The Gristle

Zombie Pipeline

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

ZOMBIE PIPELINE: “This pipeline is dead,” environmental groups cheered when Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal rejected approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. In a unanimous decision by a panel of three judges in August, the court found the National Energy Board’s review of the expansion project was so flawed that the federal government could not rely on it as a basis for its decision to approve the expansion, and that the federal government failed in its duty to engage in meaningful consultations with First Nations before giving the project the greenlight. But the cries of victory were optimistic and premature, as no project backed by the powerful fossil fuels industry is ever truly dead—as long as they have government interests behind them. And perhaps that’s even more intensely true of a “twinning” project like Trans Mountain, plotted along routes already permitted and constructed, in a $9.3 billion addition that will triple pipeline capacity and increase tanker traffic in Puget Sound sevenfold.

The Canadian government laid a heavy thumb on the scales in favor of the project last spring when it announced plans to purchase the tar sands pipeline and expansion project after Kinder Morgan Canada shareholders balked at moving ahead with construction, effectively nationalizing the effort. The appeals court panel went so far as to actually lay out steps the Canadian government would have to perform, the detailed roadmap that might warrant additional review and reversal of their decision.

The Canadian government began those steps in earnest in an announcement last week the National Energy Board will reconsider the Trans Mountain expansion project to take into account marine traffic and its effect on orcas in the Salish Sea. The government has given the energy board 22 weeks to conduct the review. The timetable outraged British Columbia First Nations and environmental groups who believe 22 weeks is an insufficient amount of time to gather evidence and data for anything but a cursory and sham review.

Expanding the Trans Mountain pipeline raises the stakes south of the border, too, representing a potential doubling of the Puget Sound Pipeline, a 64-mile branch of the pipeline that operates in Washington that carried 2.6 billion gallons of tar sands crude oil to refineries in Ferndale and Anacortes last year.

In operation since 1954, the Puget Sound Pipeline crosses the Nooksack River, Sumas River, Samish River, Whatcom Creek, and the Swinomish Channel and carries about 30 percent of all crude oil shipped into Washington. The pipeline connects the four refineries in Whatcom and Skagit counties to the larger Trans Mountain Pipeline system that connects British Columbia and Washington state with the tar sands in northern Alberta. 

Washington gave Trans Mountain another bite at the apple, too, directing the operators to correct deficiencies in the oil spill contingency plan for its operations in Whatcom and Skagit counties. The company submitted a plan required by the state Dept. of Ecology for review and approval. Ecology requires oil-handling operations in Washington—such as facilities, pipelines, large commercial vessels and railroads—to have oil spill contingency plans that detail how they would respond to oil spills.

The Puget Sound Pipeline plan received more than 14,000 public comments.

“All opposed the plan’s ability to address a response to heavy oils that are difficult to clean up once spilled,” Ecology summarized. “All opposed the lack of details in the plan on species that are endangered and at risk from potential spills, such as the declining populations of Southern Resident killer whales.”

The agency gave the operators 60 days to provide more details about how operators would respond to a spill of heavy oils that may sink to the seafloor, and the initial steps they would take after a spill is discovered.

“We expect Canada to adhere to the high standards Washington has worked so hard to achieve that protect our environment, economy and the health of our communities,” said Dale Jensen, manager of Ecology’s Spill Prevention, Preparedness and Response Program.

“The current emergency response plan assumes that all spilled oil will float on water. The Trans Mountain (Puget Sound) Pipeline now carries heavy oil from tar sands that will sink below the water surface, so it can’t be contained by the procedures in this plan,” Eddy Ury, the Clean Energy Program Manager at RE Sources, noted in comments to Ecology. “The only way to protect from the devastation of an oil spill is to prevent one, but at the very least our state regulators must require a better plan to prepare for the risks to our rivers and fish that we’re facing from this tar sands pipeline in northwest Washington.”

The resurrection of this zombie pipeline expansion comes as bitter irony at a moment when the West Coast is accelerating a clean-energy transition. In 2017, Washington published the first economic analysis of this transition. The results showed that a transition to clean energy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels is both possible and affordable, but requires ambitious action.

