Trans Mountain expansion risks oil spills, toxic fumes and fires, environmental group’s report finds

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Trans Mountain expansion risks oil spills, toxic fumes and fires, environmental group’s report finds


VANCOUVER—As construction of the Trans Mountain expansion project gears up, a new report from the environmental organization Stand.earth paints an alarming picture of the pipeline’s worst-case scenario threats to communities and ecosystems along the route.

The organization detailed some of the impacts the pipeline could have in its latest Trans Mountain report, which examines seven of the “most troubling hotspots for construction.”

In Burnaby, B.C. — the pipeline’s western terminus — there’s risk of a major oil spill in Burrard Inlet that has the potential to devastate local bird populations and “contaminate places of cultural significance to the Tsleil-Waututh (Nation).”

The Burnaby Terminal is set to double the number of tanks storing crude oil and refined petroleum products. The report found that a major fire at the terminal could result in thousands of students, faculty and staff becoming trapped at Simon Fraser University. As well, it said residential neighbourhoods downhill of the storage facility could be put in imminent danger, and toxic smoke could blanket Metro Vancouver. In June, Burnaby’s mayor met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss his concerns about the risk of a fire at the tank farm.

On its website, Trans Mountain notes the Burnaby Terminal has both fire protection and emergency response equipment on site.

Pipeline construction across the Coquihalla River, a tributary of the Fraser River, could increase the amount of sediment in the waterway and threaten salmon spawning habitat. This is just one of more than 1,000 streams and rivers the pipeline will cross.

Meanwhile, in a growing neighbourhood in Abbotsford, a city about 70 kilometres southeast of Vancouver, there are concerns about the risks of exposure to toxic fumes from the Sumas Tank Farm, where storage capacity is also set to increase. The storage facility has seen spills in 1994, 1997, 2002, 2005, and 2012, according to Stand.earth’s report.

In the interior, the organization points to risks of labour camps, which tend to house large numbers of male workers and have been linked to higher rates of sexual violence toward women in nearby communities. In June, the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls said it found “substantial evidence of a serious problem” in a link between resource extraction and violence against Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ and two-spirit people.

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“Evidence suggests that Indigenous women and girls are subjected to the worst of the negative impacts of resource extraction at every phase,” the Stand.earth report notes.

According to Stand.earth, the report’s findings are based on a review of thousands of documents and consultation with both experts and residents.

“The public has a right to know what construction will look like and what the social and ecological impacts will be,” reads the report, which was released publicly on Wednesday.

The Trans Mountain expansion project involves the construction of a second, 1,000-kilometre pipeline to carry diluted bitumen and other petroleum products from outside Edmonton to Burnaby.

The federal government, which approved the controversial project for a second time this summer, bought the existing pipeline and the expansion project for $4.5 billion from Texas oil company Kinder Morgan in 2018.

An aerial view of the Westridge Marine Terminal, in Burnaby, B.C., is shown on May 29, 2018.

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The expansion is expected to triple the flow of oil to the coast and result in a sevenfold increase in tanker traffic to the Westridge Marine Terminal through the Burrard Inlet.

Opponents of the pipeline say it will threaten ecosystems, put wildlife, including critically endangered southern resident killer whales, at risk, and increase greenhouse gas emissions contributing to the climate emergency.

Proponents, meanwhile, say it will create thousands of needed jobs and benefit the economy by ensuring more Alberta oil reaches overseas markets.

The Federal Court of Appeal quashed the government’s initial approval of the project in August 2018 based on what it said were flawed consultations with Indigenous communities and a failure to consider the risks posed by an increase in tanker traffic.

Ottawa reapproved the pipeline project in June following another round of consultation and an expanded environmental assessment by the National Energy Board, now called the Canada Energy Regulator.

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But the Federal Court of Appeal has allowed six new legal challenges, which argue the federal government once again failed to adequately consult Indigenous communities, to proceed.

In the meantime, the Crown corporation that now owns Trans Mountain has said construction will move forward.

According to Stand.earth’s report, construction could face further delays. The detailed route has not yet been approved and hundreds of provincial permits are still needed.

More to come

Ainslie Cruickshank





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