North Shore residents got their first of two chances on Saturday to put questions and concerns to the proponents of a pipeline project that will increase oil tanker traffic through Burrard Inlet five-fold.
About 75 people came to the first Kinder Morgan-hosted public information meeting on the company's proposal to twin the Trans Mountain pipeline - which runs from Edmonton to Burnaby - Saturday afternoon. A second meeting is scheduled for West Vancouver tonight.
If approved by the National Energy Board, the upgrade will mean 25 oil tankers will leave the Westridge Terminal in Burnaby every month, up from the current five, each carrying about 585,000 barrels of diluted bitumen to markets in the U.S. and China, according to Mike Davies, a Kinder Morgan spokesman.
While some members of the audience appeared to have come out simply to learn more about the project and get their questions answered, a large contingent of meeting attendees seemed to already be steadfastly opposed.
Deep Cove residents Chloe Hartley and Chris Sallis, like most, listed the potential for a spill in Burrard Inlet as their biggest concern, but issues such as increased air pollution, noise and light at night, and environmental impacts in their local waters also brought them to the meeting.
Others took a more macro view in opposing the plan, including former Green Party candidate Jim Stephenson, who argued that oil is best left in the ground.
"The question isn't so much whether they can build a safe pipeline or even whether they can move ships safely through our most beautiful waters," he said. With the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that would result in part from pipeline expansion, global temperatures will be pushed upward, bringing disastrous consequences, said Stephenson.
Others worried about the risk of the smaller leaks that are known to happen along pipelines and the carcinogens those mishaps would put into the nearby water and soil.
As for the prevailing local concern about a spill in the inlet, that would be largely out of the company's hands, said Davies.
"Our strict regulatory obligation is for the pipeline; that's where we have direct responsibility," he said. "We're very, very concerned that the marine traffic piece of it be done well, but we don't have any direct influence on that part of it. It's under Transport Canada; it's under B.C. Pilotage."
The Tsleil-Waututh Nation, whose traditional territory the tankers would travel through, has already come out opposed to Trans Mountain, but they have a separate consultation process to go through, as mandated by the federal government.
"Their concerns are really important to us," said Davies. "We hope to meet with them to talk to them in detail about the project, share some of the factual information about it and get their input and clearly understand their concerns as well. It's part of designing the best project that we can."
In addition to an increase in jobs at the Westridge terminal, the project would give a boost to North Vancouver's Seaspan, which would provide new state-of-the-art tugs to get the tankers in and out of the narrow inlet, Davies said.
Canadians as a whole will also benefit from the $4-billion expansion, Davies argued, calling it a "critical piece of Canadian infrastructure."
"Canada has the second- or third-largest oil reserves in the world, and we only have the infrastructure that allows us to trade with the U.S., basically," he said, noting that Asian markets are putting up about $20 to $30 more for barrel of oil these days.
"That's what Canada's economy is based on: trading commodities. . . . I think it's in the best interests of Canada to get the best price that we can. This project will provide the opportunity to trade more with lots more countries."
And Canadians benefit more from the oft-demonized "Big Oil" than they realize, he said.
"Those who are lucky enough to actually own shares in the oil companies, they're part of Big Oil. If you have a Canadian mutual fund, it probably has some shares in Canadian oil companies, and if you hope to get CPP, the Canadian Pension Plan invests in oil companies," he said.
Contrary to popular belief, Kinder Morgan does not produce, own or sell the oil that runs through Trans Mountain, Davies said; it simply leases the pipeline space to energy marketers.
The next and only similar meeting on the North Shore is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 7 at the Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver from 4 to 7 p.m.
Feedback from the meetings will be used as part of Kinder Morgan's application that will go to the National Energy Board at the end of next year.