On the ballot this November voters will consider Initiative 1631, which invests in clean energy and healthy communities and puts a $15/ton of carbon fee on the largest polluters.

What a tragedy for our state that some portion of this effort may have to be spent preparing for an enlarged catastrophic spill from one of the dirtiest sources of oil in the West, rather than on infrastructure to transition to a different future. And doubly a tragedy that Canada—ordinarily an inspiring and able partner in these efforts—has nationalized forces to push this through.

Zombies: They eat your brains.

Past Columns
Halfway Houses

March 20, 2019

New Directions

March 13, 2019

Fire and Ice

March 6, 2019

The Big Short

February 27, 2019

Marina Lacuna

February 20, 2019

New Bites at the Apple

February 13, 2019

Coal Folds

February 6, 2019

Refocusing the Narrative

January 29, 2019

Old Town, Old Story

January 23, 2019

Ranker Unanchored

January 16, 2019

‘Alternative Methods’

January 9, 2019

Top Stories, 2018

January 2, 2019

Et Tu, #MeToo

December 26, 2018

Turn That Corner

December 19, 2018

Paradigms in Collision

November 28, 2018

Leftover Turkey

November 21, 2018

The Divisions Between Us

November 14, 2018

The Map is the Territory

November 7, 2018

Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

La Conner Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition


Imagine Convergence on Orcas Island

12:00pm|Rosario Resort

Peter Pan, A Musical Adventure

7:00pm|Meridian High School

Dyo Festival Plays

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Bellingham Puppetry and Mask Festival

7:30pm|Alternative Library

SICBA Home & Garden Show

11:00am|Skagit County Fairgrounds

Tarnation, Ryan Stiles

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

The Pageturners

7:30pm|ACT Annex

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #154

Honeywagon Runs

8:00am|Riverside Park

Nordic Roots Seminar

9:00am|United Methodist Church

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Squalicum Creek

Native Plant Sale

9:00am|Whatcom Community College

Make It and Take it

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

WNPS Field Trip

9:00am|Breazeale Interpretive Center

Spring Studio Seconds Sale

10:00am|Blue Water Pottery

Quilt Museum Annex Open House

10:00am|Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum

Youth Ag Day

10:00am|Skagit Farmers Supply

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Skagit Beer Week

11:00am|Skagit Valley

Dahlias Made Easy

11:00am|Christianson's Nursery

Free My Heart

12:00pm|Village Books

Tax Help Available

12:30pm|First Congregational Church

Fidalgo and Mount Baker Youth Symphonies

1:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Forest Bathing

1:00pm|Rockport State Park

A Family Immigration Story


Cheese Classes

5:00pm|Chuckanut Center

PechuKucha Night

5:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Contra Dance with the Alphabeats

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Manouche NW Concert Series

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Giovanni & the Camino of St. Francis

7:00pm|Village Books

Gabriel and Rebecca Manalac

7:30pm|Jansen Art Center

Skagit Symphony's Masterpiece Concert

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

La Conner Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Imagine Convergence on Orcas Island

12:00pm|Rosario Resort

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition


SICBA Home & Garden Show

11:00am|Skagit County Fairgrounds

The Pageturners

7:30pm|ACT Annex

Skagit Beer Week

11:00am|Skagit Valley

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

History Tour

12:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Legally Blonde, the Musical

3:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Murder & Mayhem

3:00pm|Everson Library

Poems for Peace

3:00pm|The Happy Place

Powerful in pink


Art of Jazz

4:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Classy Comedy

7:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Village Books The Hunts
Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest

8:00am|Whatcom County

La Conner Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition


Skagit Beer Week

11:00am|Skagit Valley

Community Soup Kitchen

6:00pm|Little Cheerful Cafe

Monday Night Pizza

6:00pm|Ciao Thyme Commons


7:00pm|Alternative Library

Open Mic Night

7:00pm|Village Books


9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

see our complete calendar »

Bos2 Village Books The Hunts Trove Web Legally Blonde Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1