Trans Mountain Oil Pipeline Expansion Project – Burnaby Terminal in BC, Canada

Written by Harris Koepenick at SFSU in 2017.

The Burnaby terminal is a storage and distribution facility that houses over 1.5 million barrels of oil[1]. In 2013, a plan to double the storage capacity of the terminal was proposed[2]. In the last ten years alone, two spills have occurred at Burnaby[3], and the proposed expansion project would only increase the likelihood and severity of any future incident. The area surrounding the terminal is currently home to nearly 3,300 indigenous people, and a spill of great magnitude would threaten key environmental features, like the Burrard Inlet, that have supported their communities for generations[4]. In this piece, I intend to show that the energy injustices at Burnaby have arisen because the area has been sacrificed for the greater economic benefit of Canada.

The Burnaby terminus (pictured here) is home to 13 storage containers for crude and refined oil.

Who would be affected?

  • Aboriginal groups (particularly the Tsleil-Waututh).
    • Nearly 3,300 Aboriginal people live in Burnaby[5], 500 of whom belong to the Tsleil-Waututh nation.
    • The Tsleil-Waututh reside on the coast of the Burrard Inlet[6], where the Burnaby terminal is located. This makes them particularly vulnerable to oil spills in the region[7].
  • Residents of Burnaby
    • Burnaby is home to just over 230,000 people[8].
      • About 21 percent of Burnaby residents are designated low-income[9], compared to the national average of about 12 percent[10].
  • Residents of Metro Vancouver
    • Around 2.5 million people live in the city of Vancouver, which is also located on the coast of the Burrard Inlet, 10 miles from the Burnaby terminal[11].
Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 12.13.10 AM
This is a map of the Burrard Inlet. The green shading represents Tsleil-Waututh territory, and the red star indicates the location of the Burnaby terminal.

How would the environment be affected?

It is thought that the expansion of the Burnaby terminal will lead to:

  • higher probability of a spill occurring due to construction associated with the expansion project[12],
  • higher probability of a spill occurring due to the difficulty of monitoring additional infrastructure[13],
  • increased severity of future spills due to expanded storage capacity of the terminal[14],
  • increased oil tanker traffic in nearby waters[15].

These outcomes threaten two key features of the local environment, the Burrard Inlet and the Fraser River Estuary, which are some of the most ecologically significant areas in the world[16]. They would be affected in the following ways:

  • Marine life would be submerged in diluted bitumen, a residue associated with petroleum extraction that is hazardous upon inhalation and contact[17].
    • The types of oil stored at the Burnaby terminal are particularly dense and tend to sink, so it is likely that organisms throughout the entire water column will be affected[18].
  • Birds, particularly seabirds and shorebirds, and marine mammals would be threatened by oil that remains on the water’s surface[19].
  • Oil deposits will accrue on local shores, where they will remain for years or even decades[20].
    • These deposits have the potential to interfere with the functions of intertidal communities and natural processes, like erosion[21].

How would people be affected?

  • Loss of biological productivity
    • The Tsleil-Waututh community has been dependent on the biological productivity of the Burrard Inlet and Fraser River for generations. If these areas were significantly damaged by an oil spill, which is extremely likely[22], they would lose the resources they have always depended on.
  • Degradation of land
    • The accumulation of oil on surrounding shores and subsequent degradation of the land is a huge concern for Aboriginal groups who have cultural and spiritual ties to their local environment[23].
  • Financial burden on local economy
    • An oil spill would put a significant strain on a wide variety of economic activities in the Burnaby area, as much of their economy depends on the use of regional waterways like the Burrard Inlet[24].

How did this injustice arise?

The community of Burnaby is a prime example of a sacrifice zone, or an area that is set aside for environmental degradation for some greater economic or national purpose[25]. When the terminus of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline System was originally built in Burnaby, the area was largely industrial with relatively few residents[26]. Moreover, those who did live there were mostly Aboriginal communities like the Tsleil-Waututh, who have historically been shut out of political discussions like this one[27].

Prior to the construction of the pipeline, the land in Burnaby was used by the local indigenous groups to support themselves, but contributed very little to the Canadian economy on a greater scale. That is why, when the pipeline was marketed to the public as an emerging source of wealth for Canada, the terminal was built without proper consultation of the indigenous groups[28].

