Kinder Morgan warned Friday that new court action would cause “significant and unwarranted delay” in the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, as a new anonymous source came forward to say s/he was “in shock” when a senior Trudeau government official instructed staff to “give cabinet a legally-sound basis for saying ‘yes'” to the project before the approval process was complete. And B.C. residents watching a major refinery fire in Wisconsin found themselves asking whether the same thing could happen at Kinder’s Burnaby-area tank farm.
The Houston-based pipeliner’s end-of-week statement was a response to a notice filed on Thursday by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, after National Observer reported on serious allegations that the federal government’s review process for the C$7.4-billion project was “rigged”. The letter to the Federal Court of Appeal from Tsleil-Waututh lawyer Scott Smith gave notice of a request that the government release secret records of the pipeline review.
“It is TWN’s position that such new evidence of bad faith and dishonorable conduct by Canada…would be directly relevant to the Court’s consideration of whether Canada discharged its duty to consult TWN,” he wrote. While the request is unusual for a case that was heard last fall, and was expected to be decided by the court this spring, Smith said there was precedent for addressing the new allegations in the Observer investigations.
“In short, it would appear that this evidence, which was not disclosed and in regard to which TWN had no prior knowledge, corroborates TWN’s allegation and suggest, in the words of the relevant media coverage, that internal federal government employees were instructed ‘at least one month before the pipeline was approved, to give cabinet a legally-sound basis to say ‘yes’ to Trans Mountain…at a time when the government claimed it was still consulting in good faith with First Nations and had not yet come to a final decision on the pipeline,” he wrote Thursday.
The court asked stakeholders to respond by late Friday. Kinder Morgan’s Canadian-based lawyer, Maureen Killoran, said it was too late to gather new evidence in the case.
“There are no exceptional circumstances that justify reopening the evidentiary record for the consolidated proceedings,” she wrote. “On the contrary, it is highly unlikely that the motion will uncover additional producible evidence; even if such evidence exists (which is denied), it has no influence on the outcome of this case.”
Yet that evidence seemed to just keep piling up last week, with the Observer unearthing another eyewitness account of the late October, 2016 meeting where Erin O’Gorman, then the associate deputy minister of Natural Resources Canada, is said to have pushed for a pre-cooked conclusion on the project.
“I’m not sure if that was word-for-word, but that was certainly the gist of the message. So I can’t say if that was a direct quote, but that was the message I heard,” the official told Observer’s Mike De Souza. “I was in shock.”
“I guess that’s something that wouldn’t have fazed me at all if the Harper government was still in power,” the official added. “But given the change in government, seeing as how we were told to provide serious advice, I was rather shocked at being given that kind of direction. It’s not something that I would have expected from a Liberal government.”
In Burnaby, meanwhile, the Observer reports that local residents were watching in horror after last week’s refinery explosion in Superior, Wisconsin injured 15 people, sent black clouds of noxious smoke into the air, and forced local evacuations.
“It’s horrendous,” said longtime resident Elsie Dean. “Maybe some notion of this danger to the people and the environment will arouse some discussion about bringing all this [diluted bitumen] into Burnaby.”
“Something just like that and much worse could happen at the tank farm in Burnaby,” said Simon Fraser University biochemistry protester and veteran Kinder Morgan protester Lynn Quarmby. “Especially if they do the (tank farm) expansion.”
Quarmby has serious questions about whether she and her students at Simon Fraser would be able to escape a fire similar to the one in Wisconsin.
“If the expansion goes through, I’m going to have to seriously consider how I’m going to arrange my life,” she said. “Because it doesn’t feel responsible for me to teach classes up there and to draw students to that place where we could not evacuate.”
Former Kinder Morgan environmental engineer Romilly Cavanaugh noted the Burnaby area is now much more heavily populated than it was when the existing tank farm was built. “Now there’s housing that’s very close, and there’s also the SFU campus,” she told the Observer. “So there’s the risk to people of fire as well as the risk of toxic fumes from the black dust.” She warned that the dust and fumes from an oil storage tank fire would be toxic to wildlife as well as people.
“The Simon Fraser University campus in Burnaby sits directly above the Kinder Morgan Tank Farm on Burnaby Mountain,” National Observer notes. “In 2015, the Burnaby Fire Department released a report warning that the expansion of the tank farm would increase the likelihood that a fire would be able to spread from tank to tank and, ultimately, torch the surrounding forest on Burnaby Mountain.”
Burnaby Deputy Fire Chief Chris Bowcock said his department’s priority is to protect the community first, but an evacuation on the scale of Wisconsin would be difficult. “It’s very onerous on emergency services, a very significant undertaking,” Bowcock told National Observer. “It’s not the easiest thing to make happen in a very short time frame.”
But that very short time frame might be essential, given Cavanaugh’s analysis, as well as Bowcock’s comment that any active “hydrocarbon facility has the risk of the discharge of both flammable and toxic outfalls.”