• Thanks for stopping by. Logging in to a registered account will remove all generic ads. Please reach out with any questions or concerns.

The story of how B.C. asked for, benefited from, then double-crossed Trans Mount


Staff member
Directing Staff
Reaction score
OP: Rifleman62


The story of how B.C. asked for, benefited from, then double-crossed Trans Mountain - 23 Feb 18
Former head of the National Energy Board remembers a time when the province couldn't wait for the pipeline to be built

Back in 1951, Canada was on a roll. The Saint Lawrence Seaway was in the planning stages. Alcan, by invitation from the government of B.C., was working on the world’s biggest aluminum smelter at Kitimat. The Trans-Canada Highway was under construction. And the Alberta oil industry, reborn by the 1947 Leduc discovery, was booming. Already Ontario refineries were receiving feedstock from the West by pipeline and lake tanker.

On the back of this wealth-creating resource boom, incomes were rising, reflected in the fact that the average lunch-pail carrier could look forward to buying one of those neat little three-bedroom CMHC bungalows that were springing up across the land. And in Ottawa, the Liberals, with a reputation for getting things done and quickly, were in charge.
No surprise then when the federal regulator got applications from five companies to build a pipeline from Edmonton to the Lower Mainland of B.C., where existing oil supplies were imported by tanker from California and South America. The matter went to hearing in Ottawa in 1951. B.C. and Alberta, being best buddies, both sent legal heavyweights to support the building of a pipeline by the Trans Mountain company, one of the five applicants. In fact, a statement on behalf of B.C.’s premier the provincial B.C. government said that “the Province of British Columbia is desirous that no time be lost in establishing the pipe line.”

After a one-day hearing, it took the chief commissioner all of three days to get out his six-page report, concurred-in by his four colleagues. It checked all the boxes — route, oil reserves, capacity, financing, provincial support — and found that construction of the proposed pipeline appeared to be in the public interest. Trans Mountain got the nod, being the only applicant ready to go. Any conditions attached? Yes, just one: That the construction of the pipeline be completed on or before Oct. 31, 1954. Which it was.

So, the little pipeline was built, all 1,146 kilometres of it, across the Alberta plains, over the mountains and under the great rivers to feed an expanding refining industry in B.C. and on Puget Sound. Over time, it was adapted to carry refined oil products as well as different grades of crude oil. Billions of barrels were moved, safely displacing an equal volume of tanker-borne oil that would otherwise have transited the Strait of Juan de Fuca. And in three international oil emergencies, the tanker dock at Westridge was the loading point for shipments of Alberta oil to California and to Eastern Canada. No one doubted that the commissioners of 1951 were right: This project really was in the public interest.

Truth be told, once it was built and operating and the right of way restored, it seems that no one really noticed the pipeline and its tank farms and dock. Not the professors and students at Simon Fraser University, which was plonked down 10 years later just across the road from Trans Mountain’s existing tank farm on Burnaby Mountain. Not the city planners who authorized streets and housing right next to the pipeline. Not the environmental lobby, which didn’t intervene when the
 National Energy Board (NEB) dealt with heavy crude-oil exports 30 years ago and
 with system expansion five years later. Not the NDP governments, which didn’t even bother to register an appearance at the board’s proceedings relating to Trans Mountain. But British Columbians in towns and villages, coastal communities, interior mining sites, Indigenous reserves, fishing boats, farms and ski resorts quietly appreciated this secure source of supply.

They had a pipeline built just for B.C.’s needs. But with a resource feeding incomes, taxes and economic activity right across Western Canada, expansion was needed. And why not? The little pipeline that could had operated near-perfectly for half a century. And as with every other form of transport, great strides had been made over time in safe oil pipelining and in marine oil shipment: Who could object to updating the pipeline with 21st-century technology?

Approval for the first expansion stage, twinning about 158 kilometres going right through the national and provincial mountain parks, took a three-day NEB hearing in Calgary, a 67-page report, and cabinet approval, but construction occurred almost unnoticed to completion at the end of 2008.

Of course, it’s been a very different story since December 2013, when Trans Mountain applied to complete the twinning with about 987 kilometres of new buried pipeline between Edmonton and Burnaby. After hearing from over 1,600 participants and reviewing tens of thousands of pages of evidence including responses to 15,000 questions put by intervenors, the NEB in May 2016 found that the Trans Mountain Expansion Project is in Canada’s public interest. The board’s 533-page report recommended that the government approve the project subject to 157 conditions, which eventually the government did. And now it’s almost two years later and the proverbial shovel has yet to stir the ground.

Roland Priddle is a former chairman of the National Energy Board