Three days ago Abbotsford residents smelled a strong gas or diesel smell in their neighbourhood and lo and behold an oil spill had been discovered at Kinder Morgan’s Sumas Abbotsford.

Kinder Morgan’s reaction?

“What oil spill? Oh, that oil spill. It’s nothing, nothing at all. Um, look over there!!”

It’s an unhappy coincidence that is more like being bludgeoned over the head with the obvious truth than then reading the writing on the wall.

This spill occurred less than 2 months after the National Energy Board (NEB)* approved Kinder Morgan’s proposal (without public consultation or involvement by First Nations) to expand the amount of crude oil they are exporting from their terminal on Burrard Inlet in north Burnaby. It’s part of Kinder Morgan’s plan to twin their pipeline, and dredge the Second Narrows to allow larger oil tankers to access the terminal.

Meanwhile competing oil giant, Enbridge Inc. continues to push for the building of twin pipelines from Alberta to Kitimat (known as the Northern Gateway Pipeline) flouting the incredible advancements made in its pipeline technology and ignoring the fact that the bitumen to be carried is an incredibly abrasive substance that wears away pipes.

Enbridge also dismisses concerns that the massive Asian supertankers called Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) with the capacity of 2 million barrels (about 84,000,000 gallons) or more (the length of 3.5 football fields and 200 feet wide) may have difficulty navigating the narrow and treacherous Inside Passage. These tankers will have to make several sharp turns (a maneuver that proved too difficult for the miniscule by comparison BC ferry Queen of the North that missed it’s turn, ran aground and sank in 2006. 2 passengers died) and make frequent trips.

The Northern Gateway pipeline would bring tanker traffic into the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest to the tune of 18 condensate and crude oil tankers per month, including four to five Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs). A potential spill would dwarf the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill that saw 10.9 million gallons spill into Prince William Sound. That spill was devastating to wildlife and damaged marine and terrestrial ecosystems, the effects of which linger today. Some of the estimated monetary figures involved in that spill are as follows.

  • The spill caused over $300 million of economic harm to more than 32 thousand people whose livelihoods depended on commercial fishing.
  • Tourism spending decreased by eight percent in south central Alaska and by 35 percent in southwest Alaska in the year after the spill.
  • There was a loss of 9,400 visitors and $5.5 million in state spending. (Source:
  • An aggregate loss of $4.9 to $7.2 billion dollars. In effect, this reflects the public’s willingness to pay to prevent another Exxon Valdez type oil spill given the scenario posed (Source:

I don’t know what those figures amount to in 2012 dollars, but they are significant and just a small percentage of what a spill associated with the proposed Enbridge or Kinder Morgan pipeline expansions would be. Bottom line, in BC, where the tourism industry plays a significant role in the economy, oil spills are bad for business.

The oil and gas industry and its political lackeys can’t deny that there is a risk of oil spills. The truth is there is significant risk- just look at their track records:

Kinder Morgan:

  • April, 2004 Suisun Marsh diesel spill (1500 barrels spilled into marshes adjacent to Suisun Bay)
  • November, 2004 Walnut Creek (gasoline fire resulting in an explosive fireball that caused the deaths, by burns, of four workers and one supervisor and the severe injury of four others. Several nearby homes were ignited and one was partially destroyed).
  • September, 2007 KMGP was convicted on six felony charges related to the Walnut Creek Explosion.
  • July, 2007 Burnaby crude oil spill (spilling 234 litres into a residential neighbourhood and ocean adjacent to Hastings St. in Burnaby. About 70,000 litres of the oil flowed into the Burrard Inlet the resulting cleanup costing more than $15-million)
  • May, 2009 Burnaby Mountain oil spill (almost 200000 litres of crude oil was spilled. Fire and hasmat teams were called to the scene and contained the spill).
  • October, 2011 three companies, two contractors and Kinder Morgan each entered guilty pleas under a 21-count indictment in Provincial Court.
  • January, 2012. Spill in Abbotsford. (Estimated 110,000 litres of crude oil spilled).



I’ve borrowed the timeline of Enbridge disasters from blogger “So What Did I Miss:”

He writes:
Enbridge: A Short History in Disaster
Between 1999 and 2008 Enbridge recorded 610 oil and gas spills.
Regarding the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, Gina Jordan, an Enbridge spokesperson quoted a study quite casually stating the chance of a spill was “something like 1 in 15000 years, I don’t know”.  An absurd claim, given the company’s recent environmental track record.  Given the facts below, a spill near B.C.’s fragile rainforest seems almost inevitable if this pipeline is built.  In addition, the company is not financialy liable for any oil spills from oil ships on the ocean.
So there you have. Two companies with criminal backgrounds and penchants for downplaying the harm their activities cause to people and the planet. Only their profits stand to gain.
*The National Energy Board (NEB or Board) is an independent federal agency established in 1959 by the Parliament of Canada to regulate international and interprovincial aspects of the oil, gas and electric utility industries. I would think safety and contribution to public good would be pretty important things to regulate when it comes to pipelines…but it seems the NEB is good at rubber stamping proposals regardless of risks to health and safety.