About 190,000 liters or approximately 50,000 gallons of oil has been spilled on Indigenous land in British Columbia by Canada’s Trans Mountain pipeline.
The Trans Mountain pipeline was bought by the Canadian government from Kinder Morgan Canada in 2018, after they had come up against regulatory and legal hurdles to expansion.
According to comments made by Chief Dalton Silver of the Sumas First Nation, the oil was spilled onto fields near the town of Abbotsford. He says these fields cover an aquifer which is a source of drinking water for his people. It was also reported to be the fourth spill in the last 15 years.
“We cannot continue to have our land desecrated by oil spills,” Chief Silver said in a statement issued by the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.
Trans Mountain claim the spill, which occurred Saturday morning, was the result of a faulty fitting on a subsidiary oil pipe – a ‘small-diameter, one-inch piece of pipe’ – and not on the main line itself.
Within a day, the pipeline was restarted: “Following all necessary procedures and safety protocols, the Trans Mountain Pipeline was re-started at approximately 2:00 p.m. PDT today (Sunday),” read a statement on the company’s website.
The clean-up work will however be ongoing for at least a month. “Crews have been working around the clock and removal of all surface level product is complete. Removal of contaminated soil is underway and expected to take approximately four weeks.”
Trans Mountain have promised that ‘environmental monitoring’ will continue and claim that there is no risk to the public.
They also stated that Indigenous monitors will be given 24-hour access to the site and that ‘an archaeological study and cultural monitoring are included as part of the cleanup and remediation efforts’.
The Canada Energy Regulator, Transportation Safety Board and British Columbia Ministry of Environment are also involved in overseeing the clean-up work.
Worry over future oil spills
But while they may be saying all the right things, Silver has questioned the integrity of the company.
For one thing, he says he was not informed about the re-opening of the pipeline on Sunday.
“That they’re up and running Sunday afternoon, my sister just read that to me off her phone. That was the first I heard of it, so there you go with the openness and transparency,” he said. “I would really rather hear it from those at the incident command post.”
Indigenous communities and environmental groups also have grave concerns about a proposed expansion of the pipeline which would triple its output.
“We conducted our own assessment of Trans Mountain using leading science and Tsleil-Waututh’s Indigenous law that concluded that oil spills are inevitable, can’t be fully cleaned up, and have devastating effects,” Chief Leah George-Wilson of Tsleil-Waututh Nation said in the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs statement.
“This most recent spill is another reminder that the risk is too great to accept. The Trans Mountain pipeline has already spilled more than 80 times since it began operating. This is why we continue to fight the Trans Mountain Expansion in the courts.”
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Image Credit: Trans Mountain Corporation