Photo: Ian Stephen

Chilliwack may be a small B.C. community, but it has a big problem with Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion.

The existing Kinder Morgan pipeline, operating since 1953, currently carries 300,000 barrels per day through Chilliwack’s drinking water and various water bodies, which are the home of culturally significant fish. Kinder Morgan wants to revive mothballed portions of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, as well as build a new twin pipeline, increasing the capacity of the system to 890,000 barrels per day. The proposal is currently being reviewed by the National Energy Board (NEB).

There has been extensive media coverage on the resistance Kinder Morgan has faced on the part of activists and city officials in Vancouver and Burnaby. However, the Texas-based oil giant is not getting a much warmer reception in Chilliwack, where community organizers are rallying support to protect drinking water and fish habitat from the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion.

Community group steps up to take on Kinder Morgan

Despite the risks associated with Kinder Morgan’s existing and proposed pipeline expansion, the City of Chilliwack opted to be minimally involved in the Trans Mountain assessment. Community groups, such as Chilliwack-based WaterWealth Project are picking up the slack.

“[It is] imperative that WaterWealth engage as an intervenor to protect the water our community relies on,” says Ian Stephen, a community organizer with WaterWealth, since the City choose to engage only as a commenter in the process.

The city could have asked for intervenor status in the process too. That would mean that Chilliwack, like the cities of Vancouver, Burnaby, Victoria and others which have intervenor status, would have the capacity to request additional information from the NEB and provide more substantive input in the process.

Intervener status in the Trans Mountain hearings hasn’t necessarily set the bar high for meaningful consultation, however.

High-profile interveners, namely the former head of BC Hydro Marc Eliesen and the former president and CEO of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, Robyn Allen, have relinquished their status as intervenors.

In separate letters to the NEB they called the Trans Mountain process “fraudulent” and “predetermined.”

Likewise, the cities of Burnaby and Vancouver have each complained publicly about not having their questions answered adequately or at all. In March, seven B.C. mayors signed a joint declaration of non-confidence in the NEB process.

Even B.C.’s Liberal government has been left in the dark, with the NEB helping to keep Kinder Morgan’s emergency spill response plans shrouded in secrecy. Kinder Morgan did however willingly provide its Trans Mountain oil spill response to Washington State.

Stephen notes that the lack of quality in the NEB process has much to do with the Harper government’s gutting of environmental hearings in Canada.

“The NEB review process was changed during the Northern Gateway hearings with restrictions on who could take part and with unrealistic timelines,” says Stephen. “We see the result in this Trans Mountain process where many with concerns were refused participation and deadlines for stages of the process have to keep being pushed back as they can’t be met by anyone involved.”

The federal Conservatives’ “tough on nature” regulatory reforms have drawn extensive criticism. In hearings such as Trans Mountain, it’s apparent that the NEB has a minimized capacity to protect the environment. 

“The power to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to projects was taken from the NEB, so that now the panel can only make a recommendation and final say lies with the federal cabinet. The only way the NEB panel can be sure of having any influence on the project is to give a recommendation of “yes with conditions,” so the outcome of the hearing process is predetermined.”

Trading money for risk

Another issue haunting the Trans Mountain process has been the ethics of various ‘Memoriums of Understanding’ (MOU) that Kinder Morgan has been forging with municipalities and First Nations along the pipeline route. Generally, MOUs stipulate that Kinder Morgan will offer large amounts of money to affected regional governments, if the project is approved.

The City of Chilliwack was offered $800,000 from Kinder Morgan for a new pedestrian bridge. WaterWealth Project organized its supporters to demand that Chilliwack City Council defer any agreement with Kinder Morgan until after the Trans Mountain process is finished, as Stephen suggests that a money-upon-approval agreement creates a conflict of interest.

“Imagine a court hearing where a witness enters the courtroom and one of the litigants in the case approaches the witness and says ‘This doesn’t affect your testimony at all, but here’s $800,000 for you if this case happens to go my way.’ That in effect is what happened between Kinder Morgan and the City of Chilliwack.”

After some intense back and forth, a motion put forth by Councillors Jason Lum and Sue Attrill to defer approval of Chilliwack and Kinder Morgan’s MOU until after the conclusion of the Kinder Morgan process was carried.

As of April, Kinder Morgan reported that they had secured 12 MOU agreements in 15 communities.

In February of this year, Kinder Morgan claimed it had reached 20 agreements with First Nations along the pipeline route, and was in talks with 30-40 others. The company refused to disclose which First Nations it claimed had signed agreements, though it acknowledged that the Tsleil-Waututh Nation wouldn’t speak with Kinder Morgan.

The Tsleil-Waututh have recently denied approval for Trans Mountain to proceed on its territory, and are threatening legal action if their decision is not respected.


Steve Cornwell is interested in social movements, science and technology. Steve has worked on energy issues with Greenpeace Canada, Environmental Defense, Safe and Green Energy Peterborough, and Find him on Twitter @steve_cornwell

Photo: Ian Stephen

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated Kinder Morgan has secured 15 MOU agreements in 12 communities.