The B.C. government says it can't support the proposed $6.8-billion expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby.

In a written brief to the National Energy Board, the B.C. government argues that the pipeline's proponent, Kinder Morgan, has not provided an adequate plan to prevent or respond to an oil spill.

"During the course of the NEB review, the company has not provided enough information around its proposed spill prevention and response for the province to determine if it would use a world-leading spills regime," a government statement said.

"Because of this the province is unable to support the project at this time, based on the evidence submitted."

If approved by the federal government, the Trans Mountain expansion project would twin the 60-year-old pipeline, which runs 1,150-kilometre from the Alberta oilsands to a marine terminal in Burnaby.

The expansion project would nearly triple the pipeline's carrying capacity.

In a release, the B.C. government noted that in 2012, it laid out five conditions the project would have to meet before it would be permitted in the province.

The expansion project failed to meet any of those conditions, Environment Minister Mary Polak noted on Monday morning.

"This is about the test that would allow this pipeline to go forward," Polak said.

"We're saying that at this time in the NEB process, they [Kinder Morgan] have not met it. It does not close the door on them meeting that test potentially in the future."

 Can meet conditions, pipeline says

In a statement, Kinder Morgan said it's confident that it can meet B.C.'s five conditions. But in order to do that, it needs support from "multiple parties.

"‚ÄčThe conditions related to world-leading marine oil spill response, recovery and prevention, addressing Aboriginal treaty rights and B.C. receiving its "fair share" are all conditions that require multiple parties to come to the table and work together," the statement said.

The 2012 conditions included:

  • Successful completion of the environmental review process.
  • World-leading marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery systems for B.C.'s coastline and ocean to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy-oil pipelines and shipments.
  • World-leading practices for land oil spill prevention, response and recovery systems to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy-oil pipelines.
  • Legal requirements regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights are addressed, and First Nations are provided with the opportunities, information and resources necessary to participate in and benefit from a heavy-oil project.
  • British Columbia receives a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits of a proposed heavy-oil project that reflect the level, degree and nature of the risk borne by the province, the environment and taxpayers.

The project is awaiting approval from the National Energy Board, which expects to make a recommendation to the federal government by May.

Sparked protests

The proposed expansion has sparked protests on Burnaby Mountain where Trans Mountain has begun test drilling. The city of Vancouver, Burnaby and some First Nations groups have all opposed the project, saying they're concerned about the effects of a potential spill.

Monday's government announcement was applauded by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who described the decision as "very welcome news" in a statement.

 "A seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic through Vancouver's local waters is simply not worth the immense risks posed to our economy and environment in the event of a major oil spill," Robertson said.

The B.C.-based Living Oceans Society echoed Robertson, saying studies show it's difficult to remove bitumen that has been spilled in the water.

 "We've been saying all along that the evidence indicates that diluted bitumen can submerge or sink, especially in fresh or brackish waters," said Karen Wristen, the society's executive director.

 "Once it does that, it can't be confined or skimmed off the surface the way conventional spill response equipment works."

However, NDP MLA David Eby said the government has been inconsistent on the pipeline.

"Supporting it going forward, then not supporting it and now maybe supporting it," Eby said. "They have been incredibly inconsistent on this and that's no helpful."