Did you know that there is a tar sands pipeline already operating in BC and Northwestern Washington?

Despite the well-known risks associated with transporting tar sands, many of the residents who live along Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline route are not aware that the pipeline exists, let alone that it is transporting toxic substances.

The Trans Mountain pipeline begins in Edmonton, Alberta, crosses the Rocky Mountains and 98 streams and rivers as it makes its way to the Pacific Coast.  In southwestern BC and northwestern Washington state it runs through drinking water sources and watersheds, high-density residential areas, schools, prime farmland and many local businesses.

Built in the 1950s, as a multi-use pipeline to transport natural gas and conventional oil for local consumption, Kinder Morgan bought the Trans Mountain pipeline in 2005 and, for several years, has been silently transporting tar sands bitumen by pipeline to refineries on Puget Sound and to Kinder Morgan’s Westridge Terminal in Burnaby for export to Pacific Rim Markets. In February, 2012, a Globe and Mail article reported on a tanker shipment from the Westridge Terminal to China.

Also in February 2012, Kinder Morgan announced plans to build a new pipeline alongside the existing one allowing it to increase exports of diluted bitumen from 300,000 barrels per day to as much as 750,000 bpd. Recently company officials have revealed that approximately one quarter of the pipeline’s throughput is now diluted bitumen shipped to the Westridge Terminal. There it is pumped into tankers which sail through Burrard Inlet and the Straits of Georgia and Juan de Fuca to refineries in California and China. Upgraded tar sands products go to the Chevron Refinery in Burnaby and also in a pipeline from Abbotsford, through Sumas, Washington to Puget Sound refineries.

What is tar sands diluted bitumen?

Diluted bitumen, or ”dilbit” is not your “grandma’s crude.”  Compared with conventional crude, bitumen blends are more acidic, thicker and more sulphuric. Raw bitumen is solid or semi-solid at room temperature, so producers dilute it with natural gas condensate, naptha, or other volatile substances. The mixture is thicker than conventional oil and, when moved through pipelines,, generates significantly higher temperature and pressure.

In the event of a diluted bitumen spill, the diluents evaporate into a toxic, and potentially explosive, airborne cloud of hydrogen sulfide and volatile organic compounds, including benzene (a known carcinogen). The heavier bitumen sinks in water.

This process creates significant challenges for cleanup efforts, particularly in rivers and wetland environments. In the case of conventional oil spills, mechanical devices such as booms, skimmers and materials to absorb oil are directed at containing and recovering oil floating on the surface of water. The fact that the bitumen is heavier than water, and sinks, makes it much more difficult and expensive to clean up than conventional oil. Inevitably, when spills occur, some of the bitumen will persist in the ecosystem indefinitely

What happens if there is a spill? 

A case in point is the Kalamazoo River tar sands spill that happened in July 2010 in Michigan. More than 20,000 barrels (one million litres) of tar sands dilbit leaked out of a 42-year-old pipeline forcing local residents to evacuate their homes and shut down their businesses. The clean up was originally expected to take two months, and yet the effort continues into 2012 costing more than $800 million USD to date with a significant portion of the cleanup costs coming from taxpayer dollars. The full social, economic and environmental costs of this disaster have yet to be determined.

Despite industry claims of new and “safer” pipelines, the Keystone Pipeline, built in 2010 “to meet or exceed safety standards,”  had a dozen spills in its first year of operation. It is not a case of “if” there will be a spill, but “when.”

Why should we think twice about tar sands exports?

Kinder Morgan’s expansion plans would double the risk of a tar sands spills along the pipeline, putting ecosystems, property values, and local businesses at risk. It would also increase the number of tankers out of Vancouver, threatening waterways in BC and Washington state, while entrenching a tar sands-dependent export economy.

There are better alternatives. Ending fossil fuel subsidies and providing incentives for renewable energy and energy-efficient transportation, would keep our communities safer, create more jobs (far more than capital-intensive pipeline projects), reduce our carbon footprint, and better protect our environment.

We are a group of concerned residents of southwestern BC who have come together to share information and resources concerning Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline which travels across the Fraser Valley, close to our rivers, farms, homes, schools and workplaces. We want to make an informed decision about the transportation of tar sands diluted bitumen and to hold Kinder Morgan accountable for putting our communities at risk.

Get involved and learn more! Come out to our Town Hall meetings!

28 responses to this post.

  1. Hey just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of the images aren’t loading correctly. I’m not
    sure why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different browsers and both show the same outcome.


  2. Posted by william Burrows on May 3, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    • 70% of Trans Mountain’s past spills have occurred at pump stations or terminals.
    • All of our pump stations and terminals are equipped with monitoring and spill containment systems to provide early detection and lessen impacts and ensure spilled volumes are contained on site.
    • These facilities are rigorously maintained and inspected to meet NEB standards.
    • The remaining 30% of Trans Mountain’s spills have occurred along the pipeline, with 16 incidents related to releases of crude oil from the pipeline.
    • Of these spills, only eight exceeded the reporting threshold of 1.5 m3 — with just two of those eight occurring in the last 30 years.
    • In all of these circumstances, Trans Mountain deployed its emergency response and spill management procedures.


