Kinder Morgan’s plans to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline, which will quintuple its capacity to export heavy oil through Vancouver Harbour, are no small matter.

While Kinder Morgan has yet to file an application seeking approval to begin expansion of the 60-year-old pipeline, the company filed a toll application with the National Energy Board (NEB) at the end of June. That application is intended to establish tolls and operating terms over a 20-year period, providing regulatory and market certainty for the project. It’s a first step in making Kinder Morgan’s $4.1-billion expansion a reality.

When big projects like this are on the table, it’s important that the concerns of affected citizens are heard and taken into consideration. That’s why we, on behalf of a group of local landowners and a housing co-op, have written to the National Energy Board asking them to hold public hearings before approving the toll application (Read The Province’s coverage).

We want to make sure that the tolls cover all of the real costs of operating the pipeline, including full insurance coverage for all affected parties — such as these Burnaby residents — in the event of a pipeline leak or rupture.

As we wrote in our letter:

“The NEB is tasked with regulating in the public interest. A component of protecting this public interest is in ensuring that the tolls approved by the Board do not discriminate against those who will be impacted and suffer consequences in the event of a rupture or mishap by Trans Mountain Pipeline L.P. Because of increasing concern about the risk associated with pipelines, the sheer scale and impact of this proposed expansion, and the potential for landowner exposure as a result of this expansion, it is important that the toll application provide an opportunity for those whose interests stand to be affected to be heard.”

Kinder Morgan’s toll application comes as opposition to another mega-pipeline project — Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline — is gathering steam and  in the wake of another spill this weekend from an Enbridge pipeline in rural Wisconsin. Just last week, B.C. Premier Christy Clark laid out five preconditions she said must be met before the provincial government would support the Northern Gateway pipeline. And yesterday, B.C.’s environment minister said several of those conditions will be applied to Kinder Morgan’s project.

The common denominator of the two pipelines? In both cases, British Columbians would bear a disproportionate amount a risk for little in return. The risks pipeline ruptures (such as the Kalamazoo River disaster) and oil spills (such as the Exxon Valdez spill) pose to the air, water and land in the communities where we live are — in our opinion — dangerous and unnecessary.

And we’re not alone. The cities of Burnaby, Vancouver and West Vancouver have already come out in opposition of the Kinder Morgan expansion.

Meanwhile, we await a response from the NEB on whether they will grant public hearings so concerned citizens like our clients have the opportunity to participate in this first decision about the Kinder Morgan expansion that will have an impact on them. Public participation is something we believe to be a critical component of a thriving democratic society, and is now more important than ever in order to balance out government decision making.