Contributed by Robert Lyman©2019
Robert Lyman is an Ottawa energy policy consultant, former public servant and diplomat. His full bio is here.
Stand.earth recently published a report that allegedly offers the Canadian public information about what the construction of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project Will Look Like and its social and ecological impacts. Entitled, Seven Construction Hotspots: An Overview, the report claims to be the results of research into information “buried in the National Energy Board website”.
While the report states that it will identify fundamental problems with the pipeline, it does nothing of the sort. Those who seek insights into the environmental aspects of the project will find no more insights than those who want to know more about the economic and social benefits of the projects, which are deliberately ignored. The report amounts to no more than a cherry-picking of a few environmental issues identified during the National Energy Board’s lengthy and exhaustive review of all aspects of the project in order to find a few that might be described as not fully resolved – that is, if one ignores the evidence or the process.
Before examining the so-called hotspots, it would help to provide the background.
What does this project entail?
The project involves the expansion of an existing oil pipeline system that runs from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, British Columbia, at which point some of the crude oil would be loaded onto tankers at the Westridge Marine Terminal where it would be delivered to markets throughout the west coast of North America and the Pacific Rim. This pipeline system has operated for 65 years, since 1953.
The project would result in the looping (or twinning) of the existing 1,147 km Trans Mountain Pipeline (TMPL) system with about 987 km of new buried pipeline. The older pipeline would be designated Line 1. The proposed new pipeline segments, along with two currently active segments, would become Line 2.
The existing pipeline now transports both crude oil and refined petroleum products to British Columbia and export markets in the Puget Sound area as well as California. Today, British Columbia receives over half of its motor gasoline supplies from Alberta via TMPL; the dedication of Line 1 exclusively to refined oil products would increase the security and flexibility of refined oil product supply to British Columbia consumers. In total, the project would increase the capacity of the TMPL system from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels per day of crude oil and refined products.
Currently, the Westridge Terminal loads about five oil tankers per month with crude oil delivered by TMPL; this has been occurring for decades. The proposed expanded system would increase the number of tanker loads to about 34 per month, or just over one per day.
Which organizations reviewed the proposal?
The project has been reviewed and approved by the National Energy Board (NEB) and the marine portion has been reviewed and approved by the Transport Canada-led TERMPOL Review Process. Based on the recommendation by the NEB, the federal Cabinet approved the project, and on May 19 2016 the NEB issued a certificate of public convenience and necessity, confirming the project is in Canada’s national interest and is authorized to proceed to construction. The NEB reasons for decision can be read here:
The British Columbia Environmental Assessment Office on January 11 2017 issued an Environmental Assessment Certificate for the project, subject to an additional 37 conditions. The B.C. announcement of this can be read here:
What did the National Energy Board do?
The National Energy Board conducted an extensive review of every aspect of the project in accordance with its requirements under the National Energy Board Act, which requires it to conduct a review based on the Canadian public interest. These subjects included an evaluation of the potential benefits and burdens of the project throughout its entire life cycle, from pre-construction through construction and operation to eventual decommissioning. The topics covered included the need for the pipeline, the safety and engineering integrity of the facilities, the approach to be taken to land acquisition and construction, the economic and financial issues, the impacts on communities and on aboriginal people, and the effects of shipping, among others. The National Energy Board was also responsible to evaluate the project under the Canadian Environment Assessment Act and so it examined the effects of the pipeline on a host of environmental aspects, including air, land and water as well as wildlife; it also reviewed the TMPL plans to avoid accidents that might cause spills and to take rapid action to clean up and remediate any spills that do occur.
In carrying out this almost four-and-a-half year review (three years longer that federal guidelines provide for), the NEB collected many thousands of pages of background documentation on all aspects of the project’s design, construction and operation, as well as on the efforts of the pipeline sponsor to consult with affected groups and communities. The NEB’s report alone runs to 553 pages and addresses hundreds of issues, almost all of which were pored over at length during hearings that involved many different intervenors representing dozens of different groups. The report provides an extremely high level of transparency, in that every issue raised by project opponents is addressed, and a reason given for the decision taken by the NEB panel in conducting the review.