    • You seem to be saying that spills at pump stations or terminals don’t matter and that the other 30% of spills are not of concern either. The folks in Burnaby, where 230,000 litres of diluted bitumen spilled in 2007, would disagree. Those I’ve spoken to were devastated by the spill. And they don’t appreciate the company’s attempts to minimize it by blaming a contractor. The courts found Kinder Morgan liable and levied a hefty fine. Then there was the spill into Kilgard Creek in 2005. The company doesn’t talk about that much, but there too, over 200,000 litres of oil spilled into a creek and made its way into the nearby wetlands.

      As to tank farms: The spill at the Abbotsford tank farm in January 2012 was worrisome. Operators ignored three alarms and there was no response by Kinder Morgan until after they were contacted by local residents who were worried about the terrible smell. The air handling system at the nearby school had to be shut down and children were complaining of headaches, dizziness and nausea. Diluted bitumen has properties that make it more dangerous and harder to clean up than conventional crude oil. The president of Kinder Morgan Canada has said that there is no guarantee against spills. Why should BC residents risk a dilbit spill?


  3. Posted by william Burrows on April 26, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    The Trans Mountain Pipeline has been safely moving petroleum products from Edmonton to Burnaby and Sumas for 60 years. Tankers have been safely plying the coastal waters for that length of time. Your automobiles have been powered by the derivatives of part of these products.
    As recently as 2007-2008 the pipeline was twinned with 158 Km of 36″ pipe through Jasper ( A World Heritage Site) and Robson Parks. The Fraser, Athabaska, and Myette rivers were crossed.
    Countless streams and water courses were also crossed.
    If you drive this route, you will find little trace of the new line, which at times is running right along the pavement of Hiway 16.
    There has never been a recordable spill on this pipeline. The Burnaby spill was a loading line which was unearthed by a backhoe after continuous probing of ” an obstruction”.
    The line has also been twinned in several other locations.


    • According to the National Energy Board, during the life the Trans Mountain Pipeline there have been 78 leaks and spills. Since Kinder Morgan bought the pipeline in 2005 there have been four major spills: 1) In Abbotsford, in 2005, 210,000 litres of oil spilled into Kilgard Creek. 2) In Burnaby, in 2007, 250,000 litres of diluted bitumen spilled; homes were evacuated. 3) In 2009, 200,000 litres spilled at a Burnaby tank farm. 4) On Sumas Mountain in January 2012, 110,000 litres of oil leaked from a holding tank. Diluted bitumen spills in Burnaby in 2007, Kalamazoo River, Michigan in 2010 and in Mayflower, Arkansas in March, 2013 demonstrate that the substance is more toxic and more difficult to cleanup than conventional oil. There are alternatives (see our “Renewable energy” page, but we need the government to act.


  4. Posted by Merle Alexander on April 24, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    Is there any way to determine precisely when KM started shipping dilbit? I think there is a decent legal argument that an adverse effect triggered a duty to consult.


    • According to NEB records, the first shipment of diluted bitumen was in 1986. We don’t yet know how much was shipped from that time until Kinder Morgan bought the pipeline in 2005. Our guess is that shipments weren’t commercially significant until sometime after that. Kinder Morgan’s shipments of bitumen were discovered in late 2011 when significant numbers of oil tankers were observed traveling to Kinder Morgan’s dock in Burnaby. Shipments were confirmed in a Globe and Mail story in February, 2012. The search for facts continues.


  5. Posted by Christopher on February 12, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    I live in Chilliwack where the pipeline goes right over our resivoir… one of the best in the world but it could all be ruined by a spill of even miniscule sizes. I can’t even imagine what would happen if our water was ruined.


    • Christopher, you’re absolutely right. All it will take is one spill, and Kinder Morgan has had two on this pipeline in the last month.

      Are you interested in learning more about your rights and what you can do to help prevent a spill?


  6. Posted by Russell Cadotte on November 13, 2012 at 7:13 am

    Good work you are all doing. I live in the Shuswap area and note how many miles of rivers which host salmon runs, The Adams Run being one of the largest, has to travel many miles of exposed waters and could be drastically affected by a spill. I am planning on attending the presentation in Kelowna on Nov 16 and wonder if we could put something together for Kamloops soon. The age of this line is a grave concern, especially after listening to it across the valley from the old toll booth site on the Coquihalla this summer, it drops down on an approximately 60 degree slope for a kilometer or more and it really gurgles and vibrates the ground there. The pressure fluctuations must be quite high as it falls down the pipe on that steep slope. Thank You and see you in Kelowna Russell Cadotte


  7. Posted by bill sinclair on November 9, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    Thanks Fawn and Jeff. You may have noticed the Enbridge TV ads which address tanker safety measures and Enbridge’s concern in being a good corporate citizen…. Slick Ads! Hopefully the viewing public will not get sucked in. Huge $’s are at stake for Enbridge and with their deep pockets and savvy staff they will continue to try and sway opinion. Hopefully, we are smarter than those dumb ass ” Republicans “


