The British Columbia provincial government has monkey-wrenched the start of construction for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, announcing Thursday that it is taking legal and administrative steps to stop the project.
At issue is inadequate consultation by developer Kinder Morgan with First Nations, said George Heyman, Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister, in a news conference in Victoria.
The company must complete consultations with First Nations on several environmental aspects of the project not yet addressed, and may not begin work on public land until it does so, Heyman said.
“Until that has been completed, Kinder Morgan, with the exception of some private land and some clearing of right of way, cannot put shovels in the ground,” Heyman said, according to a transcript of the news conference.
Kinder Morgan wants to twin an existing pipeline from Alberta to carry tar-sands oil to the coast for export. It was not immediately clear where and how the B.C. government’s push back ultimately will effect Kinder Morgan’s construction schedule for the $7.4 billion project, set to begin Sept. 12.
The government also will seek to join in legal challenges to the federal approval of the pipeline last year, Heyman said. Hearings are scheduled to begin on those cases later in the fall.
Stephanie Buffum, executive director of Friends of the San Juans, a nonprofit preservation group, was encouraged by the news from just across Haro Strait. “What I saw was a big bold first step saying ‘No, we are not done with this process.’ ”
Multiple First Nations and municipalities filed legal challenges against the project, which would triple the capacity for transport of diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands fields and greatly expand the Kinder Morgan marine oil shipping terminal at Burnaby, just outside Vancouver.
In Washington, the Tulalip Tribes, Suquamish tribe, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and Lummi Nation have joined to fight the project.
At the root of the conflict is the ministry’s overall opposition to the project because it will increase by seven times tanker traffic in the Salish Sea – the saltwater between the U.S. and Canada, including Puget Sound.
Ian Anderson, president of Kinder Morgan Canada Limited, said the company would work with the government to resolve its concerns.
“We are committed to working with the province and permitting authorities in our ongoing process of seeking and obtaining necessary permits and permissions,” Anderson said in a written statement. “We have undertaken thorough, extensive and meaningful consultations with Aboriginal Peoples, communities and individuals and remain dedicated to those efforts and relationships as we move forward with construction activities in September.”
In Washington, the Tulalip Tribes, Suquamish tribe, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and Lummi Nation have joined to fight the project. Many Washington conservation groups also oppose it, out of concern for oil spills and survival of the endangered southern resident killer whale, which transits the area of the oil tanker route.
Increased tanker traffic is at the heart of the B.C. government’s concern as well.
“Our government made it clear that a sevenfold increase in heavy oil tankers in the Vancouver harbor is not in B.C.’s best interests,” Heyman said at the news conference in Victoria. “Nor for our economy, our environment or thousands of existing jobs.”
Canada’s National Energy Board recommended approval of the project last May after a lengthy review, subject to 157 conditions. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved the expansion last November.