Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline: Update

Contractors are mobilizing equipment and hiring workers to expand West Coast pipeline with impressive safety record.

Now that the federal election is behind us, you may be curious about the future of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP).

In 2018, the Government of Canada bought the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline, which takes western Canadian crude oil from Alberta to the terminal and export facility at Burnaby, B.C. In the process, the government also took ownership of the proposed TMEP, which would see a much-needed expansion to carry additional crude supplies for export to overseas markets such as Asia. In June 2019, the government reiterated its support for the project and approved the expansion.

Immediately after the election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government remains committed to the pipeline expansion project. And in a televised interview after the election, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said, “Construction of the pipeline is underway and the decision to go forward has been made, which means there is really no way to use it as a bargaining chip in the minority government. We [the federal government] purchased it for a reason. We now see how it can help us accelerate our clean energy transition by putting any revenues that we get from it into a transition to clean energy. We think that is the best way we can move forward in our current context.”

“The Trans Mountain Expansion Project is a critical infrastructure project needed to give Canada access to new markets and better prices for its oil,” says Chris Bloomer, president and CEO of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA). “It will be the best-built, safest and most technically advanced pipeline possible and the sooner the project is built the better, so Canada can start to signal to the world that we are, in fact, open for business.”

Notice to Proceed issued

In September 2019, Trans Mountain (TM), operator of the existing pipeline, announced that a Notice to Proceed had been forwarded to various contractors associated with construction of the project, giving contractors the green light to begin mobilizing equipment, hiring workers, procuring goods and services, and developing detailed construction plans.

As of the end of October, 2,200 workers had been hired to commence work on the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline.

By the end of October, about 2,200 workers had been hired including heavy equipment operators, tradespeople, engineers and construction managers. Work is underway at the Burnaby and Westridge terminals in B.C., and at pump stations in Alberta. Survey crews were active in the Edmonton area, preparing the pipeline right-of-way. TM expects construction work in the Edmonton area to begin as soon as possible. In addition, more than 55 per cent of the required pipe has been delivered to staging locations in Alberta and B.C.

Over the coming months TM expects to receive clearance of outstanding regulatory approvals and permits for the remaining construction areas. The timelines for approval could impact project costs, schedules and final in-service dates. However, if approvals are received as anticipated, the expanded pipeline could be in service by mid-2022.

“Over the coming months, we will continue our engagement with Indigenous communities along the construction corridor,” says Ian Anderson, TMC’s president and CEO. “We are committed to ensuring the project incorporates all appropriate measures to protect the cultural, environmental and local Indigenous interests in the lands and waters through construction and into operation.”

An outstanding safety record

Pipelines are the safest and most efficient means of transporting oil and natural gas, but anti-pipeline activists often raise pipeline leaks and spills as primary concerns. As a regulated company, TM is responsible for reporting spills greater than 1.5 cubic metres, or any spill into a water body regardless of volume.

The existing Trans Mountain pipeline has an outstanding safety record and the company is continually improving on that performance. Since 1961, 84 spills have been reported to the relevant regulator.

70 per cent of these incidents occurred at pump stations or terminals, which are equipped with monitoring and spill containment systems. These facilities are also rigorously maintained and inspected.

30 per cent of these spills occurred along the pipeline. Twenty events related to releases of crude oil; of these, nine exceeded the reporting threshold of 1.5 cubic metres. Only three of those nine incidents took place within the past 40 years.

Since 1956, vessels have transported petroleum products from the Westridge Marine Terminal through Port Metro Vancouver with zero spills from a tanker.

Western Canada Marine Response Corporation is implementing an enhanced response regime that will see $150 million invested in new equipment and new response bases

In addition, the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) is resuming implementation of the Enhanced Response Regime described in the TMEP project application and included as one of the conditions of project approval. This spill response enhancement program will see $150 million invested in new equipment and new response bases in the Salish Sea. The move triggers B.C.’s largest-ever expansion of spill response personnel and equipment on the South Coast as part of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. These enhancements will double response capacity while significantly reducing delivery time compared to existing planning standards.

In this article, Context speaks with:
  • CB
    Chris Bloomer President & CEO, CEPA