Why Kinder Morgan's B.C. pipeline plans will fail

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A Vancouver protest earlier this year against the Kinder Morgan pipeline. (Photo: http://wildernesscommittee.org)

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Kinder Morgan Canada President Ian Anderson's editorial, "Pipeline hinges on relationships", in the Vancouver Sun was a thing of beauty.

Great job Ian, you couldn't ask for a friendlier Canadian face to be put on a Texas oil billionaire's company. Richard Kinder is in fact the real driving force behind what is, as he explains it, the world's biggest pipeline company next to the government of Russia. So I guess Kinder Morgan can afford some of the slickest PR campaigns and a friendly Canuck as their local front man. But if we are going to have a sincere conversation about relationships, then shouldn't we talk about who we are really getting in bed with?

According to Forbes, Rich Kinder is the 110th richest man alive with over $8 billion in personal net worth. And, make no mistake about it, this pipeline from Alberta to Canada's Pacific coast is a crown jewel in his empire.

Currently, the pipeline Kinder Morgan bought in 2005 - the Trans Mountain Pipeline - is the only way oil from the tar sands is getting to export markets via the Pacific coast. With the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline mired in controversy, Kinder Morgan thinks their company can sneak hundreds of tankers through Vancouver's harbour.

Kinder Morgan representatives love to say they have safely been shipping oil through the Trans Mountain Pipeline for 60 years. Although I am sure Mr. Kinder was already dreaming of being a captain of industry when he was eight years old, the truth is the company only bought the pipeline less than a decade ago.

Since then, they have had a number of unfortunate incidents including the Burnaby oil spill in 2007, two oil spills at their Sumas Mountain pump station in Abbotsford and a fire at the Cherry Point refinery in Washington state. In fact, in the short lifetime of the company Kinder Morgan has acquired what has been described as "a lengthy record of pipeline and workplace safety violations."

The company was purchased by Mr. Kinder as part of his exodus from the notorious Enron Corporation. The original name of the company was Enron Liquids Pipeline LLP. The Wall Street Journal called Mr. Kinder "the luckiest ex-Enron employee", as his predecessors languish in prison while he acquires more and more personal power.

Well Richard Kinder's luck is about to run out, because I don't think this new Kinder Morgan pipeline will ever be built. It is hard for the company to keep its plans out of the public eye at this point, as much of the existing route goes under what are now heavily populated areas.

Just because our grandparents allowed a pipeline to go through our families' backyards to bring oil to the people of B.C. doesn't mean that we will welcome this new pipeline for the sake of export through our property today.

Kinder Morgan has not yet released a map of their proposed pipeline route; in fact, they don't even provide maps of the existing pipeline route. In his editorial, Anderson assured residents that he "doesn't anticipate" final routing to cross any backyards. But if you take a look at the map MP Kennedy Stewart has produced for Burnaby, it's quite striking. In that area, it appears the pipeline could go right through a number of residential properties. In fact Stewart expects it will mean the displacement of a great number of families. The only other option Kinder Morgan would have would be to divert the pipeline far off its original course, making it much harder to call this a simple "twinning" of their existing pipeline.

If this company wants to have an honest dialogue with us based on facts, why don't they tell the public that this is in fact a whole new pipeline, comparable in size to the Northern Gateway Pipeline? Why don't they point out that they intend to transform what was once a pipeline route for local consumption to a major export route for diluted bitumen, which is vastly more dangerous than the lighter petroleum products that the Trans Mountain Pipeline has historically transported?

If this Texas-based Big Oil billionaire's company wants to turn the Vancouver Harbour into its very own tar sands oil gateway, then they will need to deal with the gatekeepers, the people of British Columbia.

There is a reason this is the birthplace of David Suzuki and Greenpeace. B.C. is an ecological wonderland and its people are passionate defenders of the natural world. It's poetic that this is the last line of defence between the tar sands and the Asia-Pacific region's unhealthy oil cravings.

It doesn't matter how much money Richard Kinder has, he is messing with the wrong people. Richard Kinder has met his match.


Ben West is an environmental activist in Vancouver, BC, and the Healthy Communities Campaigner for the Wilderness Committee. 

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