Sim­pler Times

Build­ing the Trans Moun­tain Pipe­line was a big chal­lenge in en­gi­neer­ing. Ex­pand­ing it is a big­ger chal­lenge in pol­i­tics


build­ing an oil pipe­line used to be a straight­for­ward af­fair. The most dif­fi­cult part of the pro­ject was of­ten the de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the con­struc­tion of ground­break­ing pipe­lines like the Trans Moun­tain Pipe­line sys­tem (pic­tured) that came on­line in 1953.

The pro­ject was lauded as a great feat of en­gi­neer­ing at the time, in no small part be­cause of the im­mense amount of man­power that was needed to cut a path through the un­yield­ing Rocky Moun­tains along the Al­ber­taBri­tish Columbia bor­der. En­gi­neers con­sulted an enor­mous col­lec­tion of aerial pho­to­graphs to help them plan the pipe­line’s even­tual route. In the moun­tains, work­ers in­volved in early-stage de­vel­op­ment had to hike long dis­tances to ac­cess the route for sur­vey­ing pur­poses, and trees were later cleared away us­ing chain­saws.

To­day build­ing pipe­lines is less la­bor in­ten­sive, though it still re­quires state of the art en­gi­neer­ing. The chal­lenge now is pol­i­tics. Kin­der Mor­gan’s twin­ing of the Trans Moun­tain sys­tem, which would in­crease ca­pac­ity to 890,000 bar­rels per day, has been dogged by protests in Bri­tish Columbia since its pro­posal in May 2012.

The com­pany won a sig­nif­i­cant vic­tory over the city of Burn­aby, B.C. last Novem­ber, when a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled against pro­posed by­laws on the part of the city that would have made pre­lim­i­nary work on the pro­ject “dif­fi­cult, if not im­pos­si­ble, to un­der­take.” But the pro­ject took a hit when for­mer Kin­der Mor­gan con­sul­tant Steven Kelly was ap­pointed to the Na­tional En­ergy Board, a move that cast a shadow over the trans­parency of the reg­u­la­tory process and caused a de­lay in the pro­posal. Pub­lic hear­ings on the pro­ject are sched­uled to end early in 2016, though political op­po­si­tion will surely con­tinue.


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