A curious disconnect has come to light in our efforts to ensure that the voices of directly affected residents will be heard in upcoming toll application hearings on Kinder Morgan’s plans to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline that ships oil from Alberta’s oilsands to waiting tankers in Vancouver Harbour.

On the one hand, Kinder Morgan executives have stressed that the company intends to fully consult with concerned parties about all aspects of the proposed pipeline expansion.

In an April 2012 letter to the City of Abbotsford, Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson wrote:

“We understand that you and your constituents have questions about our proposed plans. We share many respectful relationships with local communities interested in our business and we will undertake open, extensive and thorough engagement on all aspects of the proposed project along the pipeline route and marine corridor with communities, First Nations and Aboriginal groups, environmental organizations and all who are interested.”

But Kinder Morgan lawyers are singing a different tune.

Twice now, they have asked the National Energy Board to disallow groups that represent concerned citizens from participating in Kinder Morgan’s toll application process. While this application is technical — intended to establish tolls and operating terms over a 20-year period to provide regulatory and market certainty for the project — it also the first step in making Kinder Morgan’s $4.1-billion expansion a reality.

In submissions, Ecojustice (and others, including concerned individuals, MP Kennedy Stewart of Burnaby-Douglas, and some Lower Mainland local governments) filed with the National Energy Board this past summer, have raised valid questions. One question that any company that wants to build or expand a major pipeline should be able to answer — even at this early stage is: What is the real cost of operating the pipeline, including full insurance coverage for all affected parties in the event of a pipeline leak or rupture?

But rather than welcome this opportunity for public engagement, Kinder Morgan’s lawyers are arguing for a non-inclusive and narrow toll application hearing that would only allow arguments from oil companies, and would not allow the affected public to participate at all. The issue of pipeline impacts on residents could be addressed during the environmental assessment process, the company claims:

“…Recognition of this distinction enables the [NEB] to establish the appropriate regulatory processes that focus on the relevant issues and allows the participation of parties having sufficient interest in those issues, if and when they come before the Board.”

The main takeaway? Despite repeated public promises to promote an inclusive process, the company isn’t interested in hearing from non-commercial parties — at least not now.

But we’re not ready to drop the issue yet. Last week, Ecojustice applied for intervenor status in the upcoming toll application hearings and awaits a ruling from the NEB. We already know that if Kinder Morgan has its way, we’d
be denied standing.

So who can Canadians trust when it comes to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion? Can we really trust Kinder Morgan when the company’s legal manoeuvring contradicts its promise to encourage an open and transparent pipeline process?

The jury is still out on this, but prospects aren’t looking good. And when companies like Kinder Morgan need a social licence to push through major projects — case and point, the furious opposition to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline proposal — that’s a really big problem.