An oil tanker loads at Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline terminal in Burnaby.

B.C. begins its own oil pipeline review

Trans Mountain twinning faces fresh hurdle after court ruled province could not rely solely on federal NEB review

The B.C. government has launched its own environmental assessment of the proposed Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion, adding a new hurdle for the $6.8-billion project.

The move comes on the eve of an expected National Energy Board recommendation due by May 20 on whether the federal government should approve the pipeline twinning.

And it follows a B.C. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that the provincial government cannot simply depend on the NEB review to substitute for a provincial assessment, as previously agreed, and must issue its own environmental certificate for the project to advance.

The second pipeline would mainly carry oil sands bitumen for export. It would nearly triple Trans Mountain’s capacity to its Burnaby terminal, greatly increasing oil tanker traffic through Vancouver harbour.

Critics of the project, including B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, had long called on the province to conduct its own review.

Now, Weaver said the province should simply reject the pipeline rather than replicating the “ridiculous, box-ticking exercise” that the NEB has led.

“Rather than waste everybody’s time, let’s move on,” Weaver said. “We cannot deal with a dilluted bitumen spill.”

Environment ministry officials said B.C. still intends to accept the NEB assessment through the equivalency agreement with Ottawa, but B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office will consult with first nations to potentially identify any additional project conditions that may be required to address aboriginal impacts.

The province did not appeal the court ruling in the challenge by north coast aboriginal groups against the Northern Gateway pipeline equivalency agreement. The ruling also applies to the Trans Mountain project.

Trans Mountain spokesperson Ali Hounsell said the provincial review was expected in light of the court decision.

“It presents an opportunity for Trans Mountain to ensure the proposed project is meeting the province’s environmental requirements while addressing concerns of first nation communities,” she said.

The new federal Liberal government had previously said it would take seven months instead of the legislated limit of three to issue a final decision on the Trans Mountain pipeline after the NEB report is issued.

It also committed to an extra layer of review – consulting first nations and other affected communities – during that extension period.

It’s not yet clear whether the new provincial process will also result in further delay for Kinder Morgan.

Meanwhile, the provincial government is downplaying speculation that a deal may be possible that would see B.C. sell electricity to Alberta to help it transition from coal-fired power and cut carbon emissions, while agreeing in exchange to accept the Kinder Morgan pipeline to deliver more Alberta oil to market.

The environment ministry said in a statement the province’s five conditions for any new pipeline remain, and that significant gaps remain in areas including marine spill response capabilities.

It did confirm B.C.’s interest in power exports.

“B.C. may be able to support Alberta’s planned closures of coal-fired generating plants by  exporting clean electricity. That proposal is one that staff are exploring and discussing in both provinces.”