By Keith Norbury

Work on the expanding the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, B.C., is running slightly ahead of the rest of the controversial Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project. Capt. Bikram Kanjilal, Trans Mountain’s Director of Marine Development, said in an interview in late February that the overall project is between 20 and 22 per cent complete. The terminal expansion is part of one of several “spreads” that the pipeline expansion project has been divided into. Spread 7 includes the terminal and about 35 kilometres of pipeline between Burnaby and Langley. The Spread 7 contractor is Kiewit Ledcor Trans Mountain Partnership.

“The main purpose of the Trans Mountain expansion project is to provide our resource developers in Canada access to world markets,” Capt. Kanjilal said. “And, frankly building a pipeline without the dock wouldn’t provide that access.”

The Canadian government, through a Canada Development Investment Corporation subsidiary, purchased the existing pipeline and the in-progress expansion project from Texas-based Kinder Morgan in 2019 for $4.5 billion.

Work on the terminal, which would add three new berths, began earlier than the rest of the pipeline project. However, like the rest of the project, work shut down following a 2018 Federal Court of Appeal decision that required a do-over of the consultation process. Work on the terminal resumed in 2019, although it shut down in December 2020 after a worker was seriously injured on the terminal construction site. That and another serious workplace incident caused Trans Mountain to halt work for a voluntary review of its safety practices. It began a “staged remobilization” the week of Feb. 8, the company said in a news release at the time. “We want to make sure that things are done safely and no one gets hurt in building this massive undertaking, which is, obviously, so important to Canada,” Capt. Kanjilal said.

Completion set for late 2022

The entire $12.6 billion project is now scheduled for completion in December 2022. Cost of the Lower Mainland spread, which includes the Westridge terminal, will be about $1.1 billion.

Berths 1 and 2, which straddle the same dock, will be completed before Berth 3 is finished, according to a November 2019 video on the Trans Mountain website. After the third berth goes into service, the existing berth will be decommissioned.

All berths, including the existing one, are capable of loading Aframax tankers, which Capt. Kanjilal described as “the workhorse of the tanker industry.” He should know: a master mariner for 40 years, Capt. Kanjilal has piloted oil tankers, including much larger VLCCs, or very large crude carriers.

The three new berths combined with the second Trans Mountain pipeline which will run alongside the original line from Edmonton to Burnaby, will more than triple the capacity at Westridge. The upgraded facility will be able to handle up to 34 tankers and three barges each month. That’s an increase of the average of five tankers and one barge at present.

“We are capable of accommodating Aframax tankers, and we do get those,” Capt. Kanjilal said. “But when we said five tankers, these would be Panamax size.” Afraxmax tankers, however, leave the terminal only partially laden. That’s in part because of restrictions at the Second Narrows Bridge, under which the tankers must pass as they leave the port of Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet.

A present, “a significant portion” of those tankers are bound for California. Trans Mountain spokesperson Ali Hounsell pointed out that last year a tanker even carried crude from Westbridge via the Panama Canal to an Irving Oil refinery in New Brunswick. (An item on went into more detail, noting that the tanker carried an estimated 450,000 barrels from Calgary-based Cenovus Energy on the 12,000-kilometre trip.)

“It was probably a unique situation or perhaps a test situation,” Capt. Kanjilal said. “But we will know more I guess once the (expansion) project actually comes into play.” In any event, he expects the expanded terminal will continue shipping products to California. “But, that said, this additional capacity will provide opportunities for accessing other markets as well around the Pacific Rim.” Those potential markets include China, Japan, and Korea.

890,000 barrels a day

According to Trans Mountain, the expanded pipeline will have a capacity of 890,000 barrels per day compared with 300,000 bpd at present. The system had a capacity of 150,000 bpd when it began operating in 1953. “The existing pipeline provides the vast majority of fuel requirements for British Columbia,” Capt. Kanjilal explained. That includes refined products like diesel as well as crude oils.

The new pipeline will be assigned primarily to export products, the majority being diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands. That oil will be stored at Trans Mountain’s Burnaby Terminal, about three kilometres inland from Westridge, and a new 3.2-kilometre pipeline will connect the Burnaby and Westridge terminals. It will replace a longer pipeline that wends through residential areas. The Canadian Energy Regulator approved the relocation in May 2020.

