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 May 16, 2018
Transport Canada won't identify mystery safety gap in Trans Mountain pipeline project

 The federal Transport Department is refusing to explain why it rejected a marine safety concern flagged by the B.C. government in 2016.

The concern was among 11 safety gaps flagged by the B.C. government of former premier Christy Clark as it considered whether to support the Trans Mountain pipeline and oil tanker expansion project.

Transport Canada's top public servant was told in an internal briefing note, obtained by National Observer, that the department agreed with most of the concerns and would address them, with one exception.

Some details about the 11 safety gaps were disclosed as part of the department's response to a formal request for access to information about a meeting in May 2016 between Transport Canada's top public servant, deputy minister Michael Keenan, and Kinder Morgan Canada's chief executive, Ian Anderson. But portions of the records were censored prior to their release, including a passage that explained what the exception was and why Transport Canada didn't agree that it was a safety gap.

Canada's access to information legislation requires the government to release public records to any Canadian who pays a $5 fee, upon request, unless it has a valid reason to refuse.

After receiving the Transport Canada records, National Observer asked the department a series of questions on May 8, 2018, including whether it could explain what the exception was and why it rejected it.

Seven days later, on May 15, the federal department provided some responses that add more mystery to the ongoing west coast pipeline saga.

The Trans Mountain project, proposed by Texas energy company Kinder Morgan, has been mired in delays due to opposition in B.C. and its struggles to get the required permits to proceed with construction.

Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government approved the pipeline expansion project in November 2016, the company has threatened to abandon its plans due to uncertainty caused by its opponents in British Columbia. Kinder Morgan previously said that it would walk away from the project if it failed to reach an agreement with stakeholders to address the uncertainty before May 31, 2018.

The new documents, obtained by National Observer, also indicated that the Trudeau government, Kinder Morgan and the Clark government may have had some difficulty communicating with each other about the project, with Transport Canada unaware if B.C. had shared its list of 11 marine safety gaps with Kinder Morgan, at the time of Keenan's meeting with Anderson on May 4, 2016.

But the documents also indicated that officials believed the concerns raised by B.C. could be addressed through a comprehensive national plan. The Trudeau government would later introduce a national plan to protect Canada's oceans in November 2016, a few weeks before it approved the Trans Mountain project.

Following Clark's defeat in the 2017 B.C. election, NDP Premier John Horgan, elected on a pledge to stop the pipeline, has vowed to use all tools available to protect the province's Pacific coast from spills, triggering the recent statements by Kinder Morgan executives that they may abandon the multibillion-dollar project.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau was scheduled to unveil some new federal measures to improve its existing Oceans Protection Plan at an event in Vancouver on May 16, 2018. Transport Canada, in its responses sent on May 15, also noted that Trans Mountain was facing more than 150 conditions, including requirements to plan for emergencies in different locations.