A map shows the new route of the proposed Pacific Trails pipeline in yellow. Wetland areas are outlined in green.

Pacific Trails shifts pipeline route near Owen Creek

Apache Canada is tabling a series of adjustments that would alter the way it routes a natural gas pipeline south of Houston.

Apache Canada is tabling a series of adjustments that would alter the way it routes a natural gas pipeline south of Houston.

If approved, Apache’s updated plan would include a stockpile site off the Chisholm logging road and a route shift that avoids a slide-prone hill slope west of Owen Creek.

Sofia Ebermann was one of several Buck Flats residents who attended a Wednesday open house at the Houston Seniors Activity Centre.

“I came to the meeting because this pipeline will come close to our place, and we were concerned how it would affect our lives,” said Ebermann, adding that she felt good about the answers given to her by Apache staff.

“The impact won’t be as extreme as Enbridge,” she said.

B.C.’s environmental assessment office approved the Pacific Trails pipeline in 2008, when the project was still owned by Pacific Northern Gas and was designed to import natural gas to B.C.

But even before a shale gas discoveries in northeast B.C. convinced Apache to buy Pacific Trails and turn it into an export project, it was clear that future engineering work would require some amendments to the original certificate.

The route shift at Owen Creek is one of the most significant alterations along the 466-km pipeline, which will tap into an existing natural gas line near Prince George and carry the gas to a liquefaction plant in Kitimat.

Geotechnical engineers contracted by Apache found a horseshoe-shaped scar in the hill slope that dips toward the Morice River—a relic of a previous landslide. The engineers recommended shifting the route more than 100 metres north, which will mean installing extra controls to cross a wetland without having the pipeline float up and out of position.

Although the pipeline plans call for it to be dug in more deeply in some areas, for most of the route it would be buried in a two-metre trench with just over a metre of cover.

Aside from the route shift at Owen Creek, the only major change proposed for the Houston area is to clear a temporary stockpile site.

A detailed plan won’t be available until Apache completes a final round of engineering work, but the stockpile would have to be somewhere between five and seven hectares to act as a staging ground for the 40 to 80-foot pipe lengths the project requires.

Apache spokesperson Paul Wyke said that the full engineering report will give a clearer picture of the project’s labour needs and construction timelines.

“Keep in mind that this project is still at the stage where it needs a final investment decision,” said Wyke. An early estimate put the cost of the liquefaction plant and pipeline somewhere around $5 billion, but that estimate could change with the final engineering report.

“It’s a very exciting project for the whole northwest, no question about it,” Wyke added. “It’s about diversifying where we send our natural resources and opening up a brand-new gateway for our resources.”

But the prospect of a Pacific gateway for B.C. shale gas does not please Glenda Ferris, a long-time environmental advocate who helped craft B.C.’s current assessment regulations.

“I don’t support export of energy resources to China—to a totalitarian system,” said Ferris. China, Korea and Japan are among the top markets where Apache is hoping to sign long-term sales agreements.

But in terms of safety, Ferris said she has fewer objections to a natural gas line than she does to the twin oil/condensate pipelines proposed by Enbridge.

On route planning too, she said she prefers the work done by Pacific Trails.

“It wasn’t like Enbridge. Enbridge put that pipeline proposal right through the Buck Creek valley, right next to people’s homes. These guys tries to avoid private property wherever they could, and that’s a good thing.”

But Ferris, whose home would come closest to the pipeline of all the homes south of Houston, said she still had many concerns after Wednesday’s open house, saying she has yet to see detailed and enforceable plans on traffic management, fire safety and wildlife protection.

“I think Apache is so new that they have a lot of catch-up to do,” she said, noting that the company took over the project from Pacific National Gas just last year.

“They have a lot of learning to do and I hope they get to it before they’re on the ground.”

Public comments on the Pacific Trails pipeline will be received by the B.C. environmental office until March 28.

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