Update V: Vancouver City and North Shore
The Ministerial Panel on the Proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion continued its meetings in Metro Vancouver during the week of August 15 to 19, with eight sessions in Vancouver and two in North Vancouver, including two public Town Halls that each attracted nearly 300 participants. In total, the panel heard directly from 157 presenters. The panel members also toured Vancouver harbour, getting a close-up look at the site where Trans Mountain proposes to expand its Westridge Terminal and the Burrard Inlet passage through the Second Narrows, the First Narrows and into English Bay.
Input remains passionate, with a continuing division between business and labour leaders who speak in support of the project’s potential economic benefits and others who speak in opposition, stating concerns about safety and environmental impacts. As was the case in Burnaby, the municipal government input (which had been mixed or supportive in previous sessions) was pointedly in opposition. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson continued to express his city’s high-profile disapproval, but the North Shore communities of West Vancouver and North Vancouver City and District were no less resolute in criticizing the National Energy Board process and urging rejections of Trans Mountain’s expansion.
Both Public Town Halls featured well-organized groups in opposition, including many environmental NGO presenters who have been following the panel (and, in some cases, making multiple submissions) since the first B.C. meeting in Kamloops on July 19. Environmental groups delivered an anti-pipeline petition with 144,000 names and conducted a large, peaceful protest outside the Vancouver Town Hall on August 18.
As with previous Panel Updates, the selection of issues below is offered as a broad representation of issues raised, not a comprehensive list.
National Energy Board Scoping – Presenters continued to state their objection to the NEB declining to hear input from many parties who believed they had a direct interest. People also objected that issues regarding marine safety and climate change were declared out of the scope of the NEB process.
NEB Responsiveness – Several municipalities said they were pushed beyond their own capacity to respond to National Energy Board deadlines, and then disappointed when neither the NEB nor the proponent answered many of the questions that municipal officials had posed.
Climate Change – An increasing number of presenters said they are concerned about the pipeline’s potential impact on greenhouse gas emissions, downstream (i.e., in the hands of international energy buyers) as well as upstream (in the mining and transport of oil sands bitumen within Canada). Many said that Canada cannot reasonably approve this project without a national energy strategy that addresses the international commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Emergency Response Capabilities – This was a highly controversial topic, with presentations coming from the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (making a case for the quality of current and anticipated emergency response capacity) and various critics suggesting that spill response to date has been poorly organized and that the challenges of cleaning up diluted bitumen outstrip all potential capacity of response.
Marine Risks – Presenters also raised issues such as the lack of a comprehensive baseline study of Burrard Inlet’s environmental condition and the site-specific potential impact of spills, including everything from the effects of a diluted bitumen spill on mudflats to the impact of inevitable small, frequent spills at the loading facility.
Marine Values – Similarly, presenters suggested that cost/benefit analyses thus far have not adequately tallied the economic benefits of coastal British Columbia’s environmental good health. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson emphasized the economic risk to Vancouver, which depends upon its “green” brand to attract both tourists and employers who want to offer a beautiful surrounding to potential workers.
Accident Modelling – Presenters were critical that the Trans Mountain proposal included no modelling for a major spill in Vancouver Harbour. Trans Mountain had made the case (which the NEB appeared to accept) that this was a low-probability event, but presenters suggested that it is of such high consequence that it needs attention, regardless.
Killer Whale Impacts – Presenters posted concerns about the endangered southern resident killer whale population, given that the NEB report, which recommended the pipeline be approved, also noted “that the operation of Project-related marine vessels is likely to result in significant adverse effects to the southern resident killer whale.”
Diluted Bitumen/Refining Capacity – The nature and potential complication of this oil sands product continues to be the subject of much input, with many presenters arguing that Canada’s energy products should be refined domestically rather than exported at a perceived greater risk.
National Energy Plan/Climate Plan – This is another issue that continues to get much attention, as presenters say the government should forestall decisions on major fossil fuel infrastructure expansion until it has an energy and climate plan.
Benefit Agreements as Inducements – Presenters expressed concern that First Nations were accepting the terms of Benefit Agreements out of economic desperation rather than as fair settlement of legitimate interests.
Consultation – No First Nation presenters at this session had participated in the NEB process. One Lower Mainland First Nation corresponded to the Government of Canada that they would not be participating in the Panel process because they regarded the Ministerial Panel’s meetings as a distraction from more appropriate nation-to-nation discussions with the Crown. First Nation presenters stated concerns about process issues with the NEB and the Ministerial Panel and generally spoke in opposition of the project.
UNDRIP – First Nations reiterated Canada’s constitutional commitment to reconciling First Nations rights and title, as well as the government of Canada’s political commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and, particularly, the demand for free, prior and informed consent.
Shipping – Although the NEB process limited consideration of the pipeline’s induced effects on shipping (and the related environmental risks), First Nations pointed out that their rights and title extend to waterways in traditional use, creating an unresolved issue on the whole length of the shipping route from the terminal in Indian Arm through to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This issue was reinforced by speakers representing B.C.’s Island’s Trust, which has responsibility to “preserve and protect” the waterways as well as the islands in the southern gulf.
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