Trans Mountain Pipeline Spills, Restarts
Earlier this month, Trans Mountain issued a statement announcing that it had experienced a spill at its Sumas Pump Station in Abbotsford, British Columbia, near Native American reservation the Sumas First Nation.
According to the company’s initial estimates, the pipeline lost between 940 and 1,195 barrels (150,000 to 190,000 liters) of light crude. Sumas First Nation Chief Dalton Silver reports that it is the fourth spill the reservation has endured in 15 years.
Both Trans Mountain and the federal Transportation Safety Board are investigating what caused the spill.
About Trans Mountain
Owned by Canada Development Investment Corporation (CDEV)—also known as the Crown corporation—the pipeline currently moves roughly 300,000 barrels of crude per day and stretches 1,150 kilometers (roughly 715 miles) from Edmonton, Alberta, to the West Coast of British Columbia in Burnaby.
There are 23 active pump stations between both locations. Trans Mountain reports that its pipeline consists of 827 kilometres of 24-inch pipe, 150 kilometres of 36-inch pipe and 170 kilometres of 30-inch pipe. Although, where the system connects with the Trans Mountain Puget Sound Pipeline at the Sumas delivery point, the infrastructure is made up of 16 to 20 inch pipe and runs for 111 kilometers.
In 2018, energy infrastructure company Kinder Morgan announced the suspension of all non-essential activities and related spending connected to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. At the time, the CA$6.8 billion ($5.09 billion) Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion was still in progress and hadn’t reached Burnaby.
The decision stemmed from British Columbia’s resistance to the project, along with Kinder Morgan unwillingness to saddle shareholders with the additional risk that comes with construction costs ramping up from $200 million to $300 million a month.
At the time, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley indicated that her government was open to buying the pipeline to ensure the project was completed. Previously, Kinder announced delays in obtaining permits for the project in 2017.
By June 2018, the Canadian government followed through on its interest in purchasing the pipeline and bought the infrastructure from Kinder Morgan for $3.47 billion deal that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hoped would expedite the project’s completion.
The following year, Trudeau announced that pipeline project had been approved once more, emphasizing that money made from the pipeline would be reinvested into green energy endeavors. The expansion is also a move to reduce dependency on selling petroleum to the States, as the pipeline will move product to the Pacific for delivery to Asia.
“Take a look at my record, and you’ll see that I’ve talked about the importance of developing our resources for a long time,” Trudeau said, adding that “in order to get the job done, Canada needed to have its act together on the environment.”
On June 13, Trans Mountain announced that it had contained a spill which occurred in the early hours of the morning at its Sumas Pump Station. When notified of the spill, crews immediately shut down the pipeline and dispatched to investigate.
To clean up the loss of free-standing oil, the following day crews and trucks were employed around the clock in order to recover and transport the materials to an approved facility for disposal. The same day, company officials reported that the sites permanent groundwater and air monitoring systems hadn’t identified any risk to the public or community but is continuing to watch over the situation.
Additionally, the company also announced that an investigation into the pipeline’s failure had been launched. Initial reports claim that the issue was related to a fitting on a small diameter (1”) piece of pipe connected to the mainline. All COVID-19 protocols were reportedly being carried out during the cleanup and investigation efforts.
An incident command post was also set up at a nearby hotel where representatives from Trans Mountain, the Canada Energy Regulator (formerly the NEB), B.C.'s Ministry of Environment and others are coordinating response efforts alongside First Nations leadership.
However, as a result of the spill, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs condemned the planned expansion, which had just been approved by the Canadian federal government earlier this month. The expansion involves twinning the pipeline, which would increase its capacity from 300,000 barrels of crude per day to 890,000.
"We conducted our own assessment of Trans Mountain using leading science and Tsleil-Waututh's Indigenous law that concluded that oil spills are inevitable, can't be fully cleaned up, and have devastating effects," Chief Leah George-Wilson of Tsleil-Waututh Nation said in the UBCIC statement.
"This most recent spill is another reminder that the risk is too great to accept. The Trans Mountain pipeline has already spilled more than 80 times since it began operating. This is why we continue to fight the Trans Mountain Expansion in the courts."
Chief Silver added that his reserve’s drinking water comes from between 195-305 wells within an aquifer beneath the fields where the spill happened and wonders what hazardous effects the spill might have had on their water supply.
“With it being on kind of a swampy area, my big concern is seepage into the ground and I’m wondering if people are taking into account the cumulative effects of something like that,” said Silver.
Despite Silver’s concerns and the UBCIC’s position on condemning the project’s expansion, the pipeline was reported to be up and running again after having been shutdown for just 36 hours.
Last week, Trans Mountain reported that removal of contaminated soil was still underway and was expected to take approximately four weeks to complete. Environmental monitoring is still ongoing as well, as well as Indigenous monitors, cultural monitoring and an archaeological study as part of the cleanup and remediation efforts.
Trans Canada adds that it is fully cooperating with the Transportation Safety Board and the Canada Energy Regulator over the course of the failure investigation.