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The National Energy Board announced on Thursday that Kinder Morgan can begin construction of its Trans Mountain pipeline expansion at the Burnaby Mountain tunnel entrance. The construction work is subject to other federal, provincial and municipal permits.
The NEB's decision allows the Texas-based energy company to begin clearing and grading work at the entrance to the Burnaby Mountain tunnel on its Westridge Marine Terminal property to avoid potential impacts on migratory birds that might use the area later in the spring.
The decision comes as a setback to the City of Burnaby, which has opposed the pipeline expansion project for years and argued against it at the NEB hearings in January to examine its route. The project, if built, will expand the existing Trans Mountain pipeline to move up to 890,000 barrels of petroleum products including diluted bitumen a day from Alberta to Burnaby. The Burnaby Mountain area has been a particularly contested part of the pipeline expansion route, due to being an ecologically sensitive area, as well as its proximity to Simon Fraser University campus. In 2014, Burnaby Mountain was the site of large protests over the pipeline expansion, during which over 100 people were arrested.
The federal government approved the Trans Mountain expansion in November 2016, subject to 157 environmental, financial and technical conditions. In an interview on Tuesday with National Observer, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Trans Mountain expansion was “part of the equation” as early as 2015 in order to bring Alberta on board with a national climate framework.
Despite federal approval, Kinder Morgan has expressed frustration with opposition from municipalities like Burnaby, which it said had slowed down the pipeline construction schedule by months. Last October, a Kinder Morgan Canada executive said in an affidavit that the company could lose more than $90 million per month due to its struggles with the bylaws of the City of Burnaby in British Columbia.
In a recent escalation of the controversy, the B.C. government announced measures in January that could result in restrictions on diluted bitumen transiting through the province, a move widely seen as an effort to hinder the pipeline expansion.
'Pleased' with the decision
A media representative for Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain project said the company was "pleased" with the National Energy Board's decision.
The National Energy Board has allowed Kinder Morgan to start construction on the Burnaby Mountain tunnel entrance for its Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
"The decision to build the 2.6 km tunnel through Burnaby Mountain connecting Burnaby Terminal to Westridge Marine Terminal was based on feedback from local residents received through our engagement and as part of the regulatory process," the company said in an email. "Tunnel construction will cause no disruption to the surface of Burnaby Mountain and will avoid construction through residential neighbourhoods and city streets. The decision enables us to begin clearing and grading work at the entrance of the Burnaby Mountain tunnel, or portal, at our Westridge Marine Terminal property to avoid potential impacts on migratory birds that could use that area later in the spring, so we’ll be looking at when we can begin that work."
City of Burnaby lawyer Gregory McDade, who presented lengthy arguments against the project at previous NEB hearings, said today's NEB approval may override the City's objections to construction.
"In theory Burnaby’s bylaws and permits continue to apply," McDade told National Observer. "But the NEB has also ruled in December that any bylaw that interferes with the pipeline or delays construction will be ruled by them as unconstitutional."
He added that because the tunnel construction entrances are on the company's property, with the rest being built underground, not many bylaws would be involved.
To date, nearly 56 per cent of the entire detailed route has been approved by the NEB.