Trans Mountain: Christy Clark pipeline bluff turns to oil spill response plan

January 26, 2015 | By | 2 Replies More

No good argument to make Trans Mountain emergency response plan public

Christy Clark and her environment ministry are demanding the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain emergency response plan be put on the public record. Why? Because her pipeline bluff requires it.

Trans Mountain

BC Premier Christy Clark.

On Wednesday, Clark publicly called for the response plans to be released. A spokesperson for the environment ministry was pretty pointed about the Province’s expectations: “It’s to get it on the public record…That’s the long and short of it.”

The Province’s position sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Information longs to be free in the digital age, we are told.

Well, not in this case.

Most BC residents will probably be surprised to learn Kinder Morgan is not the responding organization if its pipeline – either the existing Trans Mountain line that carries 300,000 barrels/day to a facility in Burnaby or the expansion, which will boost capacity to 890,000 barrels/day – releases crude oil into the waters off the West Coast.

That job lies with the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, a federally mandated corporation regulated by Transport Canada and funded by industry.

Trans Mountain

Oil tanker off North Vancouver.

The Province of British Columbia is a member of the WCMRC. According to WCMRC manager of communications Michael Lowry, the BC government has full access to its spill response plan, which is prepared for the entire West Coast, not specific projects or geographic regions. The last plan was submitted to Transport Canada in 2013 and the organization is preparing an update for 2015.

“We have a long standing working relationship with the Province. They participate in our response exercises, they attend our meetings. So how we operate, how we respond to spills, our response planning – their access to that document is, and has always been, readily available,” said Lowry in an interview with Beacon News.

If the environment ministry can read the response plan anytime it likes, why is it in a swivet to have the plan on the record?

Trans Mountain

BC Environment Minister Mary Polak.

The ministry described it’s position in an email to Beacon News:

In the case of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion project, the Province will seek information from all appropriate channels to determine if the five conditions are being met.

  • That includes participating as an intervenor in the National Energy Board review of the project.  An important part of that process is getting information on the record to ensure that the panel takes that information – and our views on it – into account when they prepare their conditions and recommendations.
  • It also includes participating in Kinder Morgan’s consultations about the Emergency Management Program for the Trans Mountain Expansion project.  Kinder Morgan has committed to consult with the Province, as well as other parties, in developing their Emergency Management Program and we will take advantage of that opportunity.

The environment ministry’s case for public disclosure is weak. They’re already a member of WCMRC with have full access to the existing plan and input into the next version, and they acknowledge Kinder Morgan’s commitment to consult in the preparation of its emergency plan.

Trans Mountain

Kinder Morgan repairing a small 5 to 12 barrel leak in the Trans Mountain pipeline near Merritt, BC in 2013.

What possible good will be served by making WCMRC’s response plan public?

In a word, politics. More specifically, intense public pressure because the Province knows that making the plan public will unleash another round of hyperbolic indignation from the environmental groups, municipalities, and First Nations opposed to the Trans Mountain expansion.

As I explained in a column last week, political pressure is all Clark has when it comes to pipelines. Two Canadian constitution scholars laid out in detail how only the federal government has jurisdiction over inter-provincial pipelines like Trans Mountain.

In short, her five conditions are a bluff.

Demanding the Kinder Morgan response plan be made public is just the latest play in that bluff.

What’s the argument against releasing the oil spill response plan?

One, there is sensitive information in the plan, such as where WCMRC caches equipment on the West Coast.

Two, some of the information is proprietary, either to WCMRC, Kinder Morgan, or other third parties.

Three, WCMRC’s legal obligations are to Transport Canada, not the BC government. Can WCMRC release the plan without Transport Canada’s agreement? I have a request in to the federal regulator for an interview that will hopefully answer that question.

Four, WCMRC worked with Kinder Morgan to prepare an updated equipment and personnel plan – the Trans Mountain pipeline would require a 20,000 tonne of oil spill response capability instead of the existing 10,000 tonnes –  which was filed with the NEB and is available on the websites of both the NEB and Trans Mountain.

Five, the Province’s demand is illogical. Information doesn’t have to be released to the public to be on the record with the NEB or to be taken “into account” when the NEB reviews Kinder Morgan’s proposal.

To sum up, there is no good reason to release the response plan and five good reasons not to.

So why the strident demands and threats?

For Clark’s pipeline bluff – meet the five conditions or BC won’t approve a new pipeline – to work, she has to bring political pressure to bear at every turn, hoping to ramp up public disapproval to such a fever pitch that the federal government and its agencies, and the pipeline companies, bend to her demands.

Plenty of poker players have lost the pot playing a better hand than Christy Clark’s bluff.


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Category: Markham

About the Author ()

Markham Hislop is the publisher of Beacon News and Beacon Energy News. He also reports and writes about Alberta and British Columbia energy issues.

Comments (2)

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  1. Jerry Hammersmith says:

    Why have we heard nothing about B.C. surface access?

    – Is that not an issue in B.C.?
    – Does the province not have jurisdiction over B.C. land?
    – Can a pipeline be placed beneath B.C. surface without
    crossing B.C. surface?
    – If the province has jurisdiction for the land, aren’t
    they in a position to require a surface lease?

    • Markham Hislop says:

      Dear Jerry;

      The short answer is the legal principle of “paramountcy.” I’ll be devoting a column to this in the next week or two.

      Basically, if a project like a pipeline is deemed to be within federal jurisdiction, federal authority is paramount over provincial. That is, the Province cannot do anything – deny leases or permits, jack up utility rates, etc. – to thwart the federal approval. And there’s 60 years of Canadian case law that affirms federal paramountcy over pipelines.

      Politics and public pressure are the only weapon BC has in this fight.


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