This item follows a couple of pieces I did that involved Tom Fletcher: Agenda journalism and Hey Tom Fletcher, whose energy policy is nonsense?
A Kinder Morgan talking point promoted by the President of the BC Legislature Press Gallery sounds great – until you give it a moment of thought (and a fact check).
Brett Mineer, March 12, 2015
It was the kind of thing Twitter is known for – ad hominem and baseless assertion. As I’m periodically guilty of the same heat of the moment Twitter foolishness, I would have been plenty happy to leave well-enough alone were it not for the fact that one such assertion had appeared in print before.
In early December, protests were well underway on Burnaby Mountain over test holes Kinder Morgan contractors were drilling in an effort to gather data for their proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. There had been over 100 arrests by this time and the rhetoric was heated, including from the President of the Legislature Press Gallery, the Black Press man in Victoria, Tom Fletcher. Once upon a time his dual role of columnist and reporter might have been thought to have been incompatible – but not these days.
On this night someone raised the concern many of the protesters had that the Kinder Morgan proposal wasn’t just for a near tripling of oil volume, but a change in the product being shipped. Under the proposal before the NEB, Trans Mountain would transport a majority of its overall volume in the form of dilbit instead of light crude.
Because the bitumen coming out of Alberta is too thick to flow through pipes on its own, it needs to be diluted using a cocktail of solvents and derivatives of natural gas in order to go from point AB to BC. The industry widely acknowledges dilbit poses a greater risk of corrosion and other technical challenges, therefor requiring a greater level of maintenance and monitoring to ensure their safety. This was a concern oft brought up by protesters and opponents of the Trans Mountain proposal but it was a concern easily brushed aside by Fletcher and the communications staff running the Trans Mountain twitter account:
You’ll notice I don’t have the original tweet from @TransMtn that Fletcher retweeted. They deleted it after I began email correspondence with them days later (more on that shortly).
As you can see, I responded by repeating something I’d asked @TransMtn before to no response.
My thinking was thus:
We’ve always known this pipeline shipped crude. True they may have sent a few test runs of bitumen through to test the feasibility of one day getting Alberta’s land-locked bitumen to foreign markets – but this is, and always has been, a very traditional oil pipeline. So how much bitumen have they shipped?
Fletcher’s response surprised me.
I don’t have my response – but I remember it tersely read “Frankly Tom, I’m shocked you consider yourself one.”
For a reason I can’t quite put my finger on, I now really wanted to know those annual bitumen volumes for the existing pipeline. I reached out to Trans Mountain this time through a direct message on Twitter.
Four days later they Tweeted this back:
Looking at their own numbers, it clearly appears the Trans Mountain has remained primarily a crude oil pipeline. The largest amount of dilbit ever carried as a percentage of total annual volume was 18.6% in 2010.
Admittedly, they never explicitly claimed to primarily carry dilbit however their claim “Transporting bitumen began in 1986, almost 30 years, half of Trans Mountain’s history” seemed designed to imply it, or at least deflect questions about the proposed shift to majority dilbit.
Because their claim (and by proxy Fletcher’s) is that dilbit shipments have been occurring since 1986, it seemed to me a chart that only went back to 2006 left a pretty big data hole.
I followed up by email:
From: Brett Mineer [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Monday, December 08, 2014 12:03 PM
To: Info Transmountain
Subject: Dilbit percentages prior to 2006
I’d first like to thank you for your efforts in responding to my requests on Twitter for Dilbit volumes as a percentage of annual totals. The information you provided for 2006-2013 is exactly what I was looking to see.
As a follow up I’m just seeking some clarification on pre-2006 numbers. In your tweet you mentioned the practice of shipping Dilbit via the Trans Mountain Pipeline began in the 1980’s. I am wondering if numbers from the 80’s to 2006 were not included because the amounts were negligible, unavailable or a bit of both? If you have any additional numbers or could point me in the right direction of pre-2006 data it’d be much appreciated.
I received a response a few minutes later:
From: Info Transmountain
Sent: Monday, December 08, 2014 12:11 PM
To: ‘Brett Mineer’
Cc: External Relations
Subject: RE: Dilbit percentages prior to 2006
Thank you for your follow-up email. I have forwarded your question to my co-workers in External Relations for Kinder Morgan Canada, as they will be better able to speak to questions regarding existing/historical information.
Trans Mountain Expansion Project Info
Kinder Morgan Canada Inc.
With that, my questions were kicked over to Calgary. The next day I received one of those LinkedIn notifications that someone was viewing my profile. I guess they were curious why someone was asking reporter-type questions who hadn’t identified himself as a reporter. I’d be curious too.
Anticipating I may want to write something somewhere about this, I tried looking for the original tweet from Kinder Morgan that got this all started. It had mysteriously disappeared from their feed but as luck would have it, I found it alive and well as a Tom Fletcher retweet (as shown earlier).
On day two, I half expected a response from Andrew, the guy who’d been looking over my LinkedIn. Instead I heard from Natalie. On Dec 10, 2014, at 11:13 AM, External Relations wrote:
In response to your follow up question, the detailed information you have asked about is not readily available.
When the pipeline first started operating in the 1950s it transported conventional light crude, refined products were introduced in the mid-1980s and in the late 1980’s Trans Mountain began the transportation of heavy oil. The heavy oil volumes were initially low and as both supply and demand for heavy oil increased over time so too did the volume transported by Trans Mountain up to the percentages that were previously provided to you.
External Relations, Kinder Morgan Canada
In other words, volumes pre 2006 were negligible to non-existent. Shipments of bitumen that “began in 1986” appear to have been nothing more than periodic and barely notable – perhaps feasibility studies.
Kinder Morgan and Trans Mountain may never use that talking point again – but don’t count on anything different from Tom Fletcher.
Categories: Kinder Morgan