85 Spills in 67 Years: Groups Call for Indigenous-Led Probe into Aging Trans Mountain Pipeline
After a history of 85 spills along the 67-year-old Trans Mountain pipeline, the federal and British Columbia governments must launch an “independent, Indigenous-led expert investigation” into the line’s safety and integrity, a group of Indigenous leaders and environmental groups say in a release issued yesterday by Stand.Earth.
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“This is the fourth time in 15 years that the existing Trans Mountain pipeline has had an oil spill on our land,” said Sumas First Nation Chief Dalton Silver. “Without an independent, transparent, and scientific investigation into the safety of this old pipeline, we have no confidence in Trans Mountain’s ability to build the new pipeline without inflicting more damage to our territory.”
Silver added that the pipeline expansion would disturb Lightning Rock, a cultural site and burial grounds significant to the Sema:th First Nation and Stό:lō Coast Salish, where victims of the 1782 smallpox epidemic are buried. He said Crown-owned Trans Mountain Corporation has failed to submit a detailed cultural heritage study of the site, as required in its construction permit.
The release from the Sumas First Nation, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), Stand, West Coast Environmental Law (WCEL), The Wilderness Committee, and Dogwood notes that the causes of the spill are not yet clear, raising “concerns about the integrity of the aging infrastructure in all of Trans Mountain’s existing pump stations, and the need for a wholesale engineering and design review.” The groups say the escaped oil “breached the pump station altogether and spilled onto adjacent lands, threatening if not damaging an ancestral Sema:th cultural site and posing a serious risk to the aquifer and local water quality.”
While the federal Transportation Safety Board and Canadian Energy Board have announced investigations, “the federal government investigating itself is clearly not an option,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the UBCIC. “Trans Mountain Canada has no excuse of corporate confidentiality—we must know what maintenance was overdue when Kinder Morgan sold Trans Mountain to the federal government and whether or not it has been addressed.”
Without that degree of transparency, he added, “we can only assume the aging pipeline is a ticking time bomb, all along its entire 1,100-kilometre route.”
“This most recent spill is a wake-up call that the Trans Mountain pipeline is a threat to the health and safety of communities all the way from Edmonton to Vancouver, especially Indigenous communities,” said Stand.earth Canadian Oil and Gas Program Director Sven Biggs. “In the middle of a health and economic crisis, now is not the time to be increasing that risk by building another dangerous pipeline along the same route.”
“This is another heartbreaking reminder that pipeline spills are inevitable,” said WCEL staff lawyer Eugene Kung. “Kinder Morgan’s reputation for skimping on maintenance in pursuit of profit was well known when Canada overpaid for the aging pipeline. The Trans Mountain expansion needs the capacity of the original pipeline to maintain the illusion of commercial viability,” but “that illusion evaporates with every oil spill.”