Workers survey around pipe to start right-of-way construction for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, in Acheson, Alta., on Dec. 3. 2019. Work on the 1,150-kilometre twinning of the line has been temporarily stopped as the company re-evaluates safety practices following injuries and at least one death. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Controversial pipeline project temporarily closed down over safety issues

Canada’s Trans Mountain Expansion project has been controversial since it was first proposed in 2013 by U.S,-based Kinder Morgan. The project known as TMX seeks to build a second approximately 1,100 kilometre pipeline along the route of an existing one. That pipeline transports crude from the Alberta oil sands to the Pacific port at Burnaby B.C. for shipment abroad. The new line would triple the capacity of the current line which was completed in 1953

Various protests and legal challenges since its proposal led the company to back out of the project in 2018 with the line only partially built. The Liberal government of Justin Trudeau then stepped in with $4,5 billion of public money to buy the line saying it was in the national interest to have it completed.

Construction of the Canadian government’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project in Kamloops, B.C. on June 18, 2019. The line is said to be about 20% complete (Dennis Owen – Reuters)

There have recently been further questions about the necessity of such a pipeline as oil usage has declined. A recent study by the Parliamentary Budget office says the line could still be profitable if there are no major issues, including setbacks such as delays which will increase costs..

Such a delay has occurred. The project has been shut down temporarily until January 4 due to a number of safety incidents in the past two months. A press release from the company said,  “Trans Mountain is proactively taking the step to temporarily stand down construction on the Expansion Project to review, reset and refocus our efforts, and those of our contractors and their workers. We are committed to a strong culture of safety above all else and insist that our Project contractors and subcontractors are equally committed. The critical success of any organization is its ability to self-reflect – to honestly and courageously ask the question, ‘where can we improve?’. This is non-negotiable, we must improve the safety culture and performance on our Project.”

Although no specific incident were mentioned, this week a contractor was seriously injured in Burnaby .B.C., and in October a worker with another contractor was struck by a piece of equipment and killed.

So far about 20% of the expanded line has been completed. The total cost is estimated now to be about $12.6 billion. The original estimate in 2017 was $7.4 billion.  With other costs and contingency funds, a February 2020 CBC story estimated total Canadian taxpayer investment in the line to be more than $16 billion. The expansion is set to be completed in December 2022.

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