British Columbia·Analysis

All over but the bitumen: why B.C. voters aren't done arguing about Trans Mountain's pipeline

Final approval of the $6.8-million Trans Mountain expansion project, Jan. 11, sets in motion plans to start laying physical pipe, promising another round of polarized debates heading into the May election.

'There are just some messes you can’t clean up,' says NDP Leader John Horgan

NDP Leader John Horgan holds a Smuckers jam jar he says is full of heavy oil or diluted bitumen given to him by a man in Hope B.C. two years ago. (CBC)

Final approval of the $6.8-million Trans Mountain expansion project this week sets in motion plans to start laying pipe by fall.

But with a May 9 election looming, pipeline posturing is getting more theatrical and almost as toxic as the bitumen it's bringing.

Despite detractors and a dense thicket of legal challenges, Kinder Morgan is forging ahead with the project, which will triple the pipeline's capacity.

Next steps

This week, Trans Mountain met five B.C. conditions to protect against spills, which included a federal promise of a Canada-wide $1.5-billion fund for Coast Guard response.

Expansion begins in select site along the 1,150-kilometre Trans Mountain pipeline between Alberta and B.C. in the fall of 2017. It's expected to be complete by 2019. (Trans Mountain/Kinder Morgan)

Now the expansion has approval a plan is set to be filed with the National Energy Board (NEB), which will map the pipeline corridor, down to land parcels.

Affected landowners then have 30 days to raise "legitimate objections," and construction could begin by September 2017 and be completed by 2019.

Boon or bitumen risk?

A total of 15,000 workers — with the promise many will be British Columbian — will build it.

The project promises to deliver $46.7 billion into government coffers across Canada — and $500 million to $1 billion to B.C. over the next 20 years.

But these days, pipelines have many detractors.

A woman holds a sign during a protest and march against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday November 19, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Oscar-winning actress Jane Fonda described her gut reaction to Alberta's open-pit bitumen mines this week.

"It's like someone took my skin and peeled it off my body," said Fonda ,sparking furore from locals eager for the 37,000 jobs Trans Mountain promises.

Thicket of legal challenges

There are also at least eight legal challenges of the expansion.

Northern Gateway lost cabinet approval after the courts ruled that First Nations consultation was lacking.

The Tsleil-Waututh First Nation is hoping to make a similar case against Trans Mountain.

Actor Jane Fonda toured Alberta's oilsands operations, prompting reaction from Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. (CBC)

"Their permits are illegitimate," said Tsleil-Waututh spokeswoman Charlene Aleck.

"This issue is as black and white as the killer whales they endanger."

The whale card

Then there's the recent challenge by Eco-Justice to protect some 80 orcas that may be affected by a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic.

Ecojustice lawyers maintain that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet broke the law relying on an NEB assessment of the controversial expansion that ignored the effect on whales of 34 more tankers using Burnaby's port every month.

There are  also fears around spills, despite a new $1.5 billion dollar ocean-protection plan.

L95, a 20-year-old male from the southern resident population, was found in Esperanza Inlet in Nootka Sound on March 30. (Dave Ellifrit/Centre for Whale Research)

"There are just some messes you can't clean up," said NDP Leader John Horgan this week, holding up a jam jar full of heavy oil.

And if the bitumen spills?

Critics do not believe the science exists to clean up leaked bitumen, which diluted in sea water becomes problematic.

"When it begins to sink it becomes more troublesome,"  federal scientist Thomas King of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans told CBC last spring.

B.C.'s Green Party is calling for a moratorium on the transport of the sticky substance deeming it "too risky."

A woman holds a sign during a protest and march against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that will triple the capacity of the pipeline that carries crude oil from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press )

"There simply is not an adequate response in place to deal with a diluted bitumen spill," said Green Party MLA for Oak Bay Andrew Weaver.

Alberta claps

So while Alberta Premier Rachel Notley applauds as crude gets closer to tidewater, the controversial pipeline remains a polarizing force.

Premier Christy Clark is quick to note that Ottawa had the final say in Trans Mountain's approval.

"It is a federal decision and they made it."

The pipe isn't even all laid yet, but it's already drawing an emotional divide between B.C. voters — who will need to weigh the need for jobs with the cost of potentially marring a pristine coastline.

Naturally occurring or crude bitumen is a sticky, tar-like form of petroleum which is so thick and heavy that it must be heated or diluted before it will flow. At room temperature, it is a lot like cold molasses ((Titanium Corp.))


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