Kinder Morgan subsidiary Trans Mountain Pipeline (TMP) owns 50.9 per cent of the corporation that would respond to a marine oil spill in British Columbia, according to TMP’s response to an information request.

The Western Canadian Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) has four other shareholders: Imperial Oil, Shell Canada, Chevron and Suncor.

A spill would certainly mean business and revenue for the WCMRC.

“It is an interesting indicator of how Kinder Morgan feels about the likelihood of a spill if they’re hedging so that they profit off [an oil spill] as well,” said Eugene Kung, a lawyer at West Coast Environmental law (WCEL). In TMP’s original expansion application it stated, “Spill response and clean-up creates business and employment.

TMP wants to expand its existing pipeline system between Strathcona County, Alberta and Burnaby, B.C. This would increase their capacity to move fossil fuels from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels a day. It would also significantly increase tanker traffic on B.C.’s west coast.

The B.C. Liberal government has described the province’s planned spill response as “world-leading.” But, B.C.’s official opposition disagrees. New Democratic Party MLA and Environmental Advocate Spencer Chandra Herbert explained this definition only requires recovering 15 per cent of spilled oil. Herbert also views the current level of public oversight in the province as weak.

Secrecy in emergency response plan

Some citizens, including Lori Waters, a scientific illustrator at Waters Biomedical Communications, are concerned that Kinder Morgan and the National Energy Board are “deliberately hiding” information.

Waters saw that the NEB had removed intervenor Robyn Allan’s electronically filed letter from their website. Allan had outlined Kinder Morgan’s ownership in the WCMRC and sources linking to the TMP response. Waters wrote directly to Allan to acquire the file. Waters called the NEB a “captured regulator” and said that Kinder Morgan must have lobbied to have the information hidden.

During the NEB hearings, Kinder Morgan chose not to share its full emergency response plan with the public.

Kung is concerned over how withholding information affects free, prior and informed consent. Kung explained that this lack of transparency not only affects how citizens could view and respond to the proposal, but also how local First Nation governments would deliberate consent.

Development in Canada requires Aboriginal consent where there is an Aboriginal title claim, unless “justified on the basis of the greater public good,” according to the Supreme Court of Canada. In B.C., most land has never been ceded and remains sovereign Aboriginal land.

“We believe the Board has outlined a fair and efficient review process,” said TMP in an email, “[We] will continue our conversations both within the hearing process and through our public engagement”

Calls for a new environmental assessment process

Both the BC NDP and WCEL want fundamental changes made to the NEB assessment process.

Kung explained that WCEL would like to see a more holistic evaluation. According to Kung, the WCEL supports a process that would include: adequate time to review information, a more meaningful process for testing evidence, to include the affects of climate change and cumulative effects of projects on the land, such as the expansion of the tar sands. They would like the process to provide more meaningful engagement for citizens, business and municipalities, as well as and especially First Nations. Kung said the NEB is facing “a crisis of legitimacy.” 

Herbert shares these criticisms of the NEB, emphasizing the inclusion of climate change as important.

The NDP would like to see the province create its own environmental assessment process. Herbert said that it would be more localized and democratic. He sees the current NEB as a failure.

Last year, BC Hydro’s former CEO Marc Eliesen pulled out of the Trans Mountain hearings, calling the NEB a “fraudulent process” and a “sham” in a letter. He wrote that he was withdrawing to avoid engaging in “public deception.”

On March 23 2015, a group of citizens filed a court case against the NEB, claiming that many important voices were being left out of the process.

Kinder Morgan faces growing opposition

In B.C., the TMP expansion faces vast opposition. Since September 2014, a group named “the Caretakers” has been monitoring for activity in the conservation area of Burnaby Mountain. In October 2014, a lawyer representing Kinder Morgan argued in court that the Caretakers’ facial expressions were a form of “assault.” This lead to a viral response, ranging from activists to Vancouver’s Mayor Gregor Robertson sharing their “KM face.” 

In late November 2014, resistance on Burnaby Mountain captured international attention when hundreds of locals joined the Caretakers on the mountain, demanding a halt to any activity involving Kinder Morgan’s expansion plans. By the end of the month, Kinder Morgan left the mountain.

Texas-based Kinder Morgan is struggling to provide transparency and gain support from the local population.


Tyson Kelsall is a settler of colour, living on occupied xʷməθkwəy̓əm, Skwxwú7mesh, Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ territory. Kelsall’s writing has also appeared in Adbusters,, the Vancouver Observer, Victoria’s Times Colonist, Canada University Press and Follow him online @TysonKelsall.

Photo: flickr/Mark Klotz. Date taken: November 17th, 2014. On Burnaby Mountain.