How was the public engaged in this process?
Before applying to the National Energy Board, TMPL held many meetings with communities, landowners and aboriginal people who lived along the route and who might be affected by the project. After the application was filed, the NEB then took many steps to ensure that those who could be potentially affected by the project were aware of it and knew how they could get involved in the review. Over the course of its three and a half years of proceedings, the Board provided over $3 million in participant funding to eligible interveners; 79% of this funding was offered to Aboriginal groups.
There were 400 interveners in the review process. In addition, over 1,600 people participated in hearings and 1,250 submitted comments. The Board held public hearing sessions in Edmonton, Calgary, Chilliwack, Kamloops and Victoria.
From 2012 to the end of the review process, TMPL had tens of thousands of exchanges with stakeholders through face-to-face meetings, presentations, public forums, technical meetings, community meetings, social media and other means. It held 159 open houses along the pipeline and marine corridors, more than 1,700 meetings with stakeholder groups, and responded to 1,500 emails, 950 media inquiries and 430 media interviews.
How many conditions did the NEB attach?
The NEB approved the certificate subject to 157 conditions covering the environment, people and lands, engineering and safety, marine traffic, emergency preparedness and regulatory oversight. These conditions are intended to ensure that TMPL’s commitments, plans and programs discussed during the regulatory review are in place so that the Board can assure compliance in future.
What Did Stand.earth Do?
Stand-earth identified, from among the hundreds, if not thousands, of project details dealt with by the NEB and Transport Canada precisely ten issues that its “experts” felt were not adequately handled. These include:
- The risk of a tanker collision in Burrard Inlet
- The potential effects of a fire at Burrard Tank Farm
- The potential for “man-camps” to give rise to “sexual violence” against women in nearby communities
- The need for study of geological fault lines near Burnaby Mountain Tunnel
- The risk of an oil spill at the Fraser River pipeline crossing
- The use of floating roof tanks in an earthquake zone
- The alleged failure of the pipeline sponsor to consider “historical precedent”
- The adverse effects of an oil spill on human health
- The alleged failure of the pipeline sponsor to adequately consult with aboriginals.
What Should We Make of This?
When an environmental organization like Stand-earth raises technical issues about proposed pipeline projects, what is the Canadian public supposed to do? The issues involved are invariably ones that can only be well understood, debated and resolved by experts – engineers, biologists, geologists, hydrologists, and others, as well as by the lawyers, economists and many advisors to the project sponsor and the authorized government regulatory agencies whose job it is to get things right. The public, in other words, cannot properly judge whether Stand.earth’s complaints are justified.
That is why, for sixty years, the Government of Canada has used the National Energy Board as the body to carry out such reviews on the public’s behalf. The NEB has operated as an independent, arms’-length, expert body that has a professional staff and uses quasi-judicial procedures to gather and test on the record all the evidence related to the application before it. The value of the NEB has resided not only in its independence and technical competence by in the fact that it is non-partisan, i.e. not influenced by the policies of the political party that happens to be in power at the time the case is heard.
Organizations like Stand.earth have done everything they can to discredit the National Energy Board so that the public will not have an independent agency to decide where the public interest lies. They do not want independent, professional and non-partisan judgements about pipelines or other energy projects. Instead, they want to appeal to those who lack expertise and objectivity or are politically opposed to all energy development to substitute bias for professional judgement.
People who want to know all about the Trans Mountain Expansion Project can read all about it and how the issues have been examined by reading the NEB’s decision.
As for Stand.earth’s report, don’t waste your time.
Chatelaine Magazine Mar. 15, 2019
Tzeporah Berman has been instrumental in delaying or stopping 21 oil projects. Her next target: the Trans Mountain pipeline.