09/01/2012 04:00 EDT | Updated 10/31/2012 05:12 EDT

Burrard Inlet Protest: Tsleil-Waututh First Nation Aims To Kill Trans-Mountain Pipeline Expansion Proposal After Oil Spill

VANCOUVER - When a geyser spewed black oil across a Vancouver-area neighbourhood in 2007, the result of a punctured pipeline, members of the Tsleil-Waututh were among those working to clean up the Burrard Inlet shoreline.

On Saturday, members of North Vancouver band whose name translates to "people of the inlet" will dip their paddles in the same body of water in an attempt to prevent the expansion of the pipeline.

"It was a really big eye opener for us to be involved in that process," said Chief Justin George.

Burrard Inlet will become the scene of a floating protest trip Saturday as 20 canoes shove off to demonstrate against the proposed expansion of the Trans-Mountain oil pipeline and to also celebrate the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh connection to the Salish Sea.

Built in 1957, the Trans-Mountain Pipeline transports oil from Alberta to Burnaby where it is loaded onto oil tankers.

Texas-based Kinder Morgan owns the pipeline and, according to documents on a website the company dedicated to the project, a proposal for a 900-kilometre expansion of the existing pipeline is in the works.

The existing line would be used for refined products such as synthetic crude oil and the new line would transport heavier oils.

The $4.1 billion project would increase the pipeline's oil capacity to 750,000 barrels per day from its current 300,000.

Expansion of the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, where the oil is loaded onto ships, as well as oil storage facilities in the Lower Mainland would also take place.

George said his band aims to stop the expansion over concerns about the slow death of Burrard Inlet or an oil spill.

"Human error is inevitable," said George.

On July 24, 2007, a backhoe's scoop punctured an oil pipeline running under the Barnet Highway in Burnaby and sent 234,000 litres of crude into a nearby neighbourhood.

More than 100,000 litres flooded into storm drains and washed up along 2,500 metres of shoreline around Burrard Inlet, according to a Transportation Safety Board report.

The Tsleil-Waututh were hired to help cleanse the oil from the inlet.

He fears if the expansion goes through, Burrard Inlet will see tanker traffic increase from 80 to a possible 400 tanker trips per year.

George said that's a lot of noise, a lot of propellers and a lot of exhaust interfering with wildlife.

"The reality of what's being proposed is that the Vancouver waterway becomes a major oil-port city," said George. "And oil port cities throughout the world become waterway dead zones."

He said the proposal affects more people than just First Nations and the public must band together to stop it.

But others who profess to love Burrard Inlet are not as hard-line.

Roderick MacVicar is a director of the Pacific Wildlife Foundation and heads the Reed Point Marine Education Centre in Port Moody.

MacVicar said the inlet has a wealth of marine life, such as seals and a variety of birds.

He said there isn't enough information yet for anyone to form an opinion on the expansion.

"I'm not against it or for it. I'm against going ahead without a good database and a good understanding of the ecosystems and the way they work and the effect on them," said MacVicar.

"I think you just have to be reasonable about what effects these things all have and make a decision and be reasonable."

Discussions with regulators and meetings with landowners, communities and stakeholders in the pipeline are currently taking place.

The company intends to file a comprehensive application for the project to the National Energy Board in late 2013.

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