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Canadian regulator lays out draft conditions for Trans Mountain oil expansion

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Canadian regulator lays out draft conditions for Trans Mountain oil expansion

Trans Mountain Corp., the Canadian government-owned pipeline company, would need to create a marine mammal monitoring program before it would be allowed to boost crude shipments through its Westridge Terminal in British Columbia, according to a set of draft conditions the National Energy Board issued.

The draft conditions, which may or may not be adopted in the board's pending review of an expansion of the pipeline network, were part of a bundle of possible changes to its original approval of an expansion program that would almost triple the capacity of the 1950s vintage pipeline. Within three months of starting increased shipments from Westridge, in British Columbia's populous Lower Mainland region, the company must submit a plan for "mitigating effects from the project and associated cumulative effects, and on fulfilling Trans Mountain's commitments as a terminal operator with regard to project-related marine shipping," the board, known as the NEB, said in a notice to participants issued Jan. 10.

The proposed changes also include enhanced tug services to guide ships to the terminal and changes to its spill response strategies. Almost all of the changes are amendments to the 157 conditions attached to Kinder Morgan Inc.'s original license to build the expansion.

Canada's Federal Court of Appeal ordered the NEB on Aug. 30, 2018, to reassess its 2016 approval of the Trans Mountain expansion. The court had found that the regulator had failed to properly consider impacts on marine life and that its consultation with First Nations groups was inadequate. The board has a deadline of Feb. 22 to issue amended recommendations to the federal government, the owner of the line, for approval.

The board also recommended that other federal government departments consider changes to marine mammal protection. Environmental groups have claimed that increased tanker traffic from Westridge endangers killer whales and other marine life in the Salish Sea, a group of interconnected waterways in British Columbia and Washington. The area sees ship traffic from all over the world to busy ports in Vancouver, British Columbia and Seattle, including shipments of crude oil from Alaska.

Canada's government bought the 300,000-barrel-per-day Trans Mountain system from Kinder Morgan's Canadian unit for C$4.5 billion in 2018 in an attempt to salvage the 590,000-bbl/d expansion project that has been opposed by environmental groups. After construction was halted in August, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisted it would still go ahead. So far, no timeline has been set to restart construction.