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UPDATE: Pipeline firm to seek hammer over Burnaby

Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson. - File photo
Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson.
— image credit: File photo

Kinder Morgan Canada will ask the National Energy Board to force a resistant City of Burnaby to give it access to study a possible tunnel through Burnaby Mountain for its proposed Trans Mountain oil pipeline.

President Ian Anderson said the company will also seek formal permission from Burnaby but hopes to secure an order from the NEB within weeks if the city doesn't relent.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan has indicated his city won't cooperate with Kinder Morgan unless it's forced to do so. The city would have the ability to appeal any NEB order, potentially causing further delay.

"My hope is that we can get the permission of the city," Anderson said in a media conference call Friday, adding he hopes to repair what has become a "toxic relationship" with Burnaby as quickly as possible.

The company wants to conduct test drilling into the mountain as part of environmental and geotechnical work to assess whether either a bored tunnel or directionally drilled route is possible there that would avoid the need to run the twinned pipeline near homes to the west of the mountain to reach the Westridge Marine Terminal.

Anderson said he prefers a bored tunnel because that could let Kinder Morgan to deactivate the existing section of pipeline approaching the tanker terminal and relocate it through the mountain as well.

He said he wishes the revised route had been pursued sooner, but called the idea of drilling through Burnaby Mountain an "engineering revelation" that came to project planners as they gained more understanding of the sensitivities along the original route.

A tunnel would drive up the project's costs, but Anderson could not say by how much.

The proposed route change unveiled this spring prompted the NEB to this month push back a final recommendation on project approval by seven months to allow more time for study.

That will take it to Jan. 25, 2016 – past the next federal election – but Anderson said he did not expect the delay to threaten the project.

"I don't consider the election cycle to be a determinant of the national interest on a project such as ours," he said, adding the proposed $5.4-billion pipeline would be buffeted by politics regardless.

Anderson said there's no risk that the delay could unravel the project's finances or allow oil shippers who have contracted with the expanded pipeline to back out of their commitments.

The company has been under fire from intervenors – including the provincial government and Lower Mainland regional districts – for failing to adequately answer numerous questions they have posed.

The province said it couldn't assess the project's risks without access to its emergency response plan, which Kinder Morgan had refused to publicly divulge as part of the NEB process over security concerns.

Anderson said the company will publicly table by Aug. 1 a sanitized version of the emergency plan that's stripped of private and confidential information as well elements that could undermine security.

But it's unclear if that will satisfy the intervenors, because Anderson said Burnaby and the province may already have a copy of the non-confidential plan.

He said it will ultimately be up to the NEB to decide whether or not Kinder Morgan has been right in declining to answer some intervenor questions as irrelevant to the project.

In response to a suggestion that Burnaby's fire department might withhold service in the event of a pipeline or oil tank farm emergency, Anderson said he's never heard of a city denying protection to its citizens and businesses before.

"We find it quite outrageous," he said, adding that while Kinder Morgan has some firefighting capacity of its own the company does not expect to have to bolster that to fully replicate Burnaby's resources.

Corrigan said in an interview Wednesday that the NEB's decision is "at least a small victory" that recognizes Burnaby was right in its claim that Kinder Morgan's application is incomplete.

"My problem, being the fiscal conservative I am, is that we're spending money chasing you as you change your mind," he said of the company.

"The idea that somehow we have to kowtow to these big corporations needs to be absolved from people's minds."

Corrigan confirmed Burnaby will not be cooperating with Kinder Morgan unless the NEB forces it to do so. The city plans to argue against the concept of putting the pipeline through the mountain.

Doing so would in effect hand control of parts of a city-owned park to the company for which the city has already made huge investments, he said.

"We know what the swaths of right-of-ways are like and the control they require over those right-of-ways. It's one thing to have that across a field or farmland in the Prairies, it's quite another thing to put it through a major conservation area in an urban area like us."

He also doesn't buy into the suggestion that the company's new routing is an altruistic way to have less impact on area residents, saying he believes its interest is a "purely economic" one.

"They're a big corporation out of Houston, it's motivated by making money. That's the way they gauge their success, by how much money they make," Corrigan said.

"But my job is gauged on how well we protect our community and whether or not we do what our residents want us to do in order to defend the community."

~ with files from Wanda Chow

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