The National Energy Board has issued a stern warning to the company building a major west coast pipeline expansion about apparent violations of federal law.
The federal regulator called Kinder Morgan to task this week for installing mats in streams to discourage fish from spawning where the pipeline is to be built.
In a letter on its website, addressed to Kinder Morgan president Ian Anderson, the regulator ordered the company to stop installing the mats until it has obtained all approvals from the board to allow the start of construction in those areas.
The NEB said in that letter that the company's actions appeared to be in violation of the National Energy Board Act.
"The Board notes that numerous (construction) conditions... have not yet been approved by the Board which are required in advance of the commencement of construction on the pipeline portion of the project," said the letter, sent by the secretary of the Board, Sheri Young. "The Board reminds Trans Mountain that construction of the pipeline shall not be undertaken until such time that Trans Mountain receives the applicable approvals pursuant to those conditions."
The Trans Mountain project is an expansion of an existing pipeline route from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C that would increase the amount of heavy oil shipments from Alberta's oilsands region to the west coast.
Oil producers and the business community say that Trans Mountain is essential for promoting jobs and growth in Canada's slumping oilpatch. Opponents say it will drive up Canada's greenhouse gas emissions and risk dangerous spills along its route or on coastal waters.
The Trudeau government approved the project last fall, arguing that it had struck a balance between economic growth and environmental protection.
In a blog dated Sept. 12 on the project website, Trans Mountain describes the "innovative use of snow fencing" in streams to protect spawning salmon and trout.
It says its biologists had temporarily laid plastic fencing on the bottom of some sections of five streams through mid-August 2017 in preparation for pipeline construction there in early 2018, adding it had identified a total of 26 streams in British Columbia and Alberta where the mats would be used prior to spawning season.
"By excluding fish from spawning in specific areas of a stream that may be within our proposed construction footprint, or immediately downstream within the zone-of-influence during construction activity, we then know we will not be disturbing redds or incubating eggs at the time of construction, if our construction timing will overlap with incubating eggs," said Trans Mountain fisheries biologist Calum Bonnington, in the company's blog.
In an email, Trans Mountain spokesman Ali Hounsell says the spawning deterrents were considered a "preventive measure" to minimize environmental impacts of construction, adding the company is working on a response to the NEB order.
Greenpeace Canada energy strategist Keith Stewart says it's hard to believe that Trans Mountain owner Kinder Morgan didn't know or failed to check to see if its anti-spawning strategy was allowed.
"Kinder Morgan might be trying to impress their investors by jumping the gun on construction, but they should realize that community members are watching them all along the pipeline route and will continue to flag these kinds of preemptive strikes with governments and regulators," Stewart told National Observer.