Stephen Harper’s ambition to feed Canadian resources to customers in Asia is going to hit a thunderous clash of opposition in Vancouver after a major U.S. pipeline company announced that it will go ahead with a $5-billion plan to more than double the output of a pipeline moving oil from Alberta to the Vancouver harbour, with a tanker-a-day proposed to export it.
Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP, a large yet little-known Houston energy and pipeline company, operates a relatively small pipeline – called Trans Mountain – from Edmonton to the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby.
On Thursday, the company announced that it has enough customers for the product lined up to begin the official regulatory review process of its plan, which would put another pipeline on the route.
The expansion, which has been in the works for a decade, will join the much-better known Northern Gateway pipeline proposed by Enbridge Inc. as a source of controversy. The Gateway plan would move oil sands bitumen from Edmonton through northern B.C. to the remote and rugged northwest coast for export to Asia.
Kinder Morgan’s proposal for 850,000 barrels of oil a day to flow to Vancouver – up from 300,000 – would mean an oil tanker every day in the Burrard Inlet. It currently requires one about every four days.
The Trans Mountain plan will be big problem for Christy Clark’s B.C. Liberal government, which is already campaigning for next year’s election and has dared not anger voters by taking a stand on Northern Gateway.
Trans Mountain, terminating in Burnaby, would be tougher to dodge. Voters in Ms. Clark’s Vancouver-Point Grey constituency would be able to watch the daily oil tanker traffic grow in English Bay, coming out of the Burrard Inlet.
“It’s that much closer to home,” Ben West, a spokesman for the environmental group the Wilderness Committee, said in an interview. “It’s just going to turn the volume up.”
The federal government has given tremendous support for such projects, starting with the Prime Minister. Canada’s reliance on the United States to buy its oil has hurt the country in the past year, as U.S. customers pay far less than international buyers would. It means that oil companies and governments that collect tax on their profits are losing millions of dollars a day.
Ottawa’s recent budget cut back on reviews of such projects to encourage corporations to push ahead with multibillion-dollar resource-extraction and export plans.
Despite the opposition to Enbridge, Kinder Morgan expressed confidence as it embarks on two years of work to persuade people along the pipeline route to support the idea.
“I’m very confident,” Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson said in an interview. “That confidence comes from what I consider a personal commitment to people and the residents of the communities of B.C., and Alberta, to hear, and listen, and work our darndest to accommodate those interests.”
Opposition to the plan is expected to be vast, given the swirl around Enbridge’s Northern Gateway. People in Vancouver won’t like the idea of oil tankers cruising by daily. First nations and land owners along the pipeline may not want a major expansion. Environmentalists are already active in the fight, as they believe pipelines aid and abet the oil sands, a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions.
“This new, super-sized proposal is simply outrageous,” Mr. West said in a statement on Thursday. “If Kinder Morgan thinks they can fly under the radar with this massive and reckless project, then they are in for a real surprise.”
The Trans Mountain pipeline was built in the early 1950s. Most of the oil it transports supplies the Vancouver region, Washington State, or California. Recently, some has shipped to Asia. Kinder Morgan bought the Canadian company that operated Trans Mountain for $3-billion in 2005. The company completed a controversial expansion of the pipeline through Jasper National Park several years ago.
Mr. Anderson said the support of Ottawa and Mr. Harper is important. Kinder Morgan also has big backing from oil companies: On Thursday, the company said it has 20-year shipping commitments on the line from energy companies that it didn’t name.
“It’s important to know that the Alberta producers, that Alberta, that the federal government, are in support of what we do,” Mr. Anderson said.
Kinder Morgan plans to file for approval of the project in 2014 and construction could begin in 2016.
The company was started in the 1990s by former Enron Corporation executive Richard Kinder after he quit his post as a top executive at the U.S. energy company.
B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake wasn’t taking sides on Thursday. He said the proposal is still in the early stages, but agreed it will likely be a volatile issue.
“Any time you do anything in B.C., you are going to activate public interest – people are passionate about resource development,” Mr. Lake said in an interview.
The existing Kinder Morgan pipeline runs through Mr. Lake’s Kamloops-North Thompson riding, and he said he hasn’t seen any cause for concern.
“To my knowledge it’s been managed very well – we have a history that shows it can be done,” he said. “But obviously it opens up the whole public question about the movement of oil, and oil tankers.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story stated that Kinder Morgan plans to file for project approval in 2104. The correct year is 2014. This version has been corrected.