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9th November 2020
Trans Mountain report on Coldwater aquifer heading to regulatory hearing

Canada Energy Regulator rules filing is complete enough for next steps

Chantelle Bellrichard CBC News Posted: Nov 05, 2020 2:54 PM ET Last Updated: November 5

A Trans Mountain report about the risks the pipeline expansion might pose to the drinking water supply in a B.C. First Nation will be heading to a Canada Energy Regulator (CER) hearing.

Trans Mountain filed the report to the regulator in May finding that, according to its analysis, the pipeline expansion would pose an "extremely low" risk to the aquifer that flows beneath the Coldwater reserve, located about 100 kilometres southwest of Kamloops, B.C.

Coldwater has criticized Trans Mountain's assessment, taking particular issue with the methods used to model the aquifer and arguing the report is not complete enough to move forward to a hearing.

In a unanimous decision posted on the CER website on Tuesday, the regulator acknowledged the methodology concerns raised by Coldwater but concluded Trans Mountain's report is complete enough to move on to the next stage in the regulatory process.

The regulator said in its decision on Tuesday that while it believes Trans Mountain has done enough to proceed to the next phase of assessment, "this decision does not mean that the Condition 39 Report has been found to satisfy the requirements of Condition 39, including appropriately quantifying the risks and determining appropriate mitigations."

Those are matters that will be debated and decided upon at the next stage in the process.

Condition of expansion approval tied to aquifer study

The National Energy Board, now the Canada Energy Regulator, has said Trans Mountain needs to do additional work in the Coldwater area before proceeding with construction.

In approving the twinning of the existing pipeline, the regulator tasked Trans Mountain with completing a detailed hydrogeological study of the aquifer in Coldwater as one of the 156 conditions of approval.

The specifics around condition 39 are bureaucratic, technical and procedural but it's about figuring out what kind of risks an expanded pipeline would pose to the aquifer in the event of a spill and how that might be mitigated.

Coldwater has pushed for the regulator to reject the proposed route of the pipeline expansion, arguing it poses an unacceptable risk to the community's drinking water and should be rerouted away from the aquifer entirely.

The existing Trans Mountain pipeline runs through the Coldwater reserve and the community has already experienced a spill on the reserve.

Trans Mountain has been planning to build the expansion line just outside the reserve boundaries.

Coldwater's concerns about water protection have been at the forefront in several challenges related to the pipeline, including two Federal Court of Appeal cases and a related application to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court denied the application for leave in July.

The next steps in the regulatory process will involve a more detailed review of Trans Mountain's report about the aquifer and risk factors.

Routing is also a question that hangs in the balance. Trans Mountain submitted an application to the regulator for an alternative route through the Coldwater Valley in early October. The regulator has since announced this routing application will be moving ahead to a hearing process.

The regulator says Trans Mountain has asked for the alternative route hearing to happen as part of a detailed route hearing related to the Coldwater Valley. Detailed route hearings are not about reopening the debate about the pipeline's approval but instead are meant to rule on whether or not Trans Mountain is pursuing the "best possible route" for the twinning of the pipeline.

Anyone wanting to participate in the alternative route hearings has to register with the Canada Energy Regulator by Nov. 20.

CBC News reached out to Coldwater and Trans Mountain for comment but did not hear back by the time of publishing.