The protection of Chilliwack’s drinking water was the main subject of questioning of Kinder Morgan Canada officials on day two of the National Energy Board (NEB) hearing into the company’s pipeline route realignment application.
Legal counsel for the City of Chilliwack grilled the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project’s (TMEP) director and a hydrogeologist consultant about whether or not the company had done scientific studies on the impacts on the city’s aquifer of three alternate routes through a 1.8-kilometre stretch of Sardis.
“Would you agree that you’ve carried out no scientific studies to compare the impacts of the three routes on the aquifer?”asked the city’s legal counsel Olga Rivkin.
Hydrogeologist Steve Foley responded that the company relied on decades of studies on the Sardis-Vedder aquifer, one of the most studied in the lower Fraser Valley.
“The wealth of information that was made available to us through public domain and forthcoming are provided by the City of Chilliwack, supported our entire evaluation of the routings,” Foley responded.
That was not good enough for Rivkin who pursued Foley and TMEP director Greg Toth to answer why they did not conduct their own study on the impacts on the aquifer of the different possible routes.
“Could you please answer my question? Have you done comparative scientific study of the alignments?”
“I guess your reference to scientific is probably different than mine,” Foley responded, suggesting their analysis of previous studies done was scientific in itself.
“Our strength and our ability is to be able to weave the ideas over three decades of work,” he said.
The questioning Tuesday by the City of Chilliwack follows questions Monday from the S’ólh Téméxw Stewardship Alliance (STSA) representing local Sto:lo First Nations, and it preceded questions from Ian Stephen from the WaterWealth Project.
The hearing ordered by the NEB is looking into Trans Mountain’s request to put its new oil pipeline in the existing right-of-way over the stretch in question, which runs in the Watson elementary schoolyard and the backyards of approximately two dozen homes on Roseberry and Montcalm roads.
The route approved by the NEB over this short stretch through the city is in the BC Hydro corridor just to the north of Roseberrry.
The company asked for the change to the existing route because BC Hydro said the pipeline cannot run in between the hydro towers, so it would have to run to the south, which would be adjacent to different residential backyards on the north side of Roseberry.
The City of Chilliwack, and Stephen with WaterWealth, prefer the BC Hydro route approved by the NEB because it is further from the aquifer and the city’s wells.
Trans Mountain argues that both routes are outside the aquifer area anyway, and in the unlikely event of a leak, material would run to the north towards the Fraser River away from the aquifer.
“[If] both routes extend outside capture, that relative change in vulnerability is negligible,” Foley said.
“That’s a big ‘if,’” Rivkin responded, later pressing the issue finally getting Foley to agree in part to what she was suggesting: “Farther is better,” he said.
Rivkin further pushed Foley on what she said was an insufficient response to the city’s concerns about the impact on the aquifer with the pipeline realignment. She quoted the company’s own evidence that said the consultant’s report “was never intended as definitive.”
“So again, my point to you is that you’ve never provided to the city the detailed response to its concerns that you’ve acknowledged and to which detailed response is clearly promised,” she said.
Foley responded that the interrogation hinged on semantics as she used the word “detailed” and the company said “definitive.”
“I don’t think it’s semantical. I think it’s pretty clear that there has been no detailed response that is determinative and that assures the City that the re-route is safe,” Rivkin said. “That is really not brain science here. We want to be sure that this is safe.”
“You’ve just linked ‘definitive’ to ‘detailed,’ so we are talking semantics,” Foley responded.
Rivkin continued her questioning of the company Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday morning the hearing continued with NEB lawyers asking the company questions, which was scheduled to be followed by NEB questioning of the intervenors.
The entire week was booked for the hearing, but an NEB spokesperson said it was likely to wrap up Thursday with closing arguments from all parties.
A decision on the pipeline routing by the NEB will likely take a number of months.