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Extreme reliance on Trans Mountain pipeline exposed

Burnaby refineries have run out of oil, B.C. fuel rationing in effect and gas is being barged from the U.S. after just a 10-day shutdown of oil flow from Alberta
TM pipeline post flood coldwater
Trans Mountain pipeline crews work on water diversion in the Coldwater, B.C. region after flooding. | Trans Mountain Corp.

Trans Mountain Corp. hopes to have the pipeline that supplies the Lower Mainland with oil for refining, as well as refined fuels from Alberta, back in operation by the end of this week, if, as the late songwriter Jerry Reed put it, “the good Lord's willing and the creeks don't rise.”

The pipeline was shut down November 14 as a precautionary measure, due to the instability caused by flooding, and now more heavy rains are in the forecast.

Meanwhile, the only refinery in southwestern B.C., the Parkland Fuels refinery in Burnaby, has run out of oil and has stopped refining.

Gasoline is being barged in from the U.S., and rules have been relaxed to allow Lower Mainlanders to skip across the U.S. border to buy gas without being subject to COVID-19 testing.

The B.C. government has rationed non-essential gasoline purchases to a maximum of 30 litres until December 1.

Trans Mountain has set up seven staging areas in the most affected areas, including two dedicated to helicopter operations, to act as bases for equipment and resources. The response includes more than 400 people, seven helicopters and some 100 pieces of heavy equipment in the Coquihalla and Coldwater regions, focused on getting the pipeline restarted, according to Trans Mountain.

“If all planning and work continues to progress and no further issues with the pipeline are assessed, Trans Mountain is optimistic that we can restart the pipeline, in some capacity, by the end of the week,” Trans Mountain said in a November 24 press release.

“Key to successful execution of the restart plan will be access for equipment, fair weather, and no new findings of concern.”

But once the pipeline restarts, refineries in Washington State, not Burnaby, appears to be first in line to start receiving oil.

“Trans Mountain has completed surveys of the Puget Sound portion of the pipeline system and is also working with U.S. officials to restart a small section of the Puget Sound Pipeline within Washington State to move oil currently held in tanks at Trans Mountain’s Laurel Station to Cherry Point for processing,” the company states.

“The amount of product we expect to deliver is limited to a small amount of crude already in that portion of the line.”

Parkland Fuels says it is keeping its refinery in ready mode, once the Trans Mountain begins to deliver crude again.

“Ready-mode is a state of operational readiness which positions us to recommence processing once sufficient crude oil feedstocks become available,” Ryan Krogmeier, Parkland’s senior vice president of supply, trading and refining.

Once the pipeline is back in operation, it may take a few days for the Parkland refinery in Burnaby to ramp back up.

"Assuming TMPL is pumping by Monday [November 29] and oil gets to Parkland by Wednesday, you’re looking at another [three or four]days before it can process crude," said Dan McTeague, president of Canadians for Affordable Energy.