‘Time to Pull the Plug’: Report Shows Construction Delays, Safety Issues Delaying Trans Mountain, Making Pipeline a Financial Loser
Construction challenges, steadfast opposition from landowners along the route, shocking safety and health risks at two tank farms, and the looming risk of construction “man camps” near B.C. Indigenous communities all call into question the federal government’s stated belief that the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will open on schedule in 2022, Vancouver-based Stand.earth concludes in a blockbuster report released Wednesday.
The resulting delays could boost the project’s completion costs, undercutting its financial viability and turning the now publicly-owned pipeline megaproject into a “white elephant”, Stand says.
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“This report reveals how the Canadian federal government faces bigger construction challenges than previously thought and calls into question the three-year construction timeline for the project,” said Stand’s International Program Director Tzeporah Berman. “The report reveals several serious permitting delays for the project, including ongoing route hearings in Alberta and British Columbia that illustrate how there is no approved route for the pipeline.”
“The Canadian federal government faces bigger construction challenges than it will publicly admit to. Although this pipeline is now owned by the government, there remains an air of secrecy and lack of transparency about the dangerous risks at several construction hotspots along the route,” Berman added in a release. “These construction risks include drilling under the Fraser River and through Burnaby Mountain, and the expansion of infrastructure at tank farms in Burnaby and Abbotsford.”
But you wouldn’t know any of that to listen to Trans Mountain. CEO Ian Anderson “recently claimed construction will be complete by mid-2022, but what he failed to mention is that this date is another six-month delay on a project already years behind schedule,” said Stand Climate and Energy Campaigner Sven Biggs, Climate and Energy Campaigner with Stand.earth.
“This project continues to face several permitting delays,” he said. “Construction activities have not once been on schedule, including the latest timeline filed just last week with the National Energy Board indicating that ongoing route hearings have ‘introduced uncertainty into the construction schedule’. This project is dangerously close to becoming financially unviable according to the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO)’s own projections. It’s time for the federal government to pull the plug.”
Scarcely three years before Anderson and his new federal employers expect to cut the ribbon on the project, the litany of risks in the Stand release includes:
• The lack of an approved pipeline route;
• The then National Energy Board (NEB)’s July, 2019 requirement that Trans Mountain go through a new set of public hearings for the route;
• The pending Federal Court of Appeal challenge by six First Nations;
• Continuing opposition from affected cities and other First Nations;
• The continuing wait for 658 pending provincial permits, not to mention a further 243 that Trans Mountain hasn’t even applied for.
“There is no way to eliminate the risk, and given the weak economics it is probably a project that should be abandoned,” Biggs said, during Stand’s launch event in Vancouver. He paraphrased the PBO’s conclusion that “if there is a delay of more than a year or an increase in costs for the project (of) more than 10%… this project is no longer financially viable for the taxpayers.”
CBC notes that 33% of the landowners along the route still haven’t granted Trans Mountain access to their property. In late July, the national broadcaster ran a feature report on the company’s approach to the hundreds of owners who still hadn’t signed access agreements. That week, the NEB said the nationalized pipeliner must still “issue notices to landowners along the entire route, including those that were served previously, and publish notices in local newspapers,” The Canadian Press reported, after the federal Cabinet re-approved the project. “The NEB says it will notify potentially affected Indigenous peoples of the detailed route approval process, adding those who have route concerns may file a statement of opposition requesting a review.”
Stand’s lists of seven dangerous construction hotspots along the pipeline route includes:
• Increased risk of tanker collisions if an expanded Westridge Tanker Terminal obstructs 30% of the width of Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet;
• Horrific health and safety risks in the event of a tanker farm fire in Burnaby, adjacent to the Simon Fraser University campus and a local elementary school, that provided a focal point for the Star Vancouver’s coverage of the Stand report;
•• The massive safety risks facing Indigenous women in at least five B.C. communities due to the construction of temporary “man camps” along the route;
Geologists’ concern about active earthquake fault lines around the tunnel Trans Mountain plans to drill through Burnaby Mountain;
• Water supply risks for communities south of the Fraser River, in the event of construction errors around the critical Port Mann water supply tunnel.
“We don’t live next door to a ‘tank farm’. We live next door to a 60-year-old crude oil storage and re-routing industrial complex that has already twice spilled toxic pollutants into our community,” said Abbotsford resident John Vissers, who lived through a 2012 oil spill at Trans Mountain’s Sumas Tank Farm. “And both times, the operator, Trans Mountain, failed to respond when we depended on them.”
“We have a right to say no to these resource extraction projects which are a threat to Indigenous women,” said Beverly Manuel of the Tiny House Warriors, which has already built five structures that are blockading a pipeline man camp at Blue River, B.C. “We do not consent to Trans Mountain building pipelines or man camps on our unceded territory where we hold title.” All of which adds up to an overwhelming business and logistical challenge that is not being explained to Canadians, Stand asserts. “Canadians taxpayers—who are the ones paying for this multi-billion dollar pipeline—have a right to know the impacts that construction will have on communities and the environment,” Berman said. “They deserve to know the realities of these dangerous construction hotspots that could push the cost of this project even higher.”