Trans Mountain hearings under tight security

OREANDA-NEWS. August 24, 2015. A series of hearings on Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain crude pipeline expansion will take place in the center of opposition to the project — Burnaby, British Columbia — under tight security and limited public access.

Seventy-six individuals are slated to testify over three weeks before a panel from Canada's National Energy Board beginning on 9 September. The Burnaby venue was set up to facilitate maximum participation, the NEB said.

Kinder Morgan is seeking to add 590,000 b/d of capacity to the Trans Mountain system by twinning the existing 300,000 b/d line from Edmonton, Alberta to the Vancouver, British Columbia-area on the Pacific coast. The \\$5.4bn project also includes increasing the number of storage tanks at existing facilities and adding new pump stations.

Witnesses at the hearings will include representatives of several First Nations groups, environmental activists, landowners affected by the pipeline route, officials from cities including Burnaby and Vancouver, and a group known as "Broke" which stands for "Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion."

Energy industry groups will also testify including the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and oil and gas companies such as Devon Canada, Cenovus Energy and BP Canada Energy Group.

In a separate hearing on 24 August at NEB offices in Alberta, Kinder Morgan's project team will make its final oral argument for the project.

Kinder Morgan has repeatedly expressed optimism that the expansion project will move forward. The company expects to get a final NEB recommendation in January 2016, said chief executive Steve Kean in the company's most recent earnings call.

The NEB has imposed strict security and attendance guidelines for the Burnaby hearings which will be held at the Delta Burnaby Hotel and Conference Center. The restrictions were needed because of a "past history of disruptions" and "occurrences of civil disobedience associated with the project," the NEB said.

Kinder Morgan will be allowed to have two representatives in the hearing room each day and the "interveners," or those testifying about the project, will also be allowed two representatives who have to be registered in advance. Accredited members of the media can also attend. For the first time in its history, the NEB will broadcast the hearings live on video over the Internet.

The city of Burnaby has clashed with Kinder Morgan over the company's attempts to survey Burnaby Mountain, where tunneling for the expanded pipeline would take place. In addition, the city strongly opposes an expansion of the Burnaby Mountain storage tank terminal.

Burnaby officials refused an NEB request for extra security at the September hearings, saying in a 29 July letter that the re-assignment of seven police officers and one supervisor would reduce the operational strength of the city's police force and compromise its ability to respond to major emergencies and to maintain public safety "during these situations."

The Trans Mountain project also includes adding tanker loading facilities at Kinder Morgan's Westridge marine terminal in Vancouver. The city of Vancouver has asked that the overall project's potential climate change impacts be considered, aligning itself with environmental groups opposed to all heavy crude takeaway options.

Burnaby and Vancouver have joined other cities, including New Westminster, City of North Vancouver, Victoria, Squamish and Bowen Island in protest against the NEB's hearing process, saying that it is deeply flawed and biased towards Kinder Morgan, allowing no oral cross-examination of Kinder Morgan officials.

An NEB spokeswoman said that the board has allowed participants to test evidence in writing "in an appropriate and transparent way" and that the process included two opportunities to ask Trans Mountain written questions as well as four hearings on oral Aboriginal traditional evidence.

"With 400 interveners, there will be a significant amount of evidence to review, from highly technical information, to local environmental concerns," the spokeswoman said.

Kinder Morgan said it has secured community benefits agreements that cover 87pc of the Trans Mountain route and that the expansion is supported by long-term contracts that have been approved by the NEB.

The company also said it has agreements with about one-third of the First Nations that are most directly affected and is working to get more.

"Progress is slower than we would like on getting the expressions of support but we are fulfilling the obligation we have to consult and accommodate," Kean said.