Kinder Morgan's so-called "public information sessions" are little more than a dog and pony show.
Billed as an open forum for dialogue regarding the Houston-based company's proposed Trans Mountain pipeline project, sessions like the one last Saturday in North Vancouver fail to even present residents with detailed community-level maps of the pipeline route. How can you provide any meaningful information about a pipeline project without key information that relates to local neighbourhoods?
Worse yet, Kinder Morgan will likely use these sessions to try and say they have adequately consulted with communities about the project. At best, these sessions are focus groups that we are participating in for free.
Rather than supplying valuable information to the public, it seems the company is using this process to extract information from us. They are acting as if they are in the midst of a federal or provincial environmental assessment process but they are not -- they haven't even filed any detailed plans with the National Energy Board. People need to know that there will in fact be a full on consultation process once the company files with the NEB at the end of next year. If the provincial NDP ends up in office, there will also be a "made in B.C." process.
So what can Kinder Morgan definitively say about their plans at this point? Not much. That's why I call it a "focus group." It seems to me these meetings are a way of using concerned citizens to help the company figure out how best to sell the project to the public when they do in fact apply.
In reality, it's unlikely that the pipeline will travel under all the same properties that sit on top of the existing route. If the company means to tell us that they plan to build this pipeline right alongside the existing route, that would mean tearing down people's homes, uprooting local schools, displacing a shopping mall, digging up farms and golf courses and running right through First Nations reserves.
If that is indeed their plan, these boys from Houston really have some chutzpah. The truth is, this pipeline is another proposal about the same size as the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, except that it goes right through the most populated areas of the province … and it seems they don't know exactly where they plan to build it yet.
Ultimately, Kinder Morgan's primary concern is building a pipeline somewhere that connects to the new and existing storage tanks along the existing pipeline route, and then to their existing marine terminal and a brand new loading facility.
This expansion would bring over 300 oil tankers to the Burrard Inlet each year -- a huge jump from the 20 tankers a year that we have traditionally relied on to serve our local oil consumption. Each of these tankers carries three times as much oil as was spilled by the Exxon Valdez, and the bitumen they transport from the oil sands is harder to clean up and blended with dangerous chemicals that become airborne in the event of a spill.
The presence of the old existing Trans Mountain pipeline -- which was built to serve the needs of British Columbians -- is a very different thing than this new proposal. This is not merely the expansion of an existing pipeline. It's intended to facilitate exports and fill the already-deep pockets of American executives. The way this is being presented by Kinder Morgan as a simple “expansion” is misleading and reprehensible given what is at stake.
At the end of the day, both the Kinder Morgan and Enbridge pipelines are gateways to global warming. We need to be on a path to reduced oil consumption, not increased consumption.
These pipelines represent a huge step in the wrong direction for the planet if they are built. But given that Kinder Morgan's "public info sessions" are being held by the company and not by our government, those kinds of concerns aren't even on the table.
Sure they might talk about the issue, but it's not the industry's role to make public policy. However, it is their job to maximize shareholder value for the company.
I urge you to go to these meetings to see the sales pitch and demonstrate your opposition to this proposal and this fake consultation process. We can't let Kinder Morgan bring their dog and pony show to our communities and not respond. Just remember, if you do go into a session don’t fill out the company’s "consultation form" or if you do, make it clear that you don't want to be counted as a person "consulted" -- at least until there is a legitimate process underway.
Ben West is Healthy Communities Campaigner with the Wilderness Committee.
Photo: Wilderness Committee.