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Trans Mountain oil pipeline in Canada short on safeguards

Canadian energy regulator said planners haven't done enough yet to address safety and the environment in a pre-construction audit.

By Daniel J. Graeber
Trans Mountain oil pipeline in Canada short on safeguards
Not enough done to address safety and the environment on the pre-consruction phase, regulators tell Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion planners. Map courtesy of Kinder Morgan.

Sept. 15 (UPI) -- The parties behind the Trans Mountain oil pipeline to Canada's western coast haven't yet completed what they need to for the environment, a regulator found.

The National Energy Board approved of Kinder Morgan's plans to triple the capacity of the network to around 890,000 barrels of oil per day in November, though vetting is still under way for some aspects. The project is part of a national effort to tap into markets outside North America as nearly all of Canada's oil exports go to the United States.

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The NEB said it completed a pre-construction audit and found planners haven't yet laid out plans regarding safety and environmental protection during the build process.

"This pre-construction audit is one of our proactive tools for regulatory oversight for the NEB," NEB Chairman Peter Watson said in a statement. "This is all about prevention and we believe that significant incidents can be avoided in the future by ensuring companies have the proper systems and processes in place even before they begin construction."

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Canada is the fourth largest producer of oil and natural gas liquid in the world. The NEB said export capacity is constricted, however, because pipeline capacity hasn't kept pace with production. Trans Mountain planners can, despite the NEB's latest audit, continue with preparations for matters where all of the regulatory requirements have been met so far.

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The NEB in early September said it was satisfied with the environmental plans outlined by the company to expand a port in British Columbia to handle the new volumes from Trans Mountain.

Less than 1 percent of Canadian oil is exported now outside of North America. Earlier this week, the NEB suspended a review of the Energy East project because pipeline planner TransCanada asked for a dealy to consider regulatory concerns. Energy East would carry 1.1 million bpd from Alberta and Saskatchewan to eastern Canadian refineries and critics said it would serve primarily as an export route.

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Western Canadian leaders, meanwhile, have expressed concerns about Trans Mountain's expansion and the increase in tanker traffic. In early August, British Columbian Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman and Attorney General David Eby said they secured legal counsel to challenge Kinder Morgan's project.

Route hearings for Trans Mountain are scheduled in British Columbia next year.

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