VANCOUVER - Kinder Morgan Canada filed its long-anticipated application to the National Energy Board on Monday to nearly triple the flow of oil through its Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton to the British Columbia coast.
The $5.4-billion project could result in a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic in the waters that surround Vancouver.
The proposal is expected to face the same opposition that threatens to stopper the competing Northern Gateway pipeline through northern B.C., but Kinder Morgan president Ian Anderson said the company spent months talking to the public and First Nations to address concerns.
"I think that in the category of lessons learned, one of the things that we pursued from the beginning and, in fact, increased over the course of the last year and a half is the amount of outreach and local involvement and conversations," Anderson said.
"We've watched with interest the issues that have been faced by other proposed projects and tried to learn from them and incorporate our understanding of them."
A federal joint review panel is expected to issue its report this week on the Northern Gateway proposal, which has been plagued by controversy and opposition from environmental groups and First Nations.
Anderson said one thing Texas-based Kinder Morgan has learned is the critical role of First Nations consultation. He said the company has 46 letters of understanding among about 100 aboriginal communities and groups in Alberta and B.C.
Those letters are not final support but do mean the parties are talking. One band — the Paul Band First Nation west of Edmonton — announced support for the project last week.
Kinder Morgan says 13 companies have signed contracts to ship approximately 708,000 barrels per day. The pipeline would have capacity to transport up to up to 890,000 barrels per day.
Currently, five ships a month are loaded at the company's Westridge marine terminal in Burnaby. The expanded system will be capable of serving 34 Aframax class vessels per month.
In the application, the company recommended improved safety measures, including greater spill response capacity and a "moving safety zone" around loaded tankers.
British Columbia has set out five conditions for its support for any oil pipeline, and officially opposed the Northern Gateway at a joint federal review panel earlier this year.
Andersen said he's confident the Trans Mountain application will satisfy those conditions, which include a "fair share" of economic benefits.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said new oilsands development could contribute more than $2.1 trillion to the economy over the next 25 years.
Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said the proposal will undergo a thorough review by the National Energy Board.
"Our government has been clear: we will only allow energy projects to proceed if they are found to be safe for Canadians after an independent, scientific environmental and regulatory review," Oliver said in a statement.
B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said the province will apply to be an intervener at the hearings.
Polak said there are challenges but, in a thinly veiled reference to the explosion of an oil-laden rail car in Lac Megantic, Que., suggested the landscape has changed across Canada on the issue.
"Oil is looking for a way to get to market, and part of the consideration for decision-makers at all levels of government is the fact that there are other ways that may or may not be as safe, or less safe, than a pipeline and tanker process," Polak said.
"All of that needs to be weighed in the balance. I think British Columbians are much more alive now to that balancing than they were in the past."
Opponents, however, wasted no time in blasting the plan.
The Wilderness Committee said the risks are not worth the economic gain.
Ben West, of ForestEthics Advocacy, said the new pipeline will transport the same molasses-like diluted bitumen that Northern Gateway proposes, and it will mean hundreds more tankers in Burrard Inlet.
West said the application may be new, but opposition is long established.
"Kinder Morgan has seen years of protest and they hadn't even filed their proposal yet," he said in a statement.
"If they think they will have an easier time getting approved than Enbridge they have another think coming. Politicians give the permits but the people give the permission, and the people are saying no to both of these irresponsible pipeline proposals."
Several Metro Vancouver councils have passed motions opposing the pipeline, including Vancouver, and the Union of B.C. Municipalities voted very narrowly to oppose growth in tanker traffic on the B.C. coast.
Kinder Morgan will continue to reach out to other parties, including the city of Vancouver, Anderson said.
The pipeline proposal will now undergo a public review late next year. If approved, the pipeline could be operational by late 2017.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said 30-fold increase.