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Pipelandia: ‘It is not over yet’ say pipeline neighbours after Kinder Morgan OK’d

Ottawa’s approval of Trans Mountain expansion Tuesday has landowners calling for more safety proof. Third in Metro series on B.C.’s pipeline conditions.

An official looks into the hole where an excavator punctured an oil pipeline causing an oil spill in Burnaby, B.C., Tuesday July 24, 2007


An official looks into the hole where an excavator punctured an oil pipeline causing an oil spill in Burnaby, B.C., Tuesday July 24, 2007

“If I thought this project was unsafe for the B.C. coast, I would reject it.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s words on Tuesday — upon approving Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion — echoed the company’s own reaction shortly after.

Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson said the project had “evolved substantially as a result of the scrutiny it has undergone and the input received,” he said in a statement. “No voice has gone unheard.”

But for long-time Burnaby, B.C. resident Mary Hatch, Trudeau’s words rang hollow.

“He’s just being political, because it isn’t safe,” the 70-year-old retiree told Metro. “If it’s not safe on the North Coast, it’s not safe here either.”

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Hatch, a resident of Burnaby’s Westridge suburb for four decades and mother of two 20-somethings, has learned more than she ever expected about oil pipeline safety.

Nine years ago, on July 24, 2007, her Inlet Drive home was drenched in oil pluming up to 12 metres into the air from the Trans Mountain Pipeline roughly 100 metres away — ruptured by a contractor who wasn’t aware it was there. She wasn’t either.

“I was eating my lunch and a firefighter came to my door,” she told Metro in a phone interview. “He said evacuate immediately — there’s been an oil spill.

“I had no idea what he was talking about. I went out on to my sundeck and the stairs, the handrail, everything, was covered in wet oil. I didn’t know how it got there. I had no idea at that point I lived on the pipeline. I lived there 40 years.”

She and 250 others were forced out of their neighbourhood, a few for months. A judge later deemed the 225,000-litre spill an accident, and Kinder Morgan paid $150,000 in addition to the millions it spent on months of clean up.

But the Texas energy giant said the accident was human error and could not happen again because of safety measures across its 1,150 kilometres of Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby.

In 2012, Premier Christy Clark announced any pipeline would need to satisfy five conditions, the third being “world-leading” oil spill response on land. The company said it has such measures in place; critics counter that it significantly underestimated the probability of a “high consequence” incident along its route.

Trans Mountain said its pipeline safety is already world leading and has been operating safely across B.C. since it opened in 1953.

The company in January featured on its blog an interview with 97-year-old Arne Bryan, one of the original surveyors of the pipeline route, who for 25 years had Trans Mountain cross his own former property in Surrey.

“The whole backyard was the 60-foot right-of-way of Trans Mountain,” he said, according to Trans Mountain’s account. “I spent 25 years living right on the pipeline, you might say.

"The fact is you cannot compete with a pipeline for transporting oil … This pipeline has enabled Canada to transport our resources to the market so I think it’s foolishness to disagree with expanding it.”

But claims of existing safe operations are concerning for some farmers in the Fraser Valley.

“It’s actually had 82 reportable spills over its lifetime,” said Suzanne Hale, a retired former farmer in Chilliwack who lives at Yarrow Ecovillage Organic Farm and its attached community of roughly 100 people.

The property for decades has also hosted an easement for the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, and is poised to lose five acres more of its farmland if the expansion proceeds.

Hale told Metro the increase in bitumen through the pipeline is unacceptably risk, because of the chemicals used to dilute the thick oil sands bitumen. In 2012, she said, Abbotsford saw a Trans Mountain spill release gases that sent several children to hospital and forced a school to shut its air intake.

“If there were a spill it would off-gas and would be a danger to the farmers immediately, and the 100 people in the ecovillage,” she said. “There’s no containing it. They don’t tell us what’s being released if there were a spill.

“Soil is the most important thing for an organic farmer. It simply can’t be replaced. We spend time building the soil with compost and using organic material and cover crops to create it. That would be destroyed … and becomes not viable anymore. It would be a useless piece of land for an organic farmer.”

Asked about Trans Mountain’s promises to improve its pipeline’s safety features beyond what’s required, including better testing and more inspections, Hatch said the “surreal” incident she experienced in 2007 is a reminder that human error is unpredictable.

“The excavator hit the pipe because they didn’t know where it was,” she said. “Life goes like this: There are accidents, there are human errors, this is what happens.

“But it is not over yet.”

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