Now, over 50 years later, Kinder Morgan continues to promote the economic advantages of the pipeline, while significantly understating its environmental and socio-economic impacts[29]. In addition, the Canadian government has repeatedly shown support for Kinder Morgan by refusing to enforce the fair and lawful requests of community members seeking more information about the potential costs of the expansion project[30].


[1] O’Connor, E. (2016, June 17). By the numbers: City of Burnaby versus Kinder Morgan. Retrieved October 03, 2017, from

[2] O’Connor (2016).

[3] Sacred Trust Initiative. (n.d.). What is Kinder Morgan’s record of spills? Retrieved November 03, 2017, from

[4] The City of Burnaby. (n.d.) Proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP). Retrieved September 24, 2017, from

[5] Statistics Canada. (2016, April 13). NHS Focus on Geography Series: Demographic characteristics of Aboriginal people – Burnaby. Retrieved October 16, 2017, from

[6] Gunton, T. (2016, November 23). Evaluation of the National Energy Board’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project Report: Assessment of Oil Spill Risks(Rep.). Retrieved October 16, 2017, from Simon Fraser University School for Resources and Environmental Management website:

[7] Gunton (2016).

[8] The City of Burnaby. (n.d.). About Burnaby: Historical Trends 1891-2011. Retrieved September 24, 2017, from—Quick-Stats/Historical-Trends-1891-2011.html.

[9] The City of Burnaby (n.d.). About Burnaby: Historical Trends 1891-2011.

[10] Statistics Canada. (2013, June 27). [Persons in Low Income Before Tax (In percent, 2007 to 2011)]. Raw data. Retrieved September 25, 2017 from

[11] The City of Burnaby (n.d.). Proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP).

[12] Luksun, B. (2012, May 23). Kinder Morgan Proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion(Rep.). Retrieved October 16, 2017, from City of Burnaby Planning and Building Council:

[13] Luksun (2012).

[14] The City of Burnaby. (n.d.) Proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP).

[15] TSLEIL-WAUTUTH NATION. (2012, July 07). Tsleil-Waututh Nation Signs Save the Fraser Declaration[Press release]. Retrieved September 26th, 2017, from Releases/FINAL_TWNation Save the Fraser Signing.ashx.

[16] Adair, M., Walls, L., & Nassichuk, M. (1998, October). Frasier River Action Plan: Burrard Inlet Technical Summary Report(Rep.). Retrieved November 01, 2017, from Environmental Protection Branch website:

[17] Short, J. W., Ph.D. (2015). Fate and Effect of Oil Spills from the Trans Mountain Expansion Project in Burrard Inlet and the Fraser River Estuary(Vol. 7, Rep.). Juneau, AK: JWS Consulting LLC.

[18] (2015).

[19] Short (2015).

[20] Short (2015).

[21] Short (2015).

[22] Gunton (2016).

[23] Short (2015).

[24] Richmond Chamber of Commerce. (2014, July). The Economic Importance of the Lower Frasier River(Rep.). Retrieved November 01, 2017, from D.E. Park & Associates Ltd. website.

[25] Scott, R. R. (2010). Hillbillies and Coalminers: Representations of a National Sacrifice Zone. In Removing Mountains (pp. 31-64). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

[26] O’Connor (2016).

[27] Larsen, K. (2017, January 17). ‘It is our Standing Rock:’ First Nations announce legal actions against feds, Kinder Morgan. Retrieved October 03, 2017, from

[28] Larsen (2017).

[29] The City of Burnaby (n.d.). Proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP).

[30] The City of Burnaby, Office of The Mayor. (2016, January 13). Burnaby Submits Argument to National Energy Board and Asks Federal Government to Suspend Hearings [Press release]. Retrieved September 25, 2017, from burnaby/news and media/Burnaby Argument to NEB to Suspend Hearings.pdf.



Author: Harris Koepenick

Harris is currently enrolled as a student at the San Francisco State University School for Public Affairs and Civil Engagement (PACE). He is working on a BS in Environmental Studies, with an emphasis in Natural Resource Management and Conservation. In addition, he is earning a minor in Technical and Professional Writing. Outside of school, Harris is an active community member who works to address Climate Change related issues across the state of California.

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