B.C. government adds red tape to Trans Mountain

B.C. issues new conditions as part of environmental certificate update

Protests and legal challenges have not stopped the Trans Mountain expansion project, but they have added to delays and costs. | Burnaby Now

The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which is on track to cost nearly $9 billion more than it was last estimated to cost, may now face yet more red tape that could add more costs and delays.

This week, George Heyman, the B.C. minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, and Bruce Ralston, minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, announced changes to the provincial environmental certificate -- originally issued in 2017 and amended in 2019 -- for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

Whether the changes will have a material impact on the project's cost or timelines is unclear.

The changes to the certificate are the result of a federal Court of Appeal decision in 2018, and B.C. Court of Appeal decision in 2019.

The project had received federal approval, but was halted when, in 2018, the federal Court of Appeal ruled the National Energy Board (NEB) had failed to properly assess potential impacts on the marine environment from the increased oil tanker traffic that would result from the expansion.

The NEB was forced to go back to the drawing board and do an assessment of the potential impacts of increased marine traffic and risks of an oil spill.

Once that was done, the federal government again gave the project the green light. The B.C. government also issued an amended provincial environmental certificate in 2019.

But in 2019, after the Squamish First Nation and the City of Vancouver appealed a previous decision by the BC Supreme Court, the BC Court of Appeal agreed that, since the original NEB approval had been flawed, the province’s own environmental certificate needed to be reviewed.

The B.C. government then began a review in May 2020, and only this week -- more than a year and a half later -- issued an update to its environmental certificate.

As part of the environmental certificate reconsideration, the B.C. government invited groups that were opposed to the project to have input, including the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations and City of Vancouver.

As a result of the reconsideration process, the B.C. government has made changes to the environmental certificate for the Trans Mountain project. They include a requirement that Trans Mountain provide research updates every five years on the behaviour of bitumen in the marine environment.

Other conditions include:

  • requiring Trans Mountain to develop a shoreline baseline data report that consolidates data at hypothetical incident locations along the oil tanker shipping route;
  • identifying exposure pathways in the event of a marine spill;
  • identifying roles and responsibilities of local, provincial and federal authorities in the event of a marine spill;
  • consulting with First Nations, local governments and relevant agencies to develop a report that will provide information to the federal government and its agencies for plans to address potential human health impacts from spills; and
  • adding the Snuneymuxw First Nation to a list of impacted aboriginal groups

Last week, the Trans Mountain Corporation issued an update to the pipeline twinning project, which was last estimated to have a completion date of December 2022 and a capital cost of $12.6 billion. The expansion project is now estimated to cost $21.4 billion, with construction pushed into late 2023.

In its update, Trans Mountain attributed $2.6 billion in added costs to “scheduling pressures,” which includes permitting.

Whether the new requirements in the updated provincial environmental certificate will add significant costs or delays to the project is not yet known.

Asked what impact the new requirements might mean for the project, Trans Mountain said in an email to BIV News that it will have to study the certificate update.

We have received the ministers’ decision and corresponding amendments to our Environmental Assessment Certificate (EAC) from the BC EAO," Trans Mountain writes. "We will review and determine next steps.”

Opponents of the pipeline expansion project have pointed to the project's ever escalating costs as reason to cancel the project. Some of those opponents were behind legal challenges that have delayed the project and added to its costs.

In a chronology of legal and regulatory decisions on the TMX project, the law firm Fasken enumerates more than a dozen legal challenges launched against the project by First Nations, the cities of Burnaby and Vancouver and the B.C. government since 2014.