Kinder Morgan proposes to divert its proposed $5.4-billion Trans Mountain expansion around a controversial route the pipeline has followed through the Coquihalla canyon since the 1950s.
In its application submitted to the National Energy Board, the company states that there is limited working room in the canyon for a second pipeline “and constructability is a concern.”
A tributary of the resource-rich Fraser River, the Coquihalla River has been the focus of pipeline concerns expressed by environmentalists even before a spill occurred in the narrow canyon last summer. Since that spill, the NEB has not allowed the pipeline to return to full operating capacity.
Built in 1953 when environmental standards did not exist, the Trans Mountain pipeline crosses the Coquihalla River 13 times in less than 20 kilometres.
Kinder Morgan officials mentioned possible canyon rerouting options during public consultation in Kamloops earlier this year, but did not responded to a media request for elaboration at that time.
Extensive reconnaissance has led them to the western alternative route, which is given preference in the application. The western route would follow a series of existing rights-of-way: Spectra gas pipeline, a fibre-optic transmission line and the Coquihalla Highway through the Boston Bar Creek drainage.
The alternative route would cross only one river, traversing less terrain with “high natural hazard potential,” and avoid a riparian reserve zone, old growth management areas and ungulate winter range. It would also bypass Coldwater River Provincial Park and cross slightly less of the Coquihalla Summit Recreation Area.
It would not avoid the Coquihalla River entirely, however, since the two corridors join where Boston Bar Creek flows into the river.
David Ellis, the most vocal of pipeline critics, said the alternative route would avoid a 185-metre-high “jump-off” near the top of the canyon.
“It’s very steep terrain for any pipeline,” said Ellis, who feels the pipeline should never have been built in the canyon in the first place.
Far from allaying Ellis’s concerns, the new alternative is more troubling to him. He feels the alternative route is still vulnerable to avalanches and would put the expanded pipeline, operating under increased pressure, nearer to the travelling public.
Then there’s the question of what would be done with the original pipeline.
“They’re going to abandon it,” Ellis said. “They don’t actually dig up (decommissioned) pipelines. They abandon pipelines over most distances. It’s a big issue to me.”
The application now awaits a comprehensive analysis by the NEB before public hearings follow next year.
“We’ll take a look at the application — all 15,000 pages — and make sure it’s complete, then we’ll set out a hearing order,” said Sarah Kiley, NEB spokewoman.
The application includes routing options that would divert the line around several areas, including Westsyde, Jacko Lake and the proposed Ajax mine and two Indian reserves north of Merritt.
The entire document is available at transmountain.com.