NEB conditionally approves Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion

Brent Jang


May 19, 2016 4:19PM EDT - The National Energy Board has conditionally approved the $6.8-billion Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion project.

The regulator said Thursday that Kinder Morgan Canada Inc.’s Trans Mountain project must meet 157 conditions.

“These conditions would address issues such as safety, protection of the environment and other considerations,” the NEB said in a 533-page report. The conditions address areas such as engineering, safety, the environment, socio-economic issues and emergency management.

Benefits of the venture include diversifying Canada’s energy exports, creating jobs and generating revenue for governments, the report said, citing Trans Mountain’s estimate that the construction phase alone could add $1.2-billion to federal and provincial tax coffers.

The NEB ruled that “the effects on the interests of potentially affected aboriginal groups can be effectively minimized.”

Earlier this week, federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr announced the formation of a three-person committee to engage aboriginal groups between June and November.

The board recommends that the federal Liberal government approve the pipeline expansion, which would increase total capacity to 890,000 barrels a day from the current 300,000 b/d. The extra 590,000 b/d would be primarily heavy oil and destined for loading onto tankers, many bound for Asia. California and Washington state are also export destinations.

The existing oil pipeline stretches 1,150 kilometres from the Edmonton area to Burnaby, B.C. The concept is to twin the existing line in order to nearly triple capacity.

The controversial venture has been criticized by the Opposition B.C. New Democratic Party, the mayors of Vancouver and Burnaby, environmentalists and many First Nation leaders. B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s Liberal government has said its view will be based on whether certain conditions are met, notably having world-class emergency response in the event of oil spills on water or land.

Environmentalists say greenhouse gas emissions from upstream projects are a major concern, given that most of the new shipments would originate from Alberta’s oil sands. “Trans Mountain proposed standard mitigation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the pipeline and associated facilities,” according to the NEB report. “The board has focused its assessment on the direct greenhouse gas emissions generated from project construction and operations, as opposed to assessing the global climate effects of the greenhouse gas emissions.”

The expansion calls for the installation of 987 kilometres of new pipe and the reactivation of some of the existing network.

“With the implementation of Trans Mountain’s environmental protection procedures and mitigation, and the board’s recommended conditions, the project would not likely cause significant adverse environmental effects,” said Robert Steedman, the NEB’s chief environment officer.

Last August, the NEB issued 145 draft conditions, helping to formulate the 157 conditions in the new report released Thursday. Thirty-nine of the draft conditions were amended after comments from interveners and while new conditions arose as part of the process.

Trans Mountain has indicated that it could start construction next year and potentially open the expanded line in late 2019.