A Texaco Crude Oil Tank Blazes Against the Night after Being Struck by Lightning 09/1972     U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 412-DA-1411     Photographer: Olive, Jim
27 May 2019

Court rules local government has no right to restrict hazardous crude oil being pipelined through the province


Unrefined and potentially explosive crude oil and bitumen from North American oil fields is more and more commonly being shipped all over the world, despite recent catastrophes like the Lac Megantic explosion in Quebec in 2013, which claimed many lives. But despite the dangers, crude oil continues to be pushed despite local protects. 

The days when raw oil was usually refined in or near the place of extraction is largely gone - today, crude oil oil is routinely being shipped to where it is considered most cost effective to refine it. That means, that for instance bitumen extracted in the controversial Canadian tar sands near Fort McMurray, could be transported by pipeline to the Western coats of British Columbia, and shipped by container freight to far away places like China to be refined.

Set aside the enormous energy loss of transporting mostly gravel by container ship to the other side of the planet, the handling of crude oil is also potentially very hazardous, which the deadly Quebec Lac Megantic disaster showed in 2013. A runaway train tanker with crude oil exploded in a remote town and could not be extinguished for days due to the complex make up of the crude oil, making it notoriously difficult to extinguish.

Vancouver has had a pipeline from the tar sands ending up in an industrial harbour in the Straight of Georgia since the 1950s, and it would seem only natural to expand it as crude oil demand increases. The only problem is that since then, the area of Burnaby Mountain, some 20 km from downtown Vancouver, has built a large educational institution, the Simon Fraser University, which tens of thousands of students needing to be evacuated by helicopter should a pipeline explosion and prolonged fire occur in the area. 

The fire chief of the city of Burnaby, the second largest city next to Vancouver, condemned the pipeline expansion project already in 2014, calling it an environmental hazard as well as a threat to human lives. 

The province of British Columbia has fought the expansion for years, but the Federal Canadian government literally has vested interests in the pipeline project, since it invested some 4 billion dollars in it last year.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that the project had violated Native Indian treaties, both in the local area near the ocean, and also on aboriginal land belonging to bands in the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, where the new pipelines would pass through. 

Many of the issues with the aboriginal claims have been settled with economical agreements, but not with the Coast Salish nation owning the land near the water in the Greater Vancouver area, who continue to strongly oppose the project. 

Recently, a new court ruling now has limited the government of British Columbia´s right to restrict oil bitumen to be transported through their province, reports Global News:  

British Columbia says it will appeal a ruling by the province’s top court that found it could not restrict the transportation of diluted bitumen within its borders.

The case marks the latest twist in the ongoing Trans Mountain pipeline expansion dispute, and could have severely impacted the proposed pipeline expansion if it had succeeded.

B.C. had asked the court to rule on whether it has the constitutional power to regulate the flow of bitumen through a system of permits.

A Canadian province is similar in jurisdiction to a state within the US.

The five-member panel of judges unanimously ruled against B.C., finding that pipelines fall under federal jurisdiction.

In the court’s decision, Justice Mary Newbury wrote that B.C.’s proposed environmental regulations would have improperly restricted the flow of oil through a federal undertaking, and that it appeared to unfairly target the Trans Mountain expansion project.


Cover photo:

A Texaco Crude Oil Tank Blazes Against the Night after Being Struck by Lightning in September 1972

U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 412-DA-1411

PhotographerJim Olive