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Cantwell Urging Obama To Engage Canada On Safety Measures For Trans Mountain Pipeline

A protester carries a sign on a trail on Burnaby Mountain, near where work is being done by Kinder Morgan in preparation for the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project in Burnaby, B.C.

Canada’s recent approval of an expansion plan for the Trans Mountain Pipeline with a terminus in Vancouver BC is raising concerns in the Puget Sound region.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) has writtena letter to President Obama, asking him to intervene. She says there’s an increased risk of oil spills and a lack of necessary prevention and response technologies. And she wants President Obama to engage directly with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to ensure that adequate protections are in place to mitigate the oil spill risk.

Cantwell’s letter echoes concerns outlined by environmental groups in the U.S. and Canada. Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would nearly triplethe amount of Alberta tar sands oil exported through the Salish Sea, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca. And it would increase vessel traffic along the Pacific Coast nearly seven-fold, from 5 to 34 ships per month.

“We’re talking about 400 tankers a year now, that will go through Puget Sound, carrying bitumen,” said Karen Mahon, Canadian director of

She says bitumen is a form of crude unlike the refined oil that already frequents local waters. It’s harder to clean up because it sinks.

“It’s much heavier, less refined and much more toxic because of the dilutant that they put in it to be able to get it through the pipes and into the tankers,” she said.

Mahon says the Trans Mountain expansion is like Keystone XL meets Standing Rock. And she says opposition is mounting.

“It’s larger than Keystone XL and it is through First Nations’ territories,” she said. “And every single First Nation in the lower mainland whose treaty this is in are completely opposed. Many are already suing the government and many are planning direct action protest.”

Opposition has also included the mayors of Vancouver, Burnaby and Victoria, BC.

And Mahon notes that even though the Trans Mountain expansion is now approved, another Canadian pipeline was stopped by lawsuits; at the same time he gave the green light to the Kinder Morgan project, Trudeau permanently shelved Enbridge’s stalled Northern Gateway project across northwestern BC.

“The federal government issued the permit for that project two years ago, but there was a wall of opposition mounted, there were many legal cases,” Mahon said, with First Nations and environmental groups organizing to stop it.

“And even though that pipeline was permitted, we stopped it. And that’s what we’re going to see here with Kinder Morgan.”

Trudeau has said he expects Kinder Morgan to “meet or exceed” 157 conditions imposed by Canada’s National Energy Board and that it will provide and safe and responsible route to market for Canadian resources.

He said he would have rejected the project if he thought it was unsafe for the coast.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to