An Ounce of Prevention

Donate-to-Redcross-to-help-with-the-Fort-McMurray-wildfires.jpgCanadians are generous in disaster response. Domestically an outstanding example is the $189-million in private donations to the Canadian Red Cross for Fort McMurray wildfire relief. Along with $104-million from the federal government and $30-million from the Alberta government, Fort McMurray wildfire relief was the largest response to a disaster in Canadian history. It is interesting to note that the greatest contribution came from private sources rather than from government.

Of course the first principle of risk control is to eliminate the risk if possible. What if we could support disaster prevention instead of disaster response?

For four years WaterWealth has been engaged in and supporting public engagement in regulatory processes for Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Expansion Project. The past two years have been focused primarily on disaster prevention in our home community of Chilliwack, BC.

The proposed expansion project route follows the route taken by the original Trans Mountain pipeline in 1952, a route that crosses the most critical area of the Sardis-Vedder Aquifer, runs right past City of Chilliwack drinking water wells, and then crosses the Vedder River upstream of Yarrow Waterworks' riverside wells. Kinder Morgan's spill modelling indicated that a full-bore rupture in our area could result in a spill of 1.3 million litres. route_alternatives_1953_300w.jpgThey did not do modelling the province requested for the more likely case of a slow leak, but admit that their safety systems limit of detection falls somewhere between 2% and 5% of pipeline volume. On the proposed 540,000 barrel per day pipeline that means as much as 72,000 to 179,000 litres per hour could leak undetected by pipeline safety systems. The City's August 2015 letter of comment on the project said that "Once contaminated, it is unlikely that the aquifer could be remediated adequately to use for drinking water purposes again." That appraisal by the City is borne out by a spill on the existing Trans Mountain pipeline in 1992 that contaminated groundwater near Jasper Alberta. Fortunately that groundwater was not a source of drinking water because 25 years later the company is still trying to clean up the groundwater contamination there.

We don't need to risk such a disaster happening to Chilliwack groundwater.

In the NEB hearing, in letters to federal and provincial decision makers, in a presentation to the Ministerial Panel, and now in the NEB detailed route approval process, WaterWealth has proposed an alternative route for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. route_alternatives_hwy1_300w.jpgIf the project proceeds we also propose using the new construction as the opportunity to decommission the existing pipeline where it passes City and Yarrow wells and reroute it along with the new pipeline. That alternative route is to run parallel to Highway 1 from where the pipeline currently crosses the highway near Upper Prairie Road east of the aquifer to where it crosses the highway again near Kinder Morgan's pump station on McDermott Road at the base of Sumas Mountain.

The Highway route would eliminate the risk to City and Yarrow drinking water sources, would impact fewer property owners (75 compared to 245 by our count), would cross no residential neighbourhoods and no schools, would remove the pipeline from two salmon spawning habitat enhancement areas, would eliminate risk to the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve, and would move the pipeline away from the Vedder Mountain Fault.

The company has dug in its heels on the existing route, going so far as to tell residents just before the NEB detailed route process started that "Other route locations are no longer under consideration.” Federal and provincial elected representatives have chosen to support Kinder Morgan over the community, at times spreading misinformation such as when MP Mark Strahl said that the project "is necessary to upgrade the existing 60-year-old pipeline going through our community," when in fact the project is to add a second pipline, not to upgrade the 64-year-old existing pipeline. Until recently the City also supported the company's proposed route. Mayor Gaetz said in December 2016 that "the preferred routing for Chilliwack is a twinning of the existing route", and that the Ministry of Transportation and Highways had given a route along Highway 1 “a flat no."

However, daily persistence by WaterWealth, and growing awareness and engagement by residents has finally created a crack in the political opposition to changing the pipeline route across Chilliwack. Earlier this month Councilor Lum posted on his personal Facebook page thanking residents who had written letters on the issue and saying "I want to make it unequivocally clear that I DO NOT support ANY routing option that puts the Sardis Vedder Aquifer, Yarrow Waterworks, or the Browne Creek Wetlands at risk." The City asked to see for themselves Kinder Morgan's information on the Highway route and WaterWealth asked the NEB to have Kinder Morgan file that information as part of the public record on the project. On August 21st the company did so.

It is of no surprise that the assessment Kinder Morgan commissioned from Universal Pegasus International found that the Highway 1 route is in fact feasible. It must be understood that a route along Highway 1 need not necessarily be in the highway right-of-way, but could simply parallel the highway. However even if it were to go in the highway right-of-way, contrary to what we have been led to believe all along, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) did not give "a flat no" to running the pipeline in the highway right-of-way, but said that if other options were exhausted "they may examine a request from Trans Mountain to accommodate the pipeline." Furthermore, the report provided by Kinder Morgan did not consider the aquifer and community drinking water wells at all. The words "aquifer", "drinking water" or "well" (in the context of a water well) did not appear anywhere in the report.

Incredibly, one of the report's justifications for asserting that the company's preferred route is superior to the Highway route was because the Highway route does not meet the company's routing criteria of staying in their existing pipeline right-of-way! Stated plainly what they're saying is 'Our preferred route is superior because we prefer it.'

Other justifications were;

  • that the Highway route would be about 1500 metres longer
    (on an almost 1200 kilometre project)
  • that landowners along the highway route don't already have a pipeline crossing their properties
    (ignoring that far fewer properties would be involved and that the water supply affects ~80,000)
  • that directional drills would be necessary in places
    (as is the case on the existing route)
  • and that MOTI are not supportive of running it in the highway right-of-way
    (ignoring that it could simply run beside the highway right-of-way).

What's Next

There are a couple of processes in the works. Despite assurances that they take our drinking water concerns seriously, well_distances_300.jpgKinder Morgan has applied for a small route change in Chilliwack that would move the new pipeline out of a section of BC Hydro right-of-way and closer to City wells, as well as across an elementary school and through residential neighbourhoods. WaterWealth filed a letter of comment opposing that route change. We expect that a public hearing will be held for that section of the project and we intend to continue opposing this change that would increase risk to our community.

The next step for the main project process is public hearings on the route overall. Thanks in large part to WaterWealth's outreach Chilliwack residents filed approximately half of the 452 statements of opposition that the NEB received on the route of the project. The schedule for public hearings has not been announced yet, but we will be reaching out to those who filed statements to make sure that they know they may get the opportunity to speak to the NEB panel. For those who choose to take advantage of that opportunity we will host a series of open meetings to support preparation of presentations while of course preparing our own presentation.

We've come a long way on this issue and for brevity this post barely scratches the surface of the work that's gone into it. But we've still got months of work ahead of us if we are to see this through and achieve a victory that will guarantee Chilliwack and Yarrow drinking water sources are safe from pipeline spill. If you can, please support this work with a donation for disaster prevention. Don't let Kinder Morgan gamble that their billion dollar insurance won't be needed for disaster response in Chilliwack.

 

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