As for the Westridge expansion, an early piece of its construction involved using 1,900 sheet piles “to create eleven circular-shaped cells and ten half cells,” noted a Trans Mountain video. After they’re filled with aggregates and other materials, the cells would form the foundation for new safety and operational equipment at the terminal. The construction project also involves driving in 160 steel piles into the seabed, using a large crane barge called D.B. General and other floating equipment “to form the foundation of the new docks and shipping berths.”

Other project features include creation of a new rock fish reef and a $20 million vapour recovery system to capture up to 95 per cent of emissions during vessel loading. Such efforts haven’t been enough to address the concerns of opponents of the project, such as environmentalists, though.

Environmentalists opposed

Peter McCartney, climate campaigner with Wilderness Committee, said that aside from “big picture” concerns like Indigenous rights and climate change, most people are “worried about an oil spill directly in the heart of one of the most populated areas in Western Canada.”

Compounding that worry is that evidence from diluted bitumen spills elsewhere such as in Kalamazoo, Michigan, show that it can’t be cleaned up, he said. “It’s not something we can allow,” Mr. McCartney said. “That increased risk to our coastline is for an industry that is polluting the planet and ultimately killing people through climate change all over the world.”

Capt. Kanjilal said Kinder Morgan is investing about $150 million in West Coast Marine Response Corporation, an industry-funded organization to provide rapid response to an oil spill. “Trans Mountain is not responsible for shipping, but we appreciate that the project will increase ship movements, which then has an impact on the local waterways and things of that nature,” Capt. Kanjilal said.

Among Trans Mountain’s other anti-spill initiatives are assigning a loading master, who is a mariner with previous tanker experience, to each vessel and the practice of putting a boom around the vessel each time before transferring oil. The boom is not there because we are expecting an oil spill or anything like that. It’s just there as a preventative measure,” Capt. Kanjilal said.

Trans Mountain also has an enhanced tug escort requirement that ensures tugboats accompany tankers all the way to J Buoy at the entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait, “almost at the territorial water limits of Canada,” Capt. Kanjilal said.

Among the other environmental worries are ship noise and ship strikes harming endangered orcas. “Everybody is very conscious of the southern resident killer whales and their status,” Capt. Kanjilal said. To help address that, Trans Mountain contributed $1.6 million to Port of Vancouver’s ECHO program, which stands for Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation, includes voluntary ship slowdowns in Salish Sea waters.

First Nations aim to buy pipeline

Meanwhile, a group of First Nations along the pipeline route is negotiating with the federal government to buy Trans Mountain. Among them is the Whispering Pines/Clinton Indian Band near Kamloops, B.C. Band Chief Michael LeBourdais admitted that in 2007 he opposed the pipeline. “Then every lawyer I talked to said they’re going to get their certificate from the National Energy Board. And so what’s the next best thing? Owning it,” Chief LeBourdais said. First Nations aren’t against resource development, such as forestry or oil and gas, he said. “We’re against irresponsible development, and we’re against being excluded.”

At present, the existing pipeline runs right through his reserve and the band receives nothing in return. By owning the pipeline, First Nations will secure revenue that they can put toward infrastructure projects such as water purification systems. “I don’t have drinking water here,” the Chief said. “We’re not even supposed to bathe in our water.”

At present the Western Indigenous Pipeline Group represents about 20 communities. However, Chief LeBourdais, expects that number to grow to more than 70. Ms. Hounsell noted that Trans Mountain already has agreements with about 60 communities and that about 1,000 of the 8,000 workers on the project are Indigenous people.

Mr. McCartney, however, countered that half of B.C.’s First Nations haven’t given consent to the pipeline expansion project. Those holdouts include the Tsleil-waututh Nation, whose traditional territory includes Burrard Inlet. “If they want to build half the pipeline, they’re more than welcome to build half the pipeline,” Mr. McCartney said. “But that doesn’t make it a very good pipeline.” Chief LeBourdais, however, said it’s unreasonable to expect First Nations to agree 100 per cent on a project. “In my own family, I don’t have 100 per cent,” he said.

And he isn’t worried about the prospect that Trans Mountain will become a white elephant should the world shift suddenly from a reliance on fossil fuels, as Mr. McCartney says is inevitable. “I’ll take that off your taxpaying hands,” said Chief LeBourdais, who is also chairman of the Tulo Centre for Indigenous Economics. “Because it’s a crock. We are going to be a fossil fuel economy — my generation, your generation and probably your grandchildren.”