase in tanker traffic in the Salish Sea. This poses health, safety, and environmental risks to communities while also enabling carbon pollution that drives dangerous climate change.
We have prepared some questions to help you better understand the Kinder Morgan pipeline and its impact.
Kinder Morgan (formerly known as Enron Pipelines LLP) is the largest pipelines infrastructure company in North America, owning an interest in or operating approximately 84,000 miles of pipelines and 155 terminals. Their pipelines transport gasoline, crude oil, carbon dioxide, and gas extracted by hydraulic fracking.
The company intends to build a new export pipeline for diluted bitumen, along an expanded and “twinned” route of the Trans Mountain Pipeline which they bought in 2005. This new pipeline would extend approximately 1100 km between Edmonton, Alberta, and the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby on the south shore of the Burrard Inlet in the Vancouver harbour.
The company would also need to build pumping stations, holding tanks and other infrastructure along the pipeline route and build a new berth for the Westridge Marine Terminal on the Burrard Inlet. To store the increased volume of bitumen, Kinder Morgan also proposes to expand its storage tank farm on Burnaby Mountain from the current 13 storage tanks to 26 storage tanks to be capable of storing 1.7 million barrels.
The Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion will re-intersect with Canadian cities and communities all along the route, from Edmonton, to Kamloops, to the Fraser Valley, and finally to Metro Vancouver.
Diluted Bitumen (dilbit) is made from bitumen. Bitumen is a kind of crude oil found in natural oil sands deposits—it’s the heaviest crude oil used today. Bitumen is too thick to be pumped from the ground or through pipelines. Steam needs to be injected into the ground to extract the bitumen and then it needs extra processing before it can be shipped through a pipeline. This involves mixing the bitumen with a diluent (light hydrocarbons) produced mainly from BC’s natural gas wells.
Benzene Chemical Hazard
One of the known chemicals mixed with bitumen is benzene, a colorless liquid that is highly flammable. In the event of a pipeline spill or a fire at the storage tanks, benzene can be released into the air. Benzene exposure causes dizziness, headaches, rapid/irregular heartbeats and long term exposure can cause effects in the blood system and cause a decrease in red blood cells. Health Canada lists benzene as a toxic chemical that is harmful to human health. It is also a known carcinogen linked with leukaemia. Cities along the pipeline expansion route, such as Edmonton, Kamloops, communities in the Fraser Valley (e.g. Hope and Abbotsford), and Metro Vancouver could all be exposed to benzene and other chemicals through air exposure in the event of a pipeline spill or accident.
The Burnaby Mountain storage tank farm also poses a fire danger. The Burnaby Fire Department concluded that closer spacing between tanks on the post-expansion site would make it easier for fire to spread if human error or a natural disaster such as an earthquake set off a blaze. With Simon Fraser University and its 30,000 students, single-family homes and townhomes in North Burnaby below, a disaster would release oil flowing downhill, or at least noxious fumes from the smoke.
Enabling the expansion of tar sands
The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would continue Canada’s dependence on the tar sands and its associated fossil-fuelled economy, which causes adverse environmental impacts in its entire life-cycle. Large swaths of boreal forest, which act as the “lungs” of Canada’s north, are clear cut in order to mine the oil in the sands. Producing oil sands uses large quantities of freshwater from the Athabasca river. In 2011, companies mining the tar sands siphoned approximately 370 million cubic meters of water from the Athabasca River alone, which was heated or converted into steam to separate the viscous oil, or bitumen, from sand formations. That quantity exceeds the amount of water that the city of Toronto, with a population 2.8 million people, uses annually. Producing the oil requires natural gas from nearby fracking operations to separate and dilute the oil to be shipped by pipelines. Wastewater and chemicals from the operations are stored in tailings ponds, some of which are the size of Metro Vancouver and can be seen from satellite imagery in space.
Increased likelihood of spills on land and water
Finally, diluted bitumen is transported in pipelines winding across Canada to be brought to ports, such as Vancouver, and sold overseas. Tankers planned to accommodate the expansion of oil exports can carry up to 120,000 metric tons of oil per tanker. The expansion of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline would mean that shipments can increase from 75,000 barrels per day currently to over 550,000 barrels per day once the pipeline is fully operational. This means 300+ transits of fully loaded tankers (At least 120,000 metric tons of oil per tanker) per year, which means almost one fully loaded tanker per day traveling in the Salish Sea!
This dramatically increases the risk of a significant spill. The Canadian Coast Guard estimates that a major spill occurs once every 7 years. A spill in the Salish Sea or along the coast line would sink bitumen into the bottom of the Salish Sea. Current oil spill containment technologies are built for refined oil products or light crude, not bitumen or heavy crude. There are no proven technologies widely used for crude oil spills clean-up. Heavy crude oil is thicker, heavier, likely to sink straight into the water column, which means damage to marine life, ecosystems, and ultimately into the food chain. If the modified crude oil is mixed with chemicals (e.g. sulphur, benzenes, other compounds), there could be toxic effects and heavy metals that can accumulate in the food chain too. Research from previous oil spills like the Exxon Valdez have shown that crude oil can remain in the substrate for up to a century, having toxic effects in animals, birds, plants, soil, and ultimately into the ecosystem. Spills along the pipeline route could also spill bitumen and modified heavy crude into the land and soil, destroying breeding habitats (e.g. wetlands) that local birds and animals need to survive, and also leach into the soil.
