We are in a crisis. Climate change has arrived and no one is spared. Fossil fuels must be curbed drastically, starting now.
In 2021, BC struggled with extreme weather, including relentless heatwaves, widespread fires, devastating flooding and ending with a series of strong storms with periods of heavy and blowing snow, freezing rain and extremely cold weather.
People, farm animals and wildlife lost their lives. A village burned to the ground. Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes. Farm land was submerged under water and livelihoods were destroyed. Roads and Highways collapsed and were impassible. The costs were enormous and it will take years to recover from the damages.
In mid-November, the massive floods, landslides, and road shutdowns forced the closure of the Trans Mountain (TM) pipeline. Work on the expansion project on the pipeline was also halted. In some areas the water washed away the soil and exposed the pipeline. TM had to build up the riverbanks and re-bed the pipe where it was scoured out. It was estimated that the repairs could easily reach many tens of millions of dollars. Shipments of oil were stopped resulting in rationing in the Lower Mainland. The 21-day shutdown marked the longest in the pipeline's 68-year history. It did not resume running at full pressure until January 2022.
BC in 2021
Number of people who died during the "heat dome" when temperatures rose as high as 46 C: 595
Number of people that lost their lives in mudslides: 5
Number of livestock and poultry deaths because of flooding: More than 640,000
Estimates of the numbers of seashore animals living along the shore of the Salish Sea that may have died during the extreme heat: More than a billion
Number of people evacuated from their homes at peak of the floods: Almost 15,000
Number of wildfires that burned destroying 868,203 hectares of land: 1,610
Estimated cost to suppress the fires not including future cost recoveries: $565 million
What is the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project?
Trans Mountain (TM) is a crown corporation owned by our federal government. In 2018, the federal government purchased both the existing pipeline and the proposed expanded pipeline from the Texas oil giant Kinder Morgan for $4.4 billion.
Both before and after the purchase there was massive opposition to the expansion. The existing 69-year-old pipeline continues to transport the oil from the tar sands and it is adequate to serve domestic requirements as well as to ship to U.S. refineries until it is phased out for environmentally viable alternatives. The expanded pipeline currently under construction will ensure that the tar sands continue to increase production at a time when some experts say that there is no demand for the product since other sources are cheaper and higher quality.
If completed, the TMX pipeline will carry 890 barrels per day of highly toxic, flammable diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to Burnaby BC. The pipeline will run through residential neighbourhoods, next to schools and vulnerable salmon-bearing streams and sensitive ecosystems. Once it reaches Burnaby, it will be loaded onto massive tankers that will transport it to the Pacific Ocean and ultimately to foreign refineries in countries, such as China.
What are the costs and who is paying for it?
Costs on the pipeline have ballooned since the purchase requiring ever greater subsidies from the federal government. In the first update on the costs for the federally owned project since February 2020, the Crown Corporation managing the project has just announced that the projected cost of the TM pipeline expansion has soared from the earlier estimate of $12.6 billion to an astounding $21.4 billion. Moreover, the project was originally expected to be finished this year, but now the completion date has been changed to the third quarter of 2023." Trans Mountain "partially blames the cost increases on the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of the November 2021 flooding in British Columbia."
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland also announced that the government is not going to put any additional public money toward the project. It plans to divest from Trans Mountain and "it's looking for economic participation with Indigenous groups."
The lack of transparency from TM is not limited to finances. The federal government also owns the Canadian Energy Regulator (CER). This creates a conflict of interest. The CER is in a position to "rubber stamp" approvals for alterations requested from TM. A pattern has emerged that shows that the CER consistently sides with TM on contentious and problematic alterations to its route in spite of scientific evidence raising concerns about their actions and the potential for serious harm resulting from these actions.
If the pipeline fails and results in leaks due to incompetence and lack of sound engineering, Canadian taxpayers could face enormous costs.
Is there opposition to the expanded pipeline?
This expansion project continues to have significant opposition:
- The project is opposed by the Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation and Coldwater Indian Band, who were denied leave to appeal by the Supreme Court of Canada.
- It is opposed by many members of the community as well as by numerous scientists and environmental groups.
- The Province of British Columbia, the State of Washington, and 20 municipalities oppose the pipeline project, including the Cities of New Westminster, Burnaby and Vancouver.
- It also conflicts with Canada's commitment under the Paris Climate Agreement to keep global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degree Celsius.
What is at risk?
The existing TM pipeline is already a major environmental and public health hazard with a long history of disastrous spills. In June 2020, 50,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from a pump station located above an aquifer that supplies the Sumas First Nation with drinking water.
- The project crosses 1,300 streams and rivers and if there was a spill, it would contaminate numerous drinking water sources along the route.
- A spill would devastate the wildlife along the route and possibly result in an end to endangered species along the way.
- It could wipe out the local economies that rely on salmon fishing and tourism.
- The thirteen 69-year old tanks at the terminus of the pipeline are already too close together to extinguish a fire, and doubling this number through the expansion would make it even more difficult for the Burnaby Fire Department to fight fires and to evacuate and protect the 240,000 people living within the 4.2 km radius of the site, including 32,000 members of the SFU community.
- It would mean a 7-fold increase in tanker traffic in the already busy Burrard Inlet and an increased threat to the endangered Southern Resident Orcas and other marine life.
- A collision or spill, anywhere along the 148 km challenging route from the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby through the Salish Sea to the Pacific Ocean could have a disastrous impact on the health and safety of the millions of people living along the southern coastline, the economy of the province and the fragile ecosystems along the way.
- Indigenous groups, as well as the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls have pointed out the connection between resource extraction man-camps and violence against Indigenous women.
To see the route for the expanded pipeline, see the Wilderness Committee's map here
What is the future for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion?
A growing number of insurers have pulled out of the pipeline project. Those still involved are facing pressure to divest. Without insurers to back the pipeline, if the pipeline fails, Canadian taxpayers will have to pay for any future claims that could mount to millions if not billions of dollars.
In November 2020, the Canada Energy Regulator released a report stating that there is no need for any pipeline expansion if Canada takes measures to curb Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
In Sept 2020, economists warned that the TMX project was no longer financially viable.
- In August 2021, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the first report a "code red for humanity", and said that "If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe."
- The secretary-general of the United Nations says a new report "must sound the death knell for coal and fossil fuels," raising renewed questions about Canada's climate plan and the long-term viability of its traditional energy sector.
- February 28, 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a "stark warning about the impact of climate change on people and the planet, saying that ecosystem collapse, species extinction, deadly heatwaves and floods are among the "dangerous and widespread disruptions" the world will face over the next two decades due to global warming."
- April 4, 2022 the UN Secretary General issued a message on the launch of the third Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report stating that "The jury has reached a verdict. And it is damning. This report...is a litany of broken climate promises. It is a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unlivable world. We are on a fast track to climate disaster".
It is not too late. The risks are enormous.
Indigenous communities and local municipalities, as well as environmental scientists and health care professionals have brought forward the mountains of evidence against this pipeline, but our country's review boards have been stacked with friends of oil and gas companies. They have refused to acknowledge the severity of the immediate risks of fires, leaks and tanker spills. This pipeline expansion is a long-term threat to our land, water and the many creatures and people in its path.
There are NO "pros" to this venture. It's an economic failure, it works to make climate change WORSE and it tramples on the rights of Indigenous peoples. For all of these reasons, we say it's time to STOP TMX.