Construction on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion continues in some areas, while some crews are diverted to help get the existing pipeline running again. (Trans Mountain / File photo)

Trans Mountain pipeline remains closed due to atmospheric river

Assistant deputy minister of environment and climate change strategy Laurel Nash says oil infrastructure is "a very significant concern" amid flooding after heavy rains this week.

By Dustin Godfrey | November 19, 2021 |5:00 am

With significant damage done to infrastructure throughout the province, a BC government official said the integrity of oil infrastructure, like the Trans Mountain pipeline, is a “very significant concern.”

The comments came from Laurel Nash, assistant deputy minister of environment and climate change strategy, in response to a question from Burnaby Beacon at the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force 2021 annual meeting on Wednesday.

The pipeline remained closed yesterday, marking four full days since the line shut down due to the havoc wreaked by torrential rainfall this week.

The heavy rainfall, along with other weather events this year, is part of an escalating trend of extreme weather. The weather events are expected to become more frequent and more severe due to climate change caused by carbon emissions, including from fossil fuels such as oil.

The Trans Mountain pipeline was expected to be busy this month, with demand for pipeline space 13% greater than the pipeline’s capacity.

Trans Mountain shut down the pipeline on Sunday, Nov 14 as a precaution ahead of the extreme weather. In a Nov 18 update, just before noon, the Crown corporation said the pipeline “remains safely in a static condition, and there is no indication of any oil release.”

“The Trans Mountain pipeline is a critical piece of infrastructure for British Columbia and Washington state and every effort is being made to safely restart the pipeline as promptly as possible,” Trans Mountain said in its written update.

“Trans Mountain is in regular contact with its shippers and is working to mitigate potential impacts of the pipeline shut down on the region.”

The company didn’t provide any update on the Metro Vancouver sections of the pipeline, with its focus on the Chilliwack to Merritt section, where “weather had the most effect.”

Pipeline expansion work has continued in some areas, the company said, though some expansion crews have been assisting operational crews to work on getting the pipeline restarted.

“While a number of activities are underway simultaneously, a key priority is to get access to the affected areas, and we are actively assisting the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure with getting roads cleared,” Trans Mountain said.

Other work includes assessing the pipeline by air and, to a more limited extent, on the ground.

“Access to some areas is still hampered by debris and washed-out roads and bridges. Restarting requires geotechnical evaluations of slope stability and on-the-ground analysis to determine if there is work required before we can safely resume operations,” Trans Mountain wrote.

At the oil spill task force meeting, Nash told attendees the Ministry of Environment was being kept busy by the flooding.

“I think the atmospheric river has significantly impacted our work, and climate change overall. We, of course, have been actively working with Emergency Management BC and other agencies,” Nash said.

“Of course, we’re engaged with Merritt and a number of these other communities that have been quite devastated by the flooding that has occurred, [which] is continuing to impact those communities.”

Asked about the risk to pipelines and other oil facilities, Nash said the province “will be checking in on” that infrastructure.

“Infrastructure’s absolutely a very significant concern, be it pipelines or rail that may be carrying toxic substances—oil, as well as other substances,” Nash said.

Trans Mountain did not indicate when it expected to be up and running again.

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Dustin Godfrey

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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