Trans Mountain expansion clears another hurdle

April 6 (UPI) — The regulatory process for the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion project took another step forward in British Columbia, a national regulator said.

The National Energy Board ruled that a route for a small section of the pipeline in the city of Chilliwack in British Columbia was necessary. “After considering and weighing all the evidence before it,” the regulator ruled the section was in the public interest.

“The NEB’s decision to approve Trans Mountain’s Chilliwack variance application now goes to the federal government,” the regulator stated. “If approved, the detailed route approval process for the area in which this variance is located will be proceeding in the fall of 2018.”

The consortium behind the expansion project applied for a variance to the pipeline corridor. As submitted, it would avoid hydroelectric power infrastructure in British Columbia and run about 1,600 feet shorter than initially planned, but still follow the existing pipeline infrastructure.

Pipeline company Kinder Morgan plans to expand the Trans Mountain network to the western coast of Canada, tripling its design capacity to 890,000 barrels per day. Nearly all of the exported Canadian oil heads south to the United States and the expansion of Trans Mountain would help break a North American land lock, but lead to an increase in tanker traffic along the western Canadian shore.

The project has faced steady opposition from both sides of the border. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee in March signed executive action protecting maritime species in a move that Greenpeace said could complicate Kinder Morgan’s plans.

The city government in Chilliwack said it was playing an active role in the regulatory process, expressing concerns ranging from the impact on a regional aquifer to protection of the environment along the pipeline’s right of way.

NEB’s ruling is just one step in a multi-layered process. It issued decisions in February that could let the pipeline group start work on a tunnel entrance at Burnaby Mountain in British Columbia, provided it gets permits from three different levels of government.