New LNG pipeline conversion regulation falls short

B.C. should legislate the new rule within the Oil and Gas Activities Act, says Greg Knox of SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, in Terrace

There are 18 proposed LNG projects across B.C. and a number of pipelines proposed to connect them.

Those critical of the planned LNG industry have one less argument in their toolbox.

Or so it would seem now that the B.C. government has introduced a new regulation to prevent LNG (liquefied natural gas) pipelines from being converted for oil transport, a concern expressed by several groups since 2013.

A release from the Ministry of Natural Gas Development last week says the new regulation will ease worries “expressed during environmental assessments and by First Nations about the long-term pipeline use.”

Diluted bitumen is considered more hazardous in the case of a spill than gas which disperses into the air and some feared that acceptance of gas pipelines could be parlayed into a thumbs up to bitumen pipelines down the road.

Attached to the Oil and Gas Activities Act, the new regulation “prohibits the BC Oil and Gas Commission from permitting any conversion of a natural gas pipeline supplying an LNG facility,” says the government release.

But concerned groups say this new regulation falls short. A more permanent measure would be to actually legislate the new rule within the Oil and Gas Activities Act, says Greg Knox of SkeenaWild Conservation Trust.

Knox points to a May 2014 letter from Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman saying the government was examining this option. Addressed to the Office of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, Coleman wrote that “we are working on potential preferred legal mechanism, including through legislation, to prohibit potential pipeline conversions.”

Knox said First Nations and organizations such as his see the new regulation as backing down from stronger, longer term measures hinted at in the letter. He said government should make the regulation law if it wants to fully ease the concerns of those worried about oil coming through the lines in the long term.

“It was easy for the government to put in this regulation, therefore it is easy to undo,” said Knox. “There are several natural gas pipelines in North America that have been converted to oil pipelines in the past so it is feasible and done sometimes.”

The regulation applies to all six of the major pipelines proposed for transporting natural gas from shale deposits in the northeast to planned export facilities on the coast.

“If there are new, additional pipelines proposed for LNG projects, they can be added to the regulation,” the gas development ministry said in a statement.

One of the larger conversions of a natural gas pipeline in Canada to an oil-carrying one is called Energy East and is being planned by TransCanada.

The conversion would be part of a 4,600km pipeline project to carry oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan to refineries in Eastern Canada.

This project would also feature new pipelines to carry oil and associated facilities.