Kinder Morgan Canada expects to know within a month whether it will proceed with plans to twin the Trans Mountain oil pipeline, a B.C. Interior project worth an estimated $4 billion.
"Probably by the end of the first quarter of 2012, we'll know whether we have enough interest to initiate a project," said Lexa Hobenshield, a spokeswoman for the energy company. "We will not proceed with the project unless we have commercial support."
Since 1953, the pipeline has moved oil from Edmonton to Vancouver and Washington state via the North Thompson corridor and Kamloops. Kinder Morgan has had the twinning project in its scope for the past six years or more.
An "open-season" process, which seeks commercial commitments from the company's customers, was started in October 2011. Kinder Morgan wants commitments based on what would be a doubling of capacity in the line to 600,000 barrels per day (bpd) from the current 300,000 bpd.
However, the project, known as TMX, could proceed with less than that or with as much as 700,000 bpd, Hobenshield said.
Once it has capacity confirmed, the company will announce its plans and embark on a consultative process with First Nations, landowners and communities along the route. That alone could take up to two years. From there, the process would advance to a National Energy Board review.
"In general terms, there are a number of factors, but it's a five-year project from the announcement to the end of the construction phase."
Though it doesn't have the high profile of the proposed Enbridge pipeline in northern B.C., Trans Mountain twinning offers Kinder Morgan advantages. Specifically, it has an existing footprint and capacity can be added incrementally.
Responding to concerns raised by a North Thompson couple, whose property straddles the pipeline, Hobenshield said the existing system is in good shape despite its age. Ongoing maintenance and technological advancements have made it so, she said.
"The life of a pipeline can be indefinite if it's properly maintained. There is a ton of effort that goes into it."
Hobenshield would not comment on the residents' greater concern over their potential liability should anything go wrong with the pipeline. However, she did forward assurances from the company's lands manager that changes introduced by the National Energy Board 20 years ago are aimed at maintaining safe operations.
"To our understanding, nothing has changed affecting the rights and responsibilities between operations and landowners since our line was constructed," the official wrote.
The NEB Act requires a company to indemnify landowners from all liabilities and actions resulting from pipeline operations with the exception of matters arising from a landowner's gross negligence or wilful misconduct.
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