A Letter of Comment to the NEB regarding the TransMountain Expansion

National Energy Board
517 Tenth Avenue SW
Calgary AB T2R 0A8

August 17th, 2015

Attention: Sheri Young, Secretary of the Board

Re: The Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Hearing (Hearing Order OH-001–2014)

I write this letter of comment as a Canadian citizen, landowner and businessperson of British Columbia. As such, I am directly affected by the economic and environmental health of British Columbia, and my property would be negatively affected in the event of a dilbit spill in the Salish Sea. More importantly, as a participant in the web of life here on this planet, I understand the critical nature of protecting our environment.

Before starting, I would like to emphasize that this project is proposed to be constructed on the unceeded territories of the First Nations of British Columbia. This land was stolen. By the laws of the First Nations, and by the Laws of the Commonwealth, this is not our land to own, use or pollute. Without the First Nations’ consent and blessing, this project cannot proceed with any form of legitimacy or legality.

This letter of comment addresses the following issues from the list that will be considered by the NEB:

2. The economic feasibility of the proposed project.
4. The potential environmental and socio-economic effects of the proposed project, including any cumulative environmental effects that are likely to result from the project, including those required to be considered by the NEB’s Filing Manual.
5. The potential environmental and socio-economic effects of marine shipping activities that would result from the proposed Project, including the potential effects of accidents or malfunctions that may occur.
9. Potential impacts of the project on Aboriginal interests.
11. Contingency planning for spills, accidents or malfunctions, during construction and operation of the project.
12. Safety and security during construction of the proposed project and operation of the project, including emergency response planning and third-party damage prevention.

I entered this hearing process intending to argue that risks associated with the geotechnical assessments of slope stability along the proposed route posed a unacceptable risk of dilbit and condensate spills into the Fraser River and other tributaries.

However, as I have continued to research this proposed project and learn about the NEB review process, I have come to the realization that the process has been carefully crafted to render ineffective any technical arguments against the project. I have also realized that the risks posed by this project are significantly higher than have been portrayed by the proponent.

Thus, instead of playing a losing hand in a rigged game, here is a story of a possible future:

August 18th, 2022. 2:42:42 A.M. — Cascadia Subduction Zone

Deep within the Cascadia subduction zone, where the Juan de Fuca plate slides under the North American plate, unimaginable stresses have built for hundreds of years [1]. All seems calm, and there are no warnings as to what is to come. Only the stories passed down by the First Nations and Japanese records from 1700 bear witness to what is about to be unleashed [2].

It starts as a periodic reversal in the deformation of the crust [3] [4], to the west of the city of Portland. Then the fault lurches slightly, and lets go, the rupture spreading to the north and south at 3 kilometres per second [5]. With the stress abruptly released, the Cascadia wedge drops 10 meters in seconds [6, 7], with the shelf edge rising just as fast. P and S seismic waves radiate from the rupture zone, followed by slower waves of water, disturbed by the sudden movement of the sea floor and the many triggered undersea slides [8].

August 18th, 2022. 2:42:51 A.M. — Portland USGS

The P-waves travel faster than the more destructive S-waves, at around 8 kilometres per second [9]. They are the first warning that for the residents of British Columbia, their world is about to change forever. The USGS Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) system [10] is the first to detect the event, but due to under-funding by the U.S. Congress and the lack of cross-border sharing of real-time seismic warning data, precious seconds are lost.

August 18th, 2022. 2:42:56 A.M. — TransMountain Vancouver Operations

As the P-waves roll across Vancouver, dogs howl as Skytrain cars screech to a halt [11], elevators abruptly stop and fire station doors open all by themselves. In the absence of a unified earthquake warning system like the one deployed across Japan [12], some organizations operating critical infrastructure have invested in S-wave early warning systems.

The shift supervisor looks up at the TransMountain Vancouver Operations control room as the klaxon blares. Blinking red blooms across the SCADA monitors as isolation valves across the pipeline network close [13], triggered by the detection of the S-waves. The staff just has enough time to realize what is happening and duck under their consoles before the shaking starts.

August 18th, 2022. 2:43:09 A.M. — Vancouver

In most places, the shaking begins abruptly, throwing people to the ground. Buildings sway, creak and crack as the ground undulates, with a strongly rhythmic motion. Amplified in some areas, damped in others, peak ground accelerations exceed 2 m/s2, overwhelming older buildings, bridges and roadways. The crash of collapsing buildings are muffled by the clouds of dust and debris as the seemingly never-ending rumbling of the moving ground drowns out all other thoughts.

