(Black Press files)

Province takes aim at Trans Mountain pipeline with proposed bitumen restrictions

Government looks to increase restrictions on diluted bitumen transportation by pipeline or rail

The B.C. government is proposing new restrictions on transporting crude oil – a decision that could heavily impact Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

The proposal, released Tuesday, is part of the province’s second phase of its oil spill response plan.

Phase two will consider increasing restrictions on diluted bitumen transportation by pipeline or rail, the province said, at least until the “behaviour” of spilled bitumen can be better understood and a response plan can be made.

Bitumen is the main crude product flowing through Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to B.C., at the capacity of about 300,000 barrels a day. The $7.4-billion expansion is expected to nearly triple the pipeline’s daily capacity.

Black Press Media requested comment from Kinder Morgan but has not heard back.

The second phase of the review will also include the creation of an independent scientific advisory panel to further look into how authorities would safely transport and clean up heavy oil in the case of a spill.

The first phase of regulations, established in October, focused on the accountability of pipeline, rail and trucking companies, while the findings from the second phase would also probe response times, compensation for groups affected by a spill, and maximizing regulations for marine spills.

READ MORE: Pipeline construction in Abbotsford not expected to begin until late 2018

READ MORE: New rules in effect to transport liquid petroleum in B.C.

The proposal, which follows a string of moves by the NDP government to halt the pipeline, prompted Alberta Premier Rachel Notley to take to social media and call it “unconstitutional.”

“The action announced today by the B.C. government can only be seen for what it is: political game-playing,” Notley said in a series of tweets. “But it’s a game that could have serious consequences for the jobs and livelihoods of millions of Canadians who count on their governments to behave rationally and within their scope of authority.”

B.C.’s Environment Minister George Heyman called Notley’s tactics “scare-mongering.”

“We believe we have a right — and all provinces have a right — to put in laws in their jurisdictions to protect their values,” Heyman said.

This latest review is based on a 2015 report by the Royal Society of Canada that found heavy forms of bitumen are less likely to break down in water than lighter types of oil, but that more research is needed.

“The potential for a diluted bitumen spill already poses significant risk to our inland and coastal environment and the thousands of existing tourism and marine harvesting jobs,” Heyman said.

In 2013, then-environment minister Mary Polak led a study on response capabilities in B.C., which included one scenario of a summer-time spill of diluted bitumen in the Juan de Fuca Strait.

The report found that 31 per cent of the spilled oil could be recovered within five days, with the efforts of Canadian and U.S. ships and equipment.

“We’re saying that if the Royal Society of Canada says we don’t have enough knowledge, we should get enough to ensure British Columbians that if there is a spill, we can clean it up,” Heyman said.

The panel will combine research with feedback from First Nations groups and the public before providing a report to the ministry in the coming months. More details on the proposal are expected to be released in February.

Between city bylaws and federal court battles, Kinder Morgan has had plenty of setbacks from its original timeline. In its most recent update in November, the company expected to begin construction in the Lower Mainland by the end of 2018. The project was initialy propsed in 2012.

The National Energey Board is currently hosting hearings, gathering feedback from the public and other stakeholders. Meanwhile, the NDP government is seeking to withdraw its consent for the project.

“It’s up to Kinder Morgan what they do in the interim,” Heyman said, “but we are telling them what’s necessary to protect B.C.’s interests.”


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