Enabling carbon pollution
Finally, the carbon pollution from the combustion of the bitumen will compromise Canada’s ability to keep its promise to reduce carbon pollution and to keep global warming to safe levels. *
Generally, in Canadian law, the “polluter pays” principle means that the responsible party is liable for the clean up costs. In reality, most shipping companies may go bankrupt prior to paying for the full clean-up cost. An oil spill would require coordinated cleanup efforts from the company and federal and provincial agencies. The limit of Canada’s Ship Source Oil Pollution fund is $1.6 billion for the entire country, while the Exxon Valdez oil spill already cost $3.5 billion for a single spill. It is likely that BC and Canadian residents and taxpayers will need to pay for the rest of the direct financial costs along with all the costs associated with lost economic opportunities for fishing, tourism, etc. all caused by a spill, not to mention the environmental reclamation and clean-up costs.
The Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion directly crosses into over 50 Indigenous communities and their traditional territories. The route closely follows the route of the Fraser River, the home to a number of salmon fisheries and is a key watershed for pacific salmon, which is crucial to many of BC’s indigenous peoples for food and for sustaining traditional ways of life. The Upper Nicola Band found in their study that the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion would result in serious risks and impacts on their use of the land and the associated cultural and spiritual values. Indigenous peoples across Canada, including BC, have aboriginal rights protected by the Canadian constitution, and most Indigenous communities in BC have never ceded their land and territories to Canada or to BC. Canadian case law also protects Indigenous rights to fish for food, social, and ceremonial purposes.
Canada is now a signatory to the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which requires Free, Prior and Informed Consent from Indigenous peoples where government decisions are likely to have an adverse impact on Indigenous peoples and their rights. This means that projects like Kinder Morgan’s expansion requires meaningful consultation and accommodation with Indigenous peoples. In BC, most First Nations have never signed comprehensive land claims that have ceded their traditional territories, including some of the most active First Nations opposed to the Kinder Morgan Pipeline expansion including the Tsleil-Waututh and Secwepemc Nations. In this sense, building a pipeline through their traditional territories without their consent is a breach of their aboriginal laws, not to mention a violation of the principle of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent. For some of the First Nations in BC along the pipeline and tanker route have signed treaties with Canada and BC – namely the signatories to the Douglas Treaty (Vancouver Island) and including modern treaties like the Tsawwassen First Nations – these Treaties have committed the Governments of Canada and BC to consult meaningfully and to treat Indigenous peoples with a nation-to-nation relationship.
Oil spills from the pipeline or from tankers could damage pacific salmon habitat and breeding and spawning grounds, which is crucial to BC First Nations / Indigenous peoples. Inland spills could also impact the lands and traditional territories of indigenous peoples and have an impact on wildlife species that Indigenous peoples harvest.
The current oil sands operations are already at full capacity for projects in construction or operation. Building more pipelines such as Kinder Morgan will expand the capacity to allow an increase in oil sands production, which would expand and prolong the fossil-fuel economy and defeat Canada’s attempts to reduce carbon pollution and slow global warming. The Kinder Morgan pipeline and others approved to be built would expand Canada’s ability to produce 1.5 billion barrels per day. The purpose of this expansion is to feed the demand for worldwide markets, which likely won’t have an influence on domestic gas prices or address fuel needs here in Canada.
Crude oil prices have been falling around the world as many countries are expanding their investments in renewable energy and its associated infrastructure. Large multinational corporations have been halting investments in oil sands with the falling prices. Shell and Conoco-Phillips have recently sold their shares in oil sands operations.
Kinder Morgan claims that it will create 15 000 jobs with the construction of the pipeline. However, the pipeline construction is only estimated to take 2 years and afterwards, the number of permanent jobs will likely to remain small as only routine maintenance jobs will be created. DeSmog Canada estimates that there will likely only be 20% of those jobs potentially created.
The World Bank and the world’s leading scientists urge a deep decarbonization, which is essentially a “detox” from fossil fuels, where we shift our economy’s reliance on fossil fuels to other forms of energy. The more fossil fuel infrastructure is built, the harder it will be to shift to other forms of energy and break our dependence on fossil fuels. In more than 30 countries, the price of solar and wind energy is already cheaper than the price of fossil fuels. New advances in battery storage technology mean that solar and wind energy can now be stored and deployed for use more effectively, which overcomes the traditional challenges faced by wind and solar energy.
The Earth is the Lord’s (Psalms 24:1). God calls us to be stewards and caretakers of creation, tending to the land with respect for God our Creator (Genesis 2). Christian theologians also encourage us to be “watershed disciples”, where we take care of God’s creation in our local watershed and area as part of our Christian witness and discipleship. Wendell Berry, Christian farmer and thinker, once said that every Christian should learn and care for the immediate 5km radius in which we live. The threat posed by the KM pipeline to God’s local creation on land and on water, the threat to the traditional lands and livelihoods of our Indigenous neighbors, and the global carbon pollution that the pipeline produces all make this issue an important one for Canadian Christians. It’s time to take a comprehensive approach to speaking up for life and for creation, to oppose this pipeline and to advocate for a more sustainable and just transition to a clean energy economy that is inclusive for all and respects the sanctity of God’s creation.