    • Posted by Jeff vaness on November 10, 2012 at 6:44 am

      Yes I have seen the ads pushing the oilsands and what a great job they do as well as all the benefits they put into communities! Sad,sad,sad.I also read that the federal goverment is spending millions/billions on an ad campaign to try and persuade people to those lies. It’s all about putting a carrot in front of our nose’s and hoping we will bite with the promise’s of financial windfall’s.Again sad,sad,sad Thank you Jeff vaness


  8. Posted by Jeff Vaness on November 3, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    Good Day! I read Bill Sinclair”s statement and agree totally.I live in Medicine Hat and the same attitude exists here as well! To Albertans the Government of ALberta the pipeline and the Alberta Tar Sands is being played by our premier as a financial savior for Alberta which I strongly disagree with.They are not worried about the land,water,wildlife or people being poisoned in Northern Alberta or anywhere else.Alberta is being run by the Oil and Gas industry,they are the power in this sad province and all it is to them is MONEY sadly.Anyway keep the pressure on the Mla”s and the protesting.Seem”s like the only people that care about the environment enough to act on it are in B.C definetly not in Alberta. Thanks Jeff


  9. Posted by bill sinclair on October 24, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    I have friends in Calgary who think we in BC are nuts for opposing the Gateway pipeline. They also think the pipeline is a ” slam dunk ” which shows how out of touch Albertan’s are. They don’t have our coastline and many have never spent time exploring or learning about this incredible part of the world. Albertan’s do not yet realize the extent and degree of activism in this province, they will learn, however. This pipeline will never happen!


    • Posted by Fawn Knox on October 27, 2012 at 3:51 am

      Well said, Bill Sinclair….those Calgarians forget how much they do love B.C….They are the ones who buy up the resort properties and explore our wonderful landscape, sea shore and back country wilderness…..we want to ensure that beautiful B.C. remains beautiful…and any pipeline will threaten the lifestyle that all Canadians deserve to enjoy!


      • Previsely how will any pipeline threaten the lifestyle that all Canadians deserve to enjoy? Without hydrocarbon development and selling, wouldn’t be much of a lifestyle in BC or anywhere else in Canada. Give your head a shake, open your eyes and look at facts, not crazy people spinning out of control.

      • The problem is that fossil fuels are limited and we will eventually run out. If we keep burning them at current rates, they will quickly become scarcer, dirtier and more expensive. This scenario leads to a grim result for humanity.

        On the other hand, there are alternatives available right now. Germany is the world leader in solar power production. They are at the same latitude as BC and have a similar climate. We also need to develop electric (or other alternate fuel) vehicles.

        There is an urgency to doing this. Recent reports show that Canada is now at the bottom of the pack (58th out of 61 countries) on dealing with climate change. We cannot continue down this path without endangering all life on the planet. If you read the information on this website, you will understand the problem and what can be done about it.

      • Posted by jeff on January 8, 2013 at 4:06 pm

        Well Mr. Hale I Opened my eyes ,gave my head a shake and looked at the facts.Know what Peter Pan,the Tooth Fairy and Santa are not real.What is real is water pollution,acid rain,disesese from Hydrocarbons that is ruining peoples livelihoods and lives.Oh yeah Global warming is also real! Get past the MONEY and GREED!

  10. Hello. When I went to the page giving other locations for the community rallies, it was “skewed” to the left and I could not move there. Also, the words were running individually down the left side of the page. Is this normal?

    I live in the Cowichan Valley. I am correct in believing that tomorrow’s event will be at Bill Routley’s office in Duncan?


    Greg Shea (Lake Cowichan)

    P.S. Yesterday’s rally was Fantastic!


  11. Posted by Tom Gray on October 23, 2012 at 12:03 am

    Who is a contact person for Pipe-Up? I am writing a letter to the Provincial Minister of the Environment and would like to mail a copy to your cause.


  12. Hello, I wrote this song re: this entire ordeal and the intrusion and risk being proposed on out beautiful lands and waterways. It is a song to get people to get involved with things that are going on in their neighbourhoods. Please pass it on, the more people get the incentive to go say something, the better…

    Peace,, Jim


  13. Posted by Fawn Knox on October 1, 2012 at 3:23 am

    I live on the KinderMorgan TransCanada pipeline route in an unincorporated community, Black Pines, north of Kamloops. Many of us want to become involved and informed. Are there contacts in Kamloops and how do we become involved? Thanks for your current information. Hope to hear back soon.


    • Posted by Michael Hale on October 6, 2012 at 7:20 am

      You could join PIPE UP now and we could help you either find, or create, a local group.


      • Posted by Fawn Knox on October 6, 2012 at 2:46 pm

        Sounds like a good plan. I will see who is interested in my small community and we can go from there. I thought that I am already on the Pipe Up list… Thanks for your help. Fawn

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