Trans Mountain Expansion & Southern Resident killer whales: Project background

Ecojustice, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Living Oceans

Raincoast Conservation Foundation represented by Ecojustice have worked through the courts to protect Southern Resident killer whales from the threats posed by the Trans Mountain Expansion project. 


2013 – Raincoast and Living Oceans, legally represented by Ecojustice, file as formal intervenors in the National Energy Board’s review of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX).

2014 to 2015 -The groups file extensive evidence on species impacts and risks from TMX.

January 2016 – The groups appear before the National Energy Board (NEB) panel charged with reviewing the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, which at the time was owned by Kinder Morgan.

December 2016 – The groups launch a lawsuit challenging Cabinet’s approval of the expansion in the Federal Court of Appeal.

October 2017 – The groups appear in court as part of a landmark hearing in which environmental groups, First Nations, communities and local governments make the case for why the project’s approval was unlawful. On behalf of their clients, Ecojustice lawyers argue the government’s approval of the project violated its responsibility to protect endangered Southern Resident killer whales.

August 2018 – The groups win a major victory when the Federal Court of Appeal strikes down Cabinet’s approval of the Trans Mountain project. The court rules that the approval failed to comply with the Species at Risk Act and that the government failed to properly consult with First Nations.

September 2018 – The Canadian government orders the NEB to conduct a reconsideration hearing for the marine shipping associated with the Trans Mountain project under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012 and the Species at Risk Act.

January 2019 – The groups make another round of submissions to the NEB in its reconsideration of the marine shipping aspect of the Trans Mountain project. Ecojustice lawyers present updated evidence on how project-related marine shipping would impact endangered Southern Resident killer whales.

July 2019 – After the federal government approves the project for a second time in June 2019, Ecojustice launches a case challenging the re-approval on behalf of Raincoast and Living Oceans.

September 2019 – The Federal Court of Appeal declines to hear the conservation groups’ challenge of the Trans Mountain approval. In the same decision, the court announces it will not hear any environmental law arguments on the project.

November 2019 – Ecojustice lawyers ask the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision.

Quick facts

Southern Resident killer whales and the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project:

  • Southern Resident killer whales are a genetically and culturally distinct population of endangered killer whales. Only 73 remain, as of October 2019.
  • If built, the Trans Mountain expansion project would lead to a sevenfold increase in tanker traffic — for a total of 408 trips (more than 800 inbound and outbound transits) per year — through critical Southern Resident habitat.
  • Evidence submitted to the NEB showed that the increased noise associated with the increase in shipping traffic increased the risk of extinction for Southern Residents, by lowering their feeding success.
  • Increased oil tanker traffic through critical Southern Resident habitat would also increase the risk of a catastrophic oil spill.
  • In its project reconsideration report, the National Energy Board concluded “Project-related marine shipping is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects on the Southern Resident killer whale and on Indigenous cultural use associated with the Southern Resident killer whale.”

You can help

Raincoast’s in-house scientists, collaborating graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and professors make us unique among conservation groups. We work with First Nations, academic institutions, government, and other NGOs to build support and inform decisions that protect aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and the wildlife that depend on them. We conduct ethically applied, process-oriented, and hypothesis-driven research that has immediate and relevant utility for conservation deliberations and the collective body of scientific knowledge.

We investigate to understand coastal species and processes. We inform by bringing science to decision-makers and communities. We inspire action to protect wildlife and wildlife habitats.

Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.