VANCOUVER (miningweekly.com) – The coalition British Columbia provincial government has moved the goal post for crude oil pipeline operator Kinder Morgan yet again, adding another hurdle to the seemingly insurmountable legal obstacles that stand in the way of the company twinning its existing pipeline between Alberta's oil patch and the Vancouver port.
While proponents for Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Expansion project have argued that the expansion of Canada's ability to reach new markets in Asia needs to be designated as a national priority, the provincial coalition government of British Columbia has again outlined plans to stop the $7.4-billion project in its tracks.
Victoria revealed plans on Tuesday morning to cap the amount of diluted bitumen that can be transported by pipeline or rail until the province can better understand the ability to mitigate spills.
"The potential for a diluted bitumen spill already poses significant risk to our inland and coastal environment and the thousands of existing tourism and marine harvesting jobs. British Columbians rightfully expect their government to defend BC's coastline and our inland waterways, and the economic and environmental interests that are so important to the people in our province, and we are working hard to do just that," said Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman.
The announcement came as part of government's second phase of regulations to improve preparedness, response and recovery from oil spills.
The first phase of the regulations, approved in October 2017, established a standard of preparedness, response and recovery necessary to protect British Columbia's environment. With some exceptions for provincial oil and gas-regulated entities, the Phase 1 regulations apply to pipelines transporting any quantity of liquid petroleum products, as well as rail or trucking operations transporting more than 10 000 ℓ of liquid petroleum products. This effectively places a moratorium on any new bitumen projects in the province.
The provincial government said it would establish an independent scientific advisory panel to make recommendations to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy on whether heavy oils can be safely transported and cleaned up, if spilled, and how.
The announcement is a kick in the teeth for Kinder Morgan, which previously received the green light to proceed with construction from the federal and previous Liberal British Columbia government.
The coalition government led by the New Democratic Party-led government and supported by the BC Green Party has previously outlined plans to stop Kinder Morgan.
Government announced that it had retained Thomas Berger (QC, OC, OBC) as external counsel to government in the legal actions related to the pipeline expansion project. He took over as lead counsel in the province's response to the court challenge brought by the Squamish Nation over the provincial approval of the project, and will advise the province on efforts to intervene in legal hearings surrounding the federal government's approval of Trans Mountain.
Their project has stoked the ire of its detractors, attracting no fewer than 19 legal challenges against the project, which allege that the federal and provincial decisions to approve Trans Mountain were made unconstitutionally.
The project, which involves twinning the existing 1 150 km pipeline from near Edmonton to Burnaby, would triple its capacity to carry 890 000 bbl/d of oil and could create some 15 000 jobs. The expansion would see three times more bitumen moved daily to the British Columbia coast and a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic.
Alberta's NDP Premier Rachel Notley slammed the British Columbia decision to limit the shipment of bitumen from the oil sands.
"Having run out of tools in the toolbox, the government of British Columbia is now grasping at straws. The BC government has every right to consult on whatever it pleases with its citizens. It does not have the right to rewrite our Constitution and assume powers for itself that it does not have. If it did, our Confederation would be meaningless," Notley said in a statement.
She added that the announcement "can only be seen for what it is: political game-playing. But it's a game that could have serious consequences for the jobs and livelihoods of millions of Canadians who count on their governments to behave rationally and within their scope of authority".
Canada supplies about 40% of US crude imports, giving it, as the fourth-largest oil producer in the world, far greater exposure to the largest crude consumer, ahead of top producers Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. But it needs to access new markets across the Pacific to wean it from its dependency on US trade, especially with a possible trade war brewing between the long-standing economic partners.
BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver took to Twitter to welcome the announcement.
"I am pleased to see Minister Heyman putting evidence and science front and centre in decision-making, where it belongs," said Weaver in a statement.
Greenpeace Canada responded by declaring the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion project dead.
"Today's announcement is a major blow to Kinder Morgan. The province is proposing what is, in essence, a temporary moratorium on new bitumen exports. We know bitumen and water don't mix; when the scientific panel comes to the same conclusion, Kinder Morgan will be the owner of a brand new pipeline with no 'on' switch," said climate and energy campaigner Mike Hudema in a statement.