By Karen Campbell, Vancouver Sun June 27, 2011
Debates about pipelines are becoming a popular pastime- whether they bring prosperity, whether they are safe, whether they’ll allow for tankers off the B.C. coast, and to the most cynical, whether we need them at all.
While Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline has been the focus of great public scrutiny, another pipeline – one that is just as, and possibly more, problematic – is being overlooked: Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline. The pipeline ferries some 300,000 barrels of oil per day from oilsands projects in Alberta to B.C.’s south coast and Washington state.
The Trans Mountain pipeline is currently the subject of a National Energy Board application to secure “firm service,” which seems innocuous enough – authorize long-term contracts for shippers so that the company has more certainty and can plan for the future.
But what is the future? Well, if Kinder Morgan has its way, the future is four times as many tankers in Burrard Inlet, Georgia Strait and beyond than we saw last year. Kinder Morgan estimates that in 2010, 71 tankers came and went from its Westridge Terminal in Burnaby. By 2016, the company hopes to have 288 tankers travelling to and from the terminal, which would mean 576 tanker trips through Burrard Inlet each year. To get there, the company has chosen an incremental approach to regulatory approvals. Whereas Enbridge has filed a massive application for a major pipeline triggering a very public federal review, Kinder Morgan’s approach is to incrementally and steadily add capacity to its pipeline and its terminal over a 10-year period.
By the end of a 2016, the company hopes to ship 700,000 barrels per day, two-thirds of which would go to tankers waiting in Burrard Inlet. By comparison, Enbridge’s proposed pipeline would carry 525,000 barrels from Edmonton to Kitimat per day.
The threat oil tankers pose to northern waters is undoubtedly severe, yet a spill off B.C.’s south coast would also have grave consequences. A tanker mishap anywhere off the B.C. coast could result in irreparable damage to the marine environment and threaten the way of life for coastal communities, including the two largest coastal communities in the province – Vancouver and Victoria. The Gulf Islands, where many south B.C. residents live and play, would also bear the brunt of any fallout if a spill were to happen.
Few people realize that oil tankers already traverse our south coast waters, and if Kinder Morgan’s plans unfold as they hope, tanker traffic will increase exponentially, and with it, the risk of spills or mishaps. A significant spill in this would threaten precious marine spaces and estuaