What’d I Miss?: The Kinder Morgan Pipeline

In case you blinked, here’s a timeline

Image courtesy of The National.

By: Simran Randhawa and Gabrielle McLaren


On December 13, after three days of deliberation, the Board of Transportation Commissioners approved the application for a pipeline to be built, connecting Burnaby to Edmonton.

It was established because of the discovery of a large deposit of oil in Alberta in 1947, to open new foreign and domestic markets. The proposition was filed and supported by four parties: the Dominion of Canada, Trans Mountain Oil Pipeline Company, and the provinces of Alberta and B.C. alike.



The Trans Mountain Canada Pipeline Company began constructing the Trans Mountain Canada Pipeline, more widely known as the Kinder Morgan Pipeline to connect Burnaby to Edmonton. It ran for 1,152 km and involved two tank farms — one at each end.

The pipeline is owned by Kinder Morgan, a Texas-based company. Its construction came at a time of unprecedented oil consumption in Canada.



The pipeline began operating — the metaphorical fruit of a $93 million construction project.

The first spill in the pipeline’s history occurs on October 15, the day the pipeline was supposed to open.



The National Energy Board (NEB) is created. They become responsible for: “the construction, operation, and abandonment of pipelines that cross international borders or provincial boundaries, as well as the related pipeline tolls and tariffs,” along with imports and exports of oil and energy.  

Kinder Morgan must legally report any spill that is over 1.5 cubic meters, or that could affect a body of water regardless of size, to the NEB. 82 spills have been reported since 1961. 69.5% of them have taken place at terminals or gas pumping stations.  

The most environmentally disastrous oil spills in the history of the pipeline were caused by faulty welds and other construction defects, human error, and forces of nature.



Kinder Morgan applied for further expansion and establishment of a second pipeline of almost 980 km, most of which would parallel the existing pipeline. The pipeline’s capacity would nearly triple, from 300 000 barrels of oil daily to 890 000. This would also require at least 12 new pumping stations. The pipeline would also potentially be used to transport diluted bitumen.

Bitumen is the heaviest crude oil currently in use, and watchdog groups claim that it is particularly difficult to clean up and dangerous to transport.

According to Kinder Morgan, the project comes as a response to oil shippers, who wanted to reach new markets and exploit Western Canadian oil. Their website states: “With oilsands production expanding in Alberta in the years ahead, new markets and opportunities are emerging. As countries in Asia Pacific begin to develop the same quality of life we enjoy in Canada, they need to secure sources of energy. Canada is a natural trading partner for these countries, and with an expanded Trans Mountain Pipeline system will be in a position to meet their growing needs for years to come . . .”



November 10: A study conducted by Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Public Research Policy claims that the projected economic benefits put forth by Kinder Morgan are grossly overestimated and that the impact would affect the domestic market as well as foreign export.



The Burnaby Fire Department released a report outlining the potential dangers of a tank farm on Burnaby Mountain and the dangers relating to the expansion: earthquakes, flammable crude oil leaks, toxic gases, fires burning for days, exploding tanks causing a chain reaction, or forest fires. . .

For SFU in particular, this would mean that firefighters would be in the dangerous situation of fighting the flames uphill. Those living, working, and studying on the mountain would effectively be trapped.

SFU Safety and Risk Services’ Emergency Preparedness Plan can be found online.



November 28 : SFU Safety and Risk Services release a Trans Mountain Pipeline Update. In the official statement from the president and vice-chancellor of the university, Andrew Petter, he says that the potential health and safety risks are unacceptable to the community and that SFU fully intends to raise these concerns with the Federal Government and Kinder Morgan. The Peak reported that the proposed doubling of the tank farm’s capacity would situate SFU Burnaby in the midst of potential forest fires, toxic fumes, and other health hazards.


November 29: The Canadian Federal Government approved the expansion adding 157 long conditions on the application to address socioeconomic and environmental issues, as well as concerns brought up by Indigenous communities and other communities that deal with the threat of potential spills (as well as issues of Indigenous land rights). Construction is expected to be completed by December 2020, and would be in service thereafter.

Days later, B.C. Premier Christy Clark gave British Columbia’s support for the expansion in 2017 as she believed the new amendments to the conditions proposed by the Federal Government were in line with her conditions.



May: The pipeline becomes a hot-button issue in the provincial election. Clarke’s Liberal government is defeated and replaced by an NDP-Green coalition led by Premier John Horgan, who is firmly anti-pipeline. This will cause friction between BC and Alberta (under Premier Rachel Notley’s leadership), the only two NDP governments in Canada.


October: Despite the Governmental support for this expansion, various court cases have been filed over the years in provincial and federal courts by the City of Burnaby, the City of Vancouver, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, the Squamish, Kwantlen and Coldwater First Nations as this pipeline and any potential spills threatens their ancestral land and homes.

Chief Ian Campbell of the Squamish First Nation is among many Indigenous leaders who point out that the federal government did not consult First Nations before agreeing to support the pipeline’s expansion. He says: “Sixty years ago when this project was established, we had no legal recourse. That era has come and gone in this country,” he said.


December 7: The NEB allows Kinder Morgan to begin building the pipeline, despite their failure to secure a construction permit from the City of Burnaby.




Protests ramp up as construction on the pipeline is set to begin, including protestors blocking worksites.


February 6: Alberta’s NDP Premier Rachel Notley announces that Alberta will no longer import British Columbian wine, as part of the provinces’ ongoing dispute. According to her estimates, Alberta exports 70 million dollars a year to B.C. On February 22, the provinces agree to somewhat of a truce and wine exports resume.


March 15: BC’s Supreme Court grants an injecture to Kinder Morgan, meaning that protesters cannot get within five meters of Kinder Morgan’s construction sites. On June 3rd, this zone will grow and the ten-minute warning period for protestors before police can make arrests is removed.


March 23: Federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May is arrested for protesting against the pipeline. Five days later, she will plead guilty to criminal contempt in court and be charged a 1500$ fine.


April 10 : After over a year of various sanctions being placed on the pipeline, Kinder Morgan suspended “non-essential” actions and activities related to the pipeline, in order to avoid further losses for its stakeholders. Kinder Morgan’s CEO stated that: “While we have succeeded in all legal challenges to date, a company cannot litigate its way to an in-service pipeline amidst jurisdictional differences between governments.”


May 29: Adamment on seeing the pipeline through, the Government of Canada announced its plan to buy the Trans Mountain Pipeline for 4.5 billion dollars in order to ensure its completion.


June 4: ChangeSFU, a non-profit at SFU, had a meeting outside federal MP Terry Beech’s office in North Burnaby to create awareness for the environmental impact of the expansion, and its impact on Indigenous communities and their land rights.

This is not ChangeSFU’s first intervention regarding the pipeline, given the high stakes for SFU students (see above). At another event, Aaron Siebenga, a member of ChangeSFU, has described the Burnaby campus as “ground zero” for Kinder Morgan, and has stressed the importance of student knowledge in regards to the pipeline.