Which way does the wind blow?

NDP’s Shane Simpson on Kinder Morgan: Elect us first, we’ll form an opinion later.

Burnaby Refinery

In the event of a bitumen spill in the Vancouver harbour, wind direction could be a factor in the health and safety of thousands of residents near Burrard Inlet. But the provincial NDP appears to be reading the political winds before forming a position on Kinder Morgan’s planned expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

As cars on Hastings street honked their support, several dozen constituents gathered outside MLA Shane Simpson’s office at noon today, pitching question after question to the NDP Caucus Chair in an impromptu citizen “scrum”.

The event was one of 67 gatherings province-wide organized by the Defend Our Coast coalition as a follow-up to Monday’s large-scale anti-tanker rally in Victoria.

One man in the crowd asked, “Shane, is Kinder Morgan lobbying the NDP right now?”

The MLA’s immediate response was “No.”

Simpson continued: “Well, maybe, ah, I’m sure that they’re talking to us. The Canadian Petroleum Association is talking to us. You’d be surprised everybody who wants to talk these days. And our position is we will talk to anybody.”

Hear the full exchange (0:26) here: 

The northern border of Simpson’s riding, Vancouver-Hastings, is Burrard Inlet. That’s where tankers loaded with diluted Alberta bitumen already travel from the Westridge marine terminal in Burnaby under the Ironworkers’ Memorial Bridge and out to sea.

Houston-based Kinder Morgan wants to nearly triple the capacity of that pipeline, while renovating the terminal to accomodate Suezmax crude carriers around 50 metres wide and 285 metres long. (The distance from Shane Simpson’s office down to the Dairy Queen, or from Nanaimo and Hastings up to London Drugs.)

Simpson says he has “concerns” about the Kinder Morgan project, but can’t form an opinion without seeing a formal application — unlike in the case of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project, which the NDP opposes.

Hear his rationale (0:49) here: 

Simpson says “they won’t get that application in, I suspect, before May, and, um, we will hopefully deal with the application as a government, and not as an opposition.”

The NDP is widely expected to turf the incumbent Liberals in next spring’s election.

Until then, it appears the caucus has been issued orders not to express personal opinions on the Kinder Morgan plan — not even as it pertains to wider issues like climate change or energy exports.

But for residents of Simpson’s riding, reasons for concern are specific and local.

The Tyee published an investigation in March by Mitchell Anderson titled “Spill from Hell: Diluted Bitumen,” detailing unprecedented logistical challenges after the 2010 Kalamazoo River spill in Michigan:

Unlike conventional crude, diluted bitumen or “dilbit” is a mixture of unrefined tar that is often heavier than water and “diluent.” This is usually a cocktail of volatile solvents like naphtha or natural gas condensate that allows the thick bitumen to be pumped through the pipeline.

The local residents and EPA responders near Kalamazoo quickly learned that bitumen and diluent do not stay together once released into the environment.

Volatile portions of the diluent containing toxic fumes of benzene and toluene began off-gassing in the area, impacting the health of almost 60 per cent of the local population with symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, headaches, coughing and fatigue.

I asked Simpson one more time: “We’re your constituents, we live along Burrard Inlet … basically, we’re in the path, should something ever go wrong. I’m just curious how it is that you can’t form an opinion about that until you make it into government.”

Simpson replied that some of the same concerns around Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal apply to Kinder Morgan. But he reiterated his belief that his party will be elected to government before seeing any formal proposal from the pipeline company.

Hear his full response (1:51) here: 

  1. I was there! Like Kai says, Shane Simpson came across every inch the politician. He’s pretty steely-eyed and polished. I was surprised; I thought he would be a little more warm and fuzzy. I wasn’t sure he actually liked us very much but maybe it’s just a thing that politicians get when they have been around the shananagans as long as he has. He’d better watch it, or a bunch of us will vote Green and mess up his plans.

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