With the federal government expected to announce its decision on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion on Tuesday, Janice Antoine, a resident of the Coldwater reserve in B.C., wants to know when contamination from the pipeline discovered on her property five years ago will be cleaned up.
“I, at this point, have no confidence, because in my field there was a spill that occurred and it’s been, I believe, five years. We had promises that the contamination would be cleaned up, and the contaminated soil is still sitting there,” said Janice Antoine.
She’s a resident of the Coldwater reserve in B.C., where decades-old contamination was discovered on her property in 2014.
CBC has obtained records from Trans Mountain and found there are seven known contamination sites along the route of the existing pipeline in B.C. and Alberta. According to Trans Mountain, five of the sites are under active remediation and two have remediation action plans under review with the NEB.
Five of the contaminated sites are in B.C. and the other two are in Alberta.
CBC has been able to identify only one of those sites as being at a private residence — at Antoine’s home. The most recent spill was in 2018 at the Darfield pump station near Kamloops, where 4,800 litres of medium crude was released.
Another one of the contaminated sites is near Hope, B.C., where about 18,000 litres of crude was spilled in a 2013 incident. CBC does not know the extent of contamination at the other five sites, which are all characterized as “historical contaminations.”
Antoine spoke to CBC last year about the contamination at her property, expressing concern over who would step in to remediate her land as the company changed hands from Kinder Morgan to the federal government.
One year later, nothing has changed. Her land is still contaminated, the extent of the spill is still not fully understood, and she is still losing money that she would have otherwise earned leasing out the land for agricultural purposes.
Spill dates back to 1968
The contamination is believed to date back to 1968 and is categorized as a ‘historical contamination,’ which according to a statement from Trans Mountain means a “contamination associated with past releases, for which the clean up was compliant with requirements of the day, but is discovered to require further remediation to meet current standards.”
In a statement to CBC last year, Kinder Morgan stated that the contamination discovered at Antoine’s property was “small” and “contained.”
A 2018 report from a consultant firm hired by the Coldwater Band outlines concerns with a proposed remediation plan because “the original spill that caused the soil contamination around the pipeline is not properly understood.”
In an emailed statement about the contamination at Antoine’s property, the NEB said it’s “currently working through the remediation process, with the responsible company.”
But Antoine said at this point she doesn’t even know who to contact at the NEB or Trans Mountain about the cleanup.
“I don’t know what direction to take next because it’s very expensive for a private citizen to access the resources to get any legal advocacy.”
Antoine isn’t the only person concerned about the upcoming decision from the federal government and the possible expansion of the existing line.
‘This is a farce’
Marc Eliesen, an economist with extensive experience in the energy sector, including having been chief executive of BC Hydro and former Ontario deputy minister of energy.
Eliesen was an intervener in the NEB approval process for the Trans Mountain expansion project but later withdrew, calling the whole process a “sham.” In his submissions through the NEB, Eliesen put questions to Trans Mountain generally focused on economic feasibility and risk factors.
As he participated in the process, he said he found Trans Mountain was not answering many of his questions, often replying to say the questions were outside the scope of the review, including questions that were asked with respect to the existing line.
A 2014 ruling from the NEB stated the continued operation of the existing line and “its current operating conditions” were not “before the Board as part of this hearing.”
“All these factors were not allowed to be evaluated by the National Energy Board in the review and so you come to the conclusion very quickly, well this is a farce,” he said.
Among his questions put to Kinder Morgan as an intervener was a request for details about two specific leaks on the existing pipeline. He was not given a response because the request was determined to be irrelevant in respect to the scope of issues under consideration for the expansion.
Eliesen said he’s not confident that the NEB reconsideration report and recommendations around protecting the marine environment and beefing up spill prevention and response capabilities will provide adequate protection.
He said the contamination and lack of remediation at Janice Antoine’s property is a good way of evaluating how serious contaminations are taken, or not.
“That’s the only basis you have. If there isn’t attention being given to a smaller area like that then what kind of confidence could you have in a larger picture? Well you don’t. You don’t have confidence,” he said.
“To me that’s a reflection of the failure of the National Energy Board.”
The NEB is the body responsible for overseeing remediation work when there’s an incident with any of the pipelines it regulates, including the Trans Mountain pipeline. Companies are required to follow its remediation process guide in the event of a contamination.
According to an NEB spokesperson, “the NEB works to ensure that the responsible company conducts full remediation of affected areas. Remediation to the most stringent applicable criteria is required to minimize the risk from the contamination to the public and the environment.”