Former B.C. Premier Mike Harcourt is urging the prime minister to insist on a different route for the Trans Mountain pipeline to carry diluted bitumen out to tankers at Tsawwassen or Cherry Point in Washington State, instead of risking massive civil disobedience by opponents in Burnaby.
He argued Kinder Morgan's proposed pipeline twinning largely has local support along most of the route from Alberta to the B.C. coast so a "plan B" that diverts the pipeline south to a different terminal is worth exploring.
"The pipeline by and large has been approved from the oil sands to Surrey," Harcourt told Black Press. "Where it hits conflict is when it gets to Burnaby and into Burrard Inlet, where one one spill would be a disaster."
He said it was imprudent not to look at alternate routing to a less contentious tidewater port than the existing Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby.
"It avoids some of the real and legitimate fears and concerns people have expressed about tripling the traffic in Burrard Inlet,"said Harcourt, who was NDP premier in 1993 during mass protests against logging in Clayoquot Sound. "I'd like to avoid a violent and sustained set of protests."
Former B.C. Premier Mike Harcourt.
Activist groups have vowed the $6.8-billion project will hit a wall of opposition, particularly in Metro Vancouver, and comparisons have been made to the violent standoff over a pipeline project in North Dakota.
Burnaby Mountain was the site of more than 100 arrests two years ago to make way for Kinder Morgan survey crews.
The idea of diverting the pipeline to a different terminal that would keep additional tankers out of Burrard Inlet and Vancouver harbour has previously been raised by Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan and Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley.
And the concept got a fresh lift this fall when it was flagged for further consideration by a ministerial panel review of the project appointed by the federal government to fill in gaps in the National Energy Board process.
That new review, co-chaired by former Tsawwassen First Nation chief Kim Baird, urged the federal government to consider whether Trans Mountain's current route "is the right one."
Kinder Morgan has so far rejected suggestions of an alternate terminal at Deltaport, saying it would add to the costs and environmental impacts.
Harcourt said any higher cost to accommodate a new terminal must be considered against the risk for the oil industry and the country as a whole of not getting a new pipeline at all. He said extra construction costs could be borne by oil shippers over time.
Vicki Huntington, the independent MLA for Delta South, said rerouting the pipeline to Deltaport is a "non-starter" because of the critical ecological habitat at the mouth of the Fraser River that would be vulnerable to a spill of bitumen.
Michael Hale, a Trans Mountain opponent with the Pipe Up group in the Fraser Valley, said Harcourt is wrong to conclude the pipeline will face less resistance if it only extends as far southwest as Abbotsford or Delta.
"Over 90 per cent of B.C. presenters were opposed [during the latest panel hearings] – it didn't matter if you were from Chilliwack or Burnaby," he said.
Climate change activists in particular who want to keep Alberta oil in the ground will aim to block the pipeline expansion wherever they can in B.C., he said. Nor do specific environmental concerns for the Salish Sea end with a different terminal.
"When you think of the ecosystems out from Deltaport – the salmon, the endangered orca populations – that region is already heavily threatened," Hale said. "That's going to mobilize people everywhere, whether it's Burnaby or Delta or virtually anywhere else they can think of on this coast."
A final federal government decision is required by mid-December on the NEB's recommendation for conditional approval of the Trans Mountain expansion.