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After years of dramatic opposition by B.C. residents, the controversial pipeline expansion project of a Texas-based energy company, Kinder Morgan, is one step closer to breaking ground in Canada.
On Wednesday, the government of B.C. Premier Christy Clark issued an environmental assessment certificate for the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which aims to triple the capacity of an existing system that already ships more than 300,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta's oilsands to the West Coast.
Speaking to reporters in Victoria, Clark said Wednesday all five conditions for her approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline have now been met, after coming to a deal with Kinder Morgan to collect between $25 million and $50 million annually for 20 years as the province’s “fair share” of benefit from the project.
Clark wants best for British Columbia
"We've worked to make sure we got as much for B.C as we possibly could," Clark told reporters. "The fact that British Columbians got behind the five conditions passionately meant we were able to get real improvements."
She cited the federal government's new $1.5 billion-National Oceans Protection Plan as a safety precaution her government was able to negotiate through the five financial, legal and environmental conditions it has outlined as a requirement to support the pipeline expansion. Other conditions required the company to address consultation and economic obligations to First Nations, and provide a "world-leading" oil spill response plan and prevention plan.
The environmental green light comes with 37 provincial conditions, intended to supplement the 157 conditions required by Environment and Climate Change Canada, which approved the Trans Mountain pipeline last November. Those conditions included a requirement to offset greenhouse gas emissions generated during construction, among others.
A recommendation letter signed Dec. 8, 2016 a member of B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) expresses confidence in those conditions, along with those imposed by the province:
"I am satisfied that... the potential adverse impacts on areas of provincial interest and jurisdiction have been avoided, minimized or otherwise accommodated to an acceptable level," wrote Kevin Jardine, executive director of the EAO. "I agree with EAO's conclusion that the Crown has fulfilled its obligations for consultation and accommodation to Aboriginal groups and I am satisfied that there will be ongoing efforts to engage and consult with Aboriginal groups by the Proponent and the federal and provincial governments."
In a news statement Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain "welcomed" the news.
“Trans Mountain shares the values and priorities of safety, environmental protection and prosperity for communities that B.C.’s 5 Conditions represent," Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson said. "We believe this represents a positive outcome for our company, customers and for British Columbians and all Canadians who will benefit from the construction and operation of an expanded pipeline.”
A polarizing pipeline
But thousands of residents across B.C. whole-heartedly disagree with Anderson.
In a report released late last year by the federal panel appointed to collect additional public feedback on the project, the Trans Mountain expansion was described as being among the most "controversial in the country, perhaps in the world, today."
In 2014, more than 100 people were arrested on Burnaby Mountain in B.C. over a weeks-long protest to oppose the project, and to date, at least 17 First Nations and 21 municipalities have formally opposed it. Asked about British Columbian residents who continued to reject the pipeline due to the risks it poses to sensitive land and water ecosystems, Clark responded:
"I don't know. To me, it's not really a political thing. We set the five conditions it was a path to get to yes, and we got to yes."
If the project were built, it would ship roughly 890,000 barrels of crude oil and petroleum per day to refineries and terminals near Vancouver and Washington. Supporters of the project say it would create more than $46 billion in revenue for provincial and federal governments and at least 15,000 jobs per year during construction. But it would also cross unceded Indigenous territory, increase tanker traffic in local waters by 600 per cent, and threaten endangered local orca populations.
In a press statement, B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak cited its financial benefits and expressed confidence that the pipeline would not do significant harm to B.C.'s environment.
"Clearly, the project will have economic benefits for British Columbia workers, families and communities," said Polak. "However, we have always been clear economic development will not come at the expense of the environment. We believe environmental protection and economic development can occur together, and the conditions attached to the EA certificate reflect that.”
"Disappointing but not surprising"
The Trans Mountain expansion passes and its related shipping activities pass near or through the territories of more than 90 aboriginal groups in B.C. Many of the First Nations have opposed it, and some — including the Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish — have filed lawsuits aiming to stop the project.
Eugene Kung of West Coast Environmental Law, who represents the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation's Sacred Trust Initiative, said the government's decision was "disappointing but not surprising." He questioned how the province could approve a project after Vancouver struggled to respond to a small-scale diesel spill along English Bay in April 2015, and said "world class" spill response it has repeatedly touted, generally means around 15 per cent of oil recovery for conventional oil.
Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would carry diluted bitumen, which experts have found nearly impossible to cleanup once it mixes with sediment in water and sinks.
According to Kinder Morgan, the pipeline expansion will generate more than $46 billion in government revenue for provincial and federal governments, and at least 15,000 jobs annually during construction. But critics of the project argue that only around 50 of the jobs will be permanent, and that the resulting increase in oil tanker traffic through the Burrard Inlet from 60 to 400 tankers a year poses a risk to Vancouver's coast.