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Aging oil pipeline too risky: critics

The Kalamazoo River in Michigan was the site of a major spill of oil sands crude when an Enbridge pipeline ruptured their nearly two years ago. - NRDC / YouTube
The Kalamazoo River in Michigan was the site of a major spill of oil sands crude when an Enbridge pipeline ruptured their nearly two years ago.
— image credit: NRDC / YouTube

Opponents of Kinder Morgan's plan to twin its Trans Mountain pipeline through B.C. and load much more crude oil onto tankers say a scathing U.S. report on a 2010 spill there is a wake-up call on the risks the existing line poses.

NDP politicians and B.C. environmental groups have seized on U.S. regulators' findings in the spill at an oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Inc. into Michigan's Kalamazoo River as grounds to terminate the company's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat.

But Sheila Muxlow, a Chilliwack-based activist with the anti-twinnning Pipe Up Network, hopes Kalamazoo also galvanizes B.C. opposition to Kinder Morgan's project.

"The same risks that are raised with the transport of tar sands along an Enbridge pipeline exist for the Kinder Morgan pipeline and are even escalated because they're using a 60-year-old pipeline," she said.

In Michigan, an aging pipeline burst and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board blamed Enbridge for a 17-hour delay in acting to contain the breach, which spilled 840,000 gallons of oil sands crude into the Kalamazoo River and triggered a $767-million cleanup.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, accused of fence-sitting and failing to take a stand on Northern Gateway, called the Kalamazoo spill response "disgraceful" and pledged B.C. will intervene in National Energy Board hearings to raise its concerns with Enbridge's $5.5-billion project there.

Federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix both denounced Northern Gateway last week and called on Ottawa and the province to scrap it in light of the Kalamazoo report.

Muxlow said Kinder Morgan's plans have in comparison run under the radar, but added she expects equally vocal opposition to build.

"There are major risks for all of us living along the pipeline – not just environmentally but economically as well."

Critics like Muxlow claim increased shipments of bitumen from the oil sands are raising the risk of a pipeline rupture because the heavy crude is mixed with more corrosive diluent (a solvent) to help it flow.

Muxlow said she's disappointed Dix and the provincial NDP have yet to take a stand against the Trans Mountain expansion.

"It is a little irresponsible," she said. "This is a real issue. It's happening right now – we're all at risk. It would make sense for hopeful political parties to take a position."

Muxlow wants Kinder Morgan to scrap the $4-billion expansion pipeline and agree to limit the use of the existing pipe to light crude or refined petroleum.

She said the Pipe Up group represents concerned people from Hope to Langley, including farmers and other residents worried about potential impacts – including reduced property values – due to the pipeline corridor.

Kinder Morgan spokesperson Lexa Hobenshield rejected suggestions the existing pipeline is unsafe.

"Age doesn't necessarily relate to the condition of the pipeline," she said, adding the company has a "robust" pipeline integrity process in place.

More sensitive tools now exist to monitor pipeline safety, she said.

Nor are all portions of the pipeline 60 years old.

A new tunnel beneath the Fraser River was drilled in 2002 to improve the pipeline's chances of withstanding an earthquake, Hobenshield said.

She said claims diluent increase the risk of corrosion are misinformation.

"Pipelines transporting diluted bitumen are not at any greater risk of corrosion than pipelines carrying any other kind of petroleum product."

Kinder Morgan has yet to identify the exact route of its pipeline expansion, which would increase Trans Mountain's capacity from 300,000 barrels per day now to 750,000 by 2017.

That would bring about 300 oil tankers a year through Burrard Inlet to load at the Westridge Terminal in Burnaby.

Kinder Morgan has had past oil spills on land, including a pipeline breach in 2007 in Burnaby and at a tank farm in Abbotsford earlier this year.

The existing pipeline route runs through the Lower Mainland on the south side of the Fraser River before crossing at Surrey and running through Coquitlam and Burnaby.

 

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