The deadline came fast for round one (of two) information requests in the National Energy Board review of Kinder Morgan's proposal to build a second Trans Mountain pipeline from Tar Sands country to Burnaby.
Things were hopping with WSA pricing consultations, Canada Water Week, Chilliwack Official Community Plan update, FVRD riparian areas changes (pdf), a Business Survey and more. Even without all that, tackling Kinder Morgan's 15,000 page application was a formidable undertaking! We dove in though, and what we found was eye-opening.
Details Learned, Questions Raised
We knew from the route of the old pipeline that the new one will be crossing highly vulnerable aquifers in the Valley: Chilliwack-Rosedale, Sardis-Vedder, Abbotsford-Sumas, Nicomekl-Serpentine. It really drove the point home to see a continuous section of 30 kilometres of aquifer marked on Kinder Morgan's maps as "Highly Vulnerable". Kinder Morgan indicated that "city well capture zones cross the proposed pipeline corridor". The pipeline route also runs near lots of wells including those of the Tzeachten Reserve, the Township of Langley, "a Langley School" and other areas identified as having a "high density of wells". (click for larger image)
Kinder Morgan states that the new pipe will be maintained using "the existing KMC Maintenance Management Program". Which of course begs the question; Is Kinder Morgan's maintenance program sufficient to protect our drinking water? The information to date is not reassuring.
In March 2012 Kinder Morgan were ordered by the NEB to "complete baseline assessments on cracking features that may eventually lead to leaks.” That work, using in-line inspection tools, led to discovery of "131 features" that "were to be investigated and 119 met Kinder Morgan Canada’s Dig Criteria" in the Hargreaves-Darfield pipe segment. That work also led to detection of the two leaks that made the news last June, one near Kingsvale and the other near the Coquihalla Summit.
Only one of those leaks was found by inspection tools though. The Coquihalla Summit leak was found by people walking on the route and finding "a small pooling of what appeared to be oil" on the surface. Since those two leaks were found, the Kinder Morgan application indicates that 33 'digs' have been issued in the Kamloops-Sumas segment of the old pipe for inspections and repairs.
We asked for clarification on the amount of contaminated soil leaving the Coquihalla Canyon. The two spills that were found were reported to be small. Only about 18 cubic metres volume for the larger of the two. Yet according to the NEB 5005 cubic metres of contaminated soil was removed and taken to a waste facility in Richmond. That approaches 600 dump-truck loads of contaminated soil. Previously I had asked Kinder Morgan's Aboriginal Engagement Advisor Norman Marcy about that in person, but he denied knowledge of the 5005 cubic metre figure. Surprising, given that the NEB got the number from Kinder Morgan and it had been reported in the media. Where those two leaks the only ones?
We've travelled portions of the route, east of Bridal Falls and down from the Coquihalla Summit, and saw a lot of those digs. Great that they're doing a lot of repairs on the old pipe, but we have to wonder why there are so many digs in unpopulated areas and none that we're aware of in Chilliwack or Abbotsford? Somehow that 61-year old pipe is just healthier in the populated areas? Hopefully we'll have some answers when Kinder Morgan responds.
Having seen some of the pipeline route between Chilliwack and Hope, and recalling the landslides that have closed Highway 1 in past years through that area, our eye-brows were raised again to read in Kinder Morgan's application that “No surficial geology mapping is available between Hope and Bridal Falls”!
Take the proximity of that part of the route to the Fraser River, the fact that in wet years those slopes tend to be pretty unstable (14 debris flows that reached the Trans-Canada Highway in July 1983!), and throw in projections that the South Coastal region of BC is expected to get wetter three seasons out of four in coming years, then add the apparent failure of Kinder Morgan's precipitation figures for the region to account for climate change and we think we've got reason to be concerned!
There was another curious discrepancy around the Vedder Mountain Fault (VMF) and Sumas Fault (SF), both of which the pipeline route crosses. In one of Kinder Morgan's application documents it says that “No historical earthquakes have occurred near the VMF or SF”. But a report by the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council reads: “A number of earthquakes have occurred along the traces of the Sumas and Vedder Mt. faults since 1964, indicating that the faults are presently active.” We have of course asked Kinder Morgan for clarification! We have also asked for details of how the new pipe will be designed to withstand seismic stresses and in particular lateral spreading forces where it crosses the Vedder River, pretty much on the Vedder Mountain fault. We also asked how buoyancy will be controlled in the event of an earthquake where the pipeline crosses the areas of high susceptibility to liquifaction between the Vedder Mountain and Sumas faults, as well as how these details of the proposed pipe differ from those in place on the one installed in the early 1950's.
Once across those faults, the pipeline route, old and new, climbs a slope not far from where Abbotsford City Council earlier this year denied a rezoning proposal because of slope stability issues. Of that proposal, Councillor Braun told council "I cannot support a project that might put future residents at risk of landslides. The last one was in 1935 and, if you’ve been up there, that hillside appears to be moving."
Of course Kinder Morgan are aware that things can go wrong. They've even done modelling of what would happen in the event of pipeline rupture. Unfortunately it appears that Kinder Morgan did their modelling using "oil" not bitumen. Bitumen is the product that the new pipeline is intended to carry. Environment Canada has found that bitumen, mixed with fine sediment, sinks even in salt water. By the time bitumen flows from a burst pipe to the nearest waterway, you can bet it will be mixed with sediment. If there ever was any question of what would happen when bitumen gets into freshwater, the Kalamazoo spill put that question to rest.
So how does Kinder Morgan handle risks? One thing they have is “a mature security program that anticipates, prevents, manages and mitigates conditions that could adversely affect people, property or the environment”. The fact that we've walked the route and found sections of exposed pipeline left unattended does raise some questions about the effectiveness of that security program though, so we asked them about that.
When that security and preventive maintenance fails to prevent an incident, Kinder Morgan has "a wide variety of tactics and currently have staff trained in their use; primarily mechanical methods for containment, protection and recovery including the use of booms and skimmers." We of course asked them about the effectiveness of skimmers and booms (as seen in this local exercise) in containing and cleaning up bitumen products, which sink in water.
If all else fails, there's always insurance. Kinder Morgan has $750 million in spill liability insurance and stated that they're willing to go to $1 billion if the government requires it. We asked them about that in relation to the costs of the Kalamazoo spill ($1,039,000,000 USD last we've heard, but they're still cleaning up there), and asked if they've calculated the cost of replacing the District of Hope or City of Chilliwack's drinking water aquifers.
So, does all that sound a little alarming? Yeah, sorry about that. It's hard to read through the application and not be a little alarmed.
Our thanks to everyone who called or emailed with questions and concerns. We pulled a lot of those into the information request we submitted. There were definitely areas of concern that we were not able to cover this time around, simply for lack of time.
Over coming months we'll be working hard to speak up for our local waters, and particularly to stand on guard for our drinking water aquifers. If you want to help out, please be in touch! Volunteer time or financial contributions are definitely needed to ensure that water has a strong voice both within the NEB process and in the community!
WaterWealth's round one information request can be found on the NEB site.