B.C. ‘grasping at straws’ against Trans Mountain with proposed dilbit restrictions: Notley

B.C. environment minister George Heyman speaks alongside government colleauges. Image: Province of B.C./Flickr

The B.C. NDP government is planning new restrictions on the movement of diluted bitumen from Alberta through B.C. by pipeline or rail – restrictions that appear designed to try to halt the twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

The government has announced regulations that include restricting any increase in the transportation of dilbit “until the behaviour of spilled bitumen can be better understood and there is certainty regarding the ability to adequately mitigate spills.”

Diluted bitumen already moves through the Trans Mountain pipeline. It appears the new restrictions are not designed to capture the existing flow of bitumen from Alberta through B.C., but only increased volumes.

It’s not clear from the government’s new release just what it means by restrictions, although within minutes of the news release going out, environmental groups and the Green Party were weighing in with prepared news releases of their own, cheering the new restrictions.

“The proposed regulation should be a wake-up call for Kinder Morgan,” said West Coast Environmental Law executive director Jessica Clogg. “Significant and potentially insurmountable regulatory hurdles still face the Trans Mountain project.

“If a dilbit spill cannot be effectively and safely cleaned up, new B.C. regulations may prevent the company from ‘turning the taps on’ even if it is able to complete construction.”

The announcement is intended to slow or restrict the Kinder Morgan pipeline and projects like it, said the David Suzuki Foundation’s Jay Ritchlin.

“We don’t know how effective these measures will be,” he said in a statement. “We’d rather the federal government cancel its approval of the project altogether and limit shipping traffic, period. But this is a positive step toward getting this dangerous material off our waters.”

The new restrictions being considered include requiring compensation for loss of public and “cultural” use of land impacted by spills from pipelines or railways and new geographic response plans.

"The people of B.C. need to know that there is effective spill management across the province and, in particular, for our most environmentally sensitive areas, including coastlines," George Heyman, minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, said in a press release.

"We believe spills should not happen. But if hazardous pollutants have potential to spill, our government will ensure that spillers must be prepared and able to fully mitigate the environmental damage before they proceed."

The government is seeking feedback on the new restrictions. The government is setting up an independent scientific panel to make recommendations to Heyman on the question of “if and how heavy oils can be safely transported and cleaned up, if spilled.”

Alberta premier Rachel Notley was quick to respond with her own media statement.

“Having run out of tools in the toolbox, the Government of British Columbia is now grasping at straws,” she said.

“The B.C. government has every right to consult on whatever it pleases with its citizens. It does not have the right to rewrite our Constitution and assume powers for itself that it does not have. If it did, our Confederation would be meaningless.

“Therefore, the action announced today by the B.C. government can only be seen for what it is: political game-playing. But it’s a game that could have serious consequences for the jobs and livelihoods of millions of Canadians who count on their governments to behave rationally and within their scope of authority.

“Rash actions like these send a message to the world that in B.C. and in Canada the rules are not what they might seem, and therefore jeopardize investment decisions and hundreds of thousands of jobs across of range of important industries.”

The B.C.-based Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) called for federal authorities to "outright reject" the proposed action.

“It’s time to get to work on this project. This pipeline is in the national interest, which is why the federal cabinet approved it in the first place,” ICBA president Chris Gardner said in a statement.

“All of the issues raised by Minster Heyman today have been previously addressed in the 29-month-long Trans Mountain approval process undertaken by the federal government, and endorsed by the provincial government. This is simply a stall tactic meant to flout the federal government’s jurisdiction. It’s time for Prime Minister Trudeau to act.”

Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver said he thinks the panel will confirm what he has asserted for years – there is no safe way to transport diluted bitumen.

“I look forward to the new panel providing complete, robust and accurate information on this matter to the minister that reinforces what which we already know - that there is no way currently to adequately respond to a spill of diluted bitumen,” Weaver said.

Kinder Morgan said in a statement that it is aware of the government’s announcement today and will actively participate in their engagement and feedback process.

"The expansion project’s approval by the Government of Canada followed a rigorous and lengthy regulatory process that included a thorough examination of the pipeline and products being shipped and there are conditions on the Project from both the National Energy Board and the BC Environmental Assessment Office related to diluted bitumen."

—JWN and Business in Vancouver