Leak shuts down Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline for second time this month

HOPE, B.C. – As one Kinder Morgan crew worked on stemming an oil leak from its Trans Mountain pipeline in British Columbia on Thursday, another worked on winning over the province’s reluctant public for a major expansion of the line.

It was the second time in as many weeks the company was forced to shut down the only pipeline linking the Alberta oil fields with a west coast shipping port because of a leak, this one about 40 kilometres east of Hope, B.C.

“We have, really, a culture of zero tolerance. Our focus, our job is to keep the oil in the pipe,” Greg Toth, senior project director for the Trans Mountain expansion, said as his team prepared for another of the dozens of public meetings they’ve hosted throughout B.C. and Alberta prior to filing an application with the National Energy Board.

The company was alerted to an “anomaly” in the line and sent a crew to the area Wednesday. That crew discovered oil on the ground and the line was shut down.

A 15-member crew worked through the night, and Kinder Morgan said Thursday that between 20 and 25 barrels of oil spilled, or up to 4,000 litres. Two weeks prior, several barrels of oil seeped from a crack in the line near Merritt, about 120 kilometres north of Hope.

“We’re disappointed that it happened but I think you can point to the fact that both of these leaks were found as part of our ongoing integrity program work. We were there on the right-of-way to dig up these features and it’s unfortunate that they began to leak before we got there,” said Mike Davis, the senior director of marine development for the expansion project.

Repairs were underway on the latest leak Thursday, and a National Energy Board emergency response team was on site to monitor the repair and clean-up of the rural site, about 150 kilometres east of Vancouver.

“There is no evidence of contamination to the Coquihalla River and Kinder Morgan continues to monitor water quality in the area,” agency spokeswoman Rebecca Taylor said in an email update.

There are no residences near the site, she said.

The energy watchdog agency said its investigators will look at whether the two incidents are isolated or similar in nature. Taylor said the board could not yet confirm the company’s estimated release volume, but said 80 cubic metres of contaminated soil was removed.

Pipelines and the oil tankers that go with them have been a hot-button topic in British Columbia, and both men said they have been recurring themes in the 37 public meetings their team has hosted in communities all along the would-be route.

Resolutions have been passed opposing the expansion by the city councils of Vancouver and Burnaby, where a 2007 construction accident rained down 230,000 litres of oil on a Burnaby neighbourhood.

But the Trans Mountain team say the company, from the beginning, has taken a local, community-by-community approach.

“We’ve been here for 60 years, so I think we really do understand the political culture here in B.C.,” Davis said.

The open house in Burnaby on Thursday night will elicit feedback on the proposed route of the new pipeline, which will stray significantly from the existing line because of the amount of development that has occurred since the original pipeline was constructed in 1953. The company will attempt to avoid private land, routing the line along abandoned railway lines if possible.

Essentially, the existing 1,150-kilometre line will remain in place, carrying refined products, synthetic and light crude. The “expansion” involves 980 kilometres of new line that will carry heavy oil, or diluted bitumen, as much as possible of it laid in the ground beside the current line.

The capacity will increase from the current 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels.

Kinder Morgan spokesman Andy Galarnyk said the exact cause of the leak has yet to be determined, but the company’s own investigation and repairs were already under way.

“As soon as we can get it repaired, and have discussions with the board on that, we’ll try to get this line up and running.”

– By Dene Moore in Vancouver