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District of Squamish asks FortisBC to make risk analysis public

Municipality asks for safety details surrounding Eagle Mountain pipeline development in local neighbourhoods.
Squamish muni hall Nov. 2021
The District of Squamish is asking FortisBC for more information on the possible risks associated with its Eagle Mountain - Woodfibre Gas Pipeline project.

The District of Squamish is asking FortisBC for more information on the possible risks associated with its Eagle Mountain - Woodfibre Gas Pipeline project.

The project, which will supply natural gas to the Woodfibre LNG, is expected to run through Squamish neighbourhoods, such as Finch Drive.

On May 10, council voted unanimously in favour of directing Mayor Karen Elliott to ask the province to compel FortisBC to publicly share "comprehensive details of [the] FortisBC/Woodfibre LNG Eagle Mountain Pipeline risk analysis."

The elected officials are hoping to see data regarding annual risk to loss of life relative to population density and distance from the pipeline; an analysis supporting a route under a roadway in an area of growing density and a comparative analysis for alternative routes in the approved corridor, among other things.

The motion also directed District staff to obtain and review CSA Standard Z663, which outlines standards for land use planning in the vicinity of pipelines.

"The interaction between the pipeline and all this development — from what I read in the standards — there [are] some concerns about risk there," said Coun. Chris Pettingill, who put forth the motion.

"[Fortis] made some sort of general claims about safety. But…people have been writing to us. I have, as well, [been] asking for some objective analysis to actually understand what that risk is."

Elliott said that elected officials shouldn't presume there are any safety risk violations, as it is routine for gas pipelines to be presented in populated areas.

However, she noted it's been a long time coming since Fortis told council they were working on a risk assessment.

"[I'm] also curious about whether, in the end, we have any exposure from this standard, which, in speaking with Fortis, they were not aware of. So I think it's a good idea to ask the question," Elliott said.

She also said it's important to understand whether the pipeline standards are considered guidance or requirements.

Coun. John French said he supported the motion as well but did not have the same concerns about safety risks.

"I do have faith in the engineering, and I do have faith in the safety programs that currently exist," said French.

"[But] I also recognize that it's more than just Coun. Pettingill, who [has these] concerns and… asking the questions. And so this is a matter of public confidence for me."

These questions have been asked of Fortis previously, said Coun. Armand Hurford, but the answers haven't been complete.

"The answer hasn't been forthcoming," he said. "So I think this is appropriate to get that information."

Coun. Jenna Stoner said that risk assessment has been done in other areas in town, and the same should apply in this case.

"We have done risk assessment and risk analysis [for] life safety on other elements in our community and accounted for that in our zoning," said Stoner. "And so I agree that at the very least, this information should be shared publicly so that we can make informed decisions within our jurisdiction of land use planning and zoning where appropriate."

It took a while for municipalities to adopt guidelines for development near rail lines, said Coun. Eric Andersen, and this may perhaps be the case with pipelines.

"Let's get better acquainted with this, as we have during recent years become better acquainted with railway proximity guide guidelines," Andersen said

'We always meet or exceed'

For its part, FortisBC responded to a request for comment from The Squamish Chief by issuing a written statement saying that safety is top of mind for the organization.

"When designing and operating gas pipelines, we always meet or exceed the appropriate regulations and standards set out by regulatory agencies Technical Safety BC, the BC Oil and Gas Commission and Canadian Standards Association," reads the statement. "We also strictly adhere to a robust integrity management plan that includes 24-7 monitoring of our system, regular pipeline inspections, and using in-line inspection tools to gather detailed information to monitor pipeline condition and proactively plan maintenance."

The organization said it had completed risk analysis reports for its existing and proposed pipelines in Squamish, which is a routine part of project development.

However, Fortis also said the reports could not be publicly released due to security considerations.

"The reports — which are shared with our regulators on a confidential basis — conclude the design, construction and operation of the Squamish pipelines meet and exceed both regulatory requirements and the risk threshold established by the District of Squamish," the statement continues.

"We will continue to work with the District of Squamish on how we can best answer their questions related to pipeline safety."

Woodfibre LNG declined to comment for this story.

The Squamish Chief also sought comment from B.C.'s Ministry of Energy, but the request was forwarded to the BC Oil and Gas Commission.

A representative for the commission said the request would be processed through their Freedom of Information team. The Squamish Chief will follow up on the matter if further information is received.

Other natural gas news

In the meantime, B.C. has declared that it has revamped its oil and gas royalty system in a way that it says better benefits residents.

Local environmentalists said the move still involved subsidizing an industry that has a negative climate impact and questionable profits.

"[The province] has cancelled a handful of subsidies only to replace them with a 'revenue-minus-cost' regime that allows global gas producers to frack for natural gas without any business risk," said Tracey Saxby of My Sea to Sky.

"This is not a fair return on our natural resources because it fails to consider the irreparable harm the fracking industry has on human health, freshwater resources, and the climate."

However, the province explained in a news release that a revenue-minus-cost royalty framework compares the cost to put a well into production with the revenues earned from that well in determining when price-sensitive royalty rates should apply.

Specific cost policy is under development and will consider costs related to gathering and processing, as well as drilling and completion, the release said.

In the release, Premier John Horgan lauded the change as a way of fixing a previously broken subsidy system.

"Our province is blessed with abundant resources, which belong to all of us. But for too long, a broken system of fossil-fuel subsidies has failed to align with our climate goals or ensure people fully benefit from these resources," said Horgan.

"That's why we're fixing the outdated oil and gas royalty system by eliminating the largest fossil-fuel subsidy in British Columbia. This will give British Columbians a fair return and allow us to invest in their priorities — like improving services, bringing down costs and tackling carbon pollution."

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