August 18th, 2022. 2:45:12 A.M. — Burnaby Tank Farm

At the Burnaby tank farm, older rusted welds in the existing tanks are the first to give way. Stored oil sloshes through ruptures and cracks into the earthen berms designed to contain a small spill, but the collapse of multiple tanks was considered a “beyond design basis accident”, and oil begins to flow down the slope. Falling metal and breaking power transmission wires shower sparks, igniting the flammable vapours, with fire quickly spreading to the spilling oil. [14]

As huge plumes of black smoke tower over Burnaby mountain, suffocating residents and students of SFU in a toxic cloud, the growing inferno heats the surviving tanks, including the ones newly built for the pipeline expansion. Heated beyond the point of structural integrity, the tanks, one by one, explode in a boiling liquid expanding vapour explosion, or BLEVE. Flaming oil is thrown kilometres into the air, igniting additional fires across a devastated Burnaby.

Meanwhile, the creeping black inferno flows downwards towards Burnaby lake, following natural contours. With fire departments unable to fight the growing fires due to impassible roads and broken water mains, entire neighbourhoods burn, and many evacuation routes for survivors are quickly cut off [15].

August 18th, 2022. 2:47:02 A.M. — Fraser River

Liquefaction from seismic-induced ground movement along the Fraser river sediments ruptures the pipe in multiple locations [16]. Mud boils turn black as pressurized oil erupts and begins to flow towards the river. In the dark, no one can see them, and the damage to roads prevents responders from being able to get to the pipeline ROW. And, of course, they now have more pressing concerns…

As the leaking oil flows into and down the Fraser, it comes into contact with burning debris and fires burning along the shore. The surface of the water, laden with oil and debris itself begins to burn, filling the air with thick black smoke and toxic fumes [17]. As the water flows towards the Salish Sea, the burning mass spreads further fires along the shore.

Burning debris, 2011 Tōhoku earthquake

August 18th, 2022. 2:47:53 A.M. — Westridge Terminal

The TransMountain tanker loading facility sustains little damage, and appears unscathed from a distance. The crews of the two docked tankers use ship-powered searchlights to inspect their ships for hull damage (as shore power is out), but other than a few dents, there is little found. Oil loading was automatically halted moments before the shaking started, but a small sheen is visible from oil spilled from a torn loading pipe.

Unable to raise the corporate offices over the radio (due to a fallen repeater tower), and with their cell phones inoperative, the captains search through their documentation binders to see what they are to do in this situation.

August 18th, 2022. 2:48:23 A.M. — Rocky Mountains

As the S-waves travel further into the interior of the province, their strength is weakened. At six of the “red zones” identified in the geohazard inventory [18] by TransMountain’s geotechnical consultants, the shaking is enough to trigger major rockslides [19] that sweep down the steep mountain valleys, severing the buried pipeline. Oil pours out the rupture at pressure, turning the rocky jumble of debris black, and quickly reaching the Fraser and other tributaries. Other slides prevent access to emergency responders, preventing the deployment of booms and other containment devices.

August 18th, 2022. 2:49:28 A.M. — TransMountain Vancouver Operations

After six minutes and nineteen endless-seeming seconds, the shaking finally stops. The world has changed, but the disaster has just begun. Tens of thousands are dead and injured, hundreds of thousands are trapped, and the cities emergency services are in shambles.

At the TransMountain control room, the staff slowly emerge from under their consoles and clear away fallen ceiling tiles. The screens are still on, thanks to emergency power, but as wired and radio communication is down, they are blind and deaf to the emerging disaster that was once their pipeline.

August 18th, 2022. 3:21:45 A.M. — Boundary Pass, off Pender Island

The first swells of the approaching tsunami begin to flow through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Amplified by the shallow seafloor, the tsunami generates extremely strong currents through the southern Gulf Islands.

At the time of the Earthquake, the tanker Pacific Glory is transiting through Boundary Pass [20]. As the tsunami currents grow in strength, the tanker is unable to control its course [21], and is grounded against rocks to the south of Pender Island. Holed in two places, oil pours into the rising tsunami waters flooding into the Salish Sea, and are carried north, coating the coasts of Pender, Maine, Saltspring, and Galiano islands with oil to a height of two metres [22].

