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Intervenors pepper pipeline firm with questions

An oil tanker in Burrard Inlet approaches Kinder Morgan
An oil tanker in Burrard Inlet approaches Kinder Morgan's Westridge Marine Terminal in north Burnaby.
— image credit: File

The provincial government has filed 70 questions for Kinder Morgan about its proposed Trans Mountain oil pipeline twinning and that request for information is slender compared to others.

Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver has lodged his own submission that poses nearly 500 questions to the company.

The City of Burnaby, another intervenor demanding answers as part of the National Energy Board review, has filed a 300-page request containing 1,500 questions.

Topping Burnaby's list is a demand to know what alternative terminal sites Kinder Morgan could use instead of greatly expanding the petroleum tank farm at the Westridge Marine Terminal on Burrard Inlet.

Asked if that means pushing for a different terminal in Surrey or Delta, with tankers instead entering the Fraser River, Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan pointed to the U.S., noting Kinder Morgan already has a spur pipeline running to refineries in Washington State.

"We want to know if they considered places like Cherry Point that are already well-equipped to move oil," Corrigan said.

He said that site just across the U.S. border would shorten the amount of pipeline required and eliminate project impacts in Metro Vancouver.

"I know there is already a holding tank farm in Sumas. That type of location is far easier to accommodate expansion than the top of Burnaby Mountain."

As for whether Burnaby's list of questions is excessive, Corrigan noted Kinder Morgan's project application is 15,000 pages long.

"One question for every 10 pages is probably reasonable."

The province's questions target land and marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery systems.

"We are asking the company to provide more detail than is contained in their application so that we can continue our analysis of the extent to which they will deliver the world-class systems that we require," Environment Minister Mary Polak said.

She promised a "very thorough" defence of B.C. interests and its five conditions for new heavy oil pipelines. Those conditions include "world-leading" spill safeguards as well as resolution of aboriginal issues and a "fair share" share of economic benefits for the province.

Unlike the NEB's marathon hearings into Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline across northern B.C. to Kitimat, the revised federal process no longer allows oral cross-examination of witnesses.

Polak said the province had to shift its strategy to using detailed information requests as  result.

The $5.4-billion project would nearly triple Kinder Morgan's pipeline capacity to 890,000 barrels of oil per day and greatly increase the number of tankers passing through Vancouver harbour.

Weaver, the Green MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, said he has many unanswered questions on the science Kinder Morgan has relied on in the event a tanker ruptures and releases diluted bitumen.

He said the project application relied on tank experiments done on land in Alberta that didn't reflect real ocean conditions, and ignored new federal findings that dilbit may sink when exposed to water carrying suspended silt – conditions common on the B.C. coast.

"The bottom line is they simply have no idea what would happen if dilbit were to spill in the ocean," Weaver said. "Not at all. It's just wild speculation."

He said B.C. Greens are pushing for a sixth provincial condition that rules out tanker transport of dilbit.

A pledge of world-class spill response for dilbit is meaningless, Weaver said, because the situation is unique to B.C.

Kinder Morgan is to file responses by June 13.

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