Disputes over the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline should be settled in court, B.C.’s environment minister said Tuesday.
“Where there is a dispute, we’re going to court. That’s where disputes should be settled, not by threats, coercion and intimidation,” George Heyman said in an interview. “I’m frankly very disappointed at the noise that we’ve been hearing around retaliatory action. If they have a problem with what we’re doing, do what we do. Go to court to settle the dispute.”
Tension has been rising since Kinder Morgan announced Sunday that it would stop all non-essential spending on the $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, saying opposition by the province of B.C. is putting shareholder resources at risk.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the project is in the national interest and will be built, while Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has said her province could cut off B.C. from Alberta oil supplies. Federal cabinet ministers met Tuesday to discuss options and there has been speculation that Alberta or the federal government could invest in, buy or insure the pipeline to prevent losses to Kinder Morgan shareholders.
If Alberta or the federal government invest in or buy the Kinder Morgan pipeline, B.C.’s approach won’t change, Heyman said.
“Our approach is based on protecting B.C.’s economic and environmental interests through all the appropriate regulatory authorities,” Heyman said. “We’ve been clear we don’t think the project is in B.C.’s best interest – that it comes at great risk with virtually no benefit.”
British Columbia gets most of its gasoline from Alberta via the Trans Mountain pipeline and 10 per cent of it from Washington State, according to the National Energy Board. Heyman does not think Alberta is legally able to cut off B.C.’s gasoline supply.
“All the advice we have is that under Canada’s trade agreement, … there is absolutely no way Alberta can lawfully cut off oil to B.C. without cutting off to the entire country of Canada,” Heyman said. “They have to treat all provinces equally and we will be very aggressive.”
If Alberta or the federal government decide to take an ownership stake in the pipeline, that’s their decision, Heyman said.
“British Columbians expect us to stand up for our environment and our jurisdiction to do that and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.
Kinder Morgan has said it will wait until May 31 to see if a solution can be found.
Supporters say the pipeline expansion, which would triple the capacity of the existing pipeline, would fuel growth in the oil industry, create thousands of jobs and millions in new tax revenue, while opponents say it would put the coastline at risk and push Canada's climate change goals out of reach. Dozens of people have been arrested in the past month for breaching a court injunction requiring a five-metre no-go zone around the company's operations.
Heyman urges Alberta and the federal government to work within the country's legal system.
“In February, B.C. threatened regulations to restrict an increase in diluted bitumen from any new pipelines in its borders in response to Kinder Morgan's plan," Heyman said. "Alberta responded with a ban on B.C. wine. B.C. then backed off and said it would send a reference question to the courts to see if it has the right to impose environmental restrictions on oil.”
The B.C. government has retained lawyer Joseph Arvey to prepare and present this new case, which looks at the right of the province to protect its land, coast and waters. The case will be ready for filing in court this spring and an announcement is coming “very soon,” Heyman said.
There are at least four other cases opposing the pipeline that are before the courts, including three in which the cases have already been heard and are waiting for judgment and one that is being appealed by the City of Burnaby.
The first case, concerning the National Energy Board’s approval of the project, was heard at the Federal Courts in Vancouver in October 2017 and was brought by First Nations, the Cities of Vancouver and Burnaby and two environmental organizations. The province was granted intervenor status.
Another case, which was heard in Vancouver in November, was raised by the Squamish Nation against the province’s approval of an Environmental Assessment Certificate for the project. The City of Vancouver also sought to set aside the Environmental Assessment Certificate. The province defended its approval of the Environmental Assessment Certificate in the first case, but took no position in the City of Vancouver case.
The City of Burnaby and B.C. filed an appeal of a National Energy Board decision to allow Trans Mountain to bypass Burnaby’s zoning and tree bylaws. The Federal Court of Appeal did not accept this appeal, however Burnaby has said it will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Although the province is fighting the pipeline in court, it is also taking measures in case the pipeline is built.
“We are working ahead to ensure that if this pipeline proceeds and nothing changes in terms of the approval, that we can take the measures here in British Columbia to make it as safe as possible from the perspective of prevention of spills and that in the event one happens, which of course, we don’t want to see, that we have appropriate response and recovery times,” Heyman said.
Washington State also has concerns about the pipeline, Heyman said.
“Governor (Jay) Inslee of Washington State has been very clear in that he thinks the increase in tanker traffic is a threat to all jurisdictions that border the Salish Sea and that includes Washington State,” Heyman said. “He's spoken out about that, but this is a Canadian issue. If it’s an issue that Washington needs to deal with, they need to deal internationally with the government of Canada.”
In the meantime, the province is also doing what it can to prepare for the pipeline, if it is built.
“We have said we want to review the existing science and any new science to ensure what we can do to extend the greatest protection to B.C.’s coastline and inland waters,” Heyman said.
The province is setting up a scientific advisory panel to make recommendations about safety measures that should be in place to protect B.C.’s coastline, groundwater, inland rivers and lakes, Heyman said.
“We are working on terms of reference as well as the participants,” Heyman said. “We’ve been having ongoing discussions with the federal government, because they’re doing research at the same time. Despite all of the public statements, we take our relationship with the federal government seriously and whenever there is a change to work together, we welcome that.”
Tracy Sherlock writes about the B.C. government for National Observer. Send her news tips and story ideas to [email protected].