Ship “Full City”, grounded and leaking oil off Langesund, Norway

August 18th, 2022. 3:21:45 A.M. — Burrard Inlet

As the tsunami wave pours through the first and second narrows, wave height increased by the narrowing inlet, and by land subsidence. The only warning that the crews of the two tankers berthed at the TransMountain Westridge Terminal have is the snapping of mooring lines in the dark as the water first recedes, then quickly rises. Both ships are lifted with the rising water, ripped from their moorings, and collide as they are pushed [21], out of control, up Burrard Inlet. It is a small blessing that only one of the two vessels are fully loaded, but by the time the last waves recede, the sun is rising on a black coating of oil stretching from Port Moody out past where only the damaged main span of the Lions Gate Bridge remains, now a bridge to nowhere.

Alaska Resources Library and Information Services — www.alis.org

No cleanup crews are coming. The survivors focus on surviving, and rescuing their fellow citizens, their lives made that much harder by the fumes [23], fires and oil coating up to shoreline and now flooded low-lying parts of the GVRD.

April 22th, 2025. 9:42 A.M. — Alberta Supreme Court

TransMountain lawyers argue that the events of August 18th, 2022 was an “Act of God”, and thus they are not liable for any of the cleanup costs [24]. The lawyers point to the conditions presented by the NEB along with the project approval by the Government of Canada as evidence that they have exercised “due care” in their preparations for an Earthquake.

Concluding Remarks

In risk management, risk is probability times impact. Given the high probability of a magnitude 8 to 9 earthquake during the lifespan of the project, and given the extremely high impacts of the multiple resulting disasters that could be triggered as a consequence of this project, we call upon the National Energy Board to REJECT the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

There are simply no ways to protect against these events and still have this pipeline be economical. It simply is the wrong project in the wrong place, and we, the public, cannot afford to bear the costs.

Thus, we call upon the NEB to ensure the following :

  1. That a condition for this project be that no construction shall begin until the informed consent of every First Nation affected by this project has been received.
  2. That a condition for this project be that each scenario described above associated with a foreknown subduction zone earthquake and tsunami hazard are assessed from a worst-case scenario perspective, with all unmitigable resulting costs calculated when evaluating this project.
  3. That a condition for this project be that all unmitigable resulting costs be fully insured by the proponent.

Again, in light of the high level of risk, and the associated economic consequences, we call upon the NEB to REJECT this project.


David Slik
Lasqueti Island
B.C., Canada

[1] http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/the-really-big-one
[2] http://www.saanich.ca/sep/documents/2013TsunamiFAQ.pdf
[3] http://www.sciencemag.org/content/292/5521/1525
[4] http://gji.oxfordjournals.org/content/132/1/14.abstract
[5] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/grl.50634/full
[6] https://campuspress.yale.edu/markbrandon/files/2015/03/Brandon2004Earth-structure-an-introduction-to-structural-geology-and-tectonics_The-Cascadia-subduction-wedge-the-role-of-accretion-uplift-and-erosion.pdf
[7] http://gsabulletin.gsapubs.org/content/116/5-6/655.abstract
[8] http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1227/ML12272A131.pdf
[9] http://eqseis.geosc.psu.edu/~cammon/HTML/Classes/IntroQuakes/Notes/waves_and_interior.html
[10] http://www.shakealert.org/
[11] http://www.strandearthquake.com/sma.html
[12] http://www.jma.go.jp/jma/en/Activities/eew1.html
[13] http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=
[14] http://www.burnabynow.com/news/fire-department-releases-damning-report-on-kinder-morgan-tank-farm-1.1934476
[15] http://www.geengineeringsystems.com/ewExternalFiles/FireFollowingEarthquake.pdf
[16] http://www.pnws-awwa.org/uploads/PDFs/conferences/2008/4-Ballantyne%20-%20Pipelines.pdf
[17] http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2015/aug/13/river-fire-burst-pipeline-moscow-russia-video
[18] http://transmountain.s3.amazonaws.com/application/V4A_04_OF_12_PROJ_DES_AND_EXEC_ENGIN.pdf
[19] http://www.sfu.ca/cnhr/papers/Geertseman%20et%20al.%20Engineering%20Geology%202006.pdf
[20] https://www.wildernesscommittee.org/sites/all/files/KMpipeline_Tanker_Route_Salish_Sea_Map.pdf
[21] http://coastal.usc.edu/plynett/publications/EPSL_tsunamicurrents.pdf
[22] http://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/pp1707/chapters/01_FrontMatter_Intro.pdf
[23] http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2012/06/04/Tanker-Nightmare/
[24] https://www.burnaby.ca/Assets/TMEP/Notice+of+Motion+on+Trans+Mountain$!27s+responses+to+IR+No.+1+(00919471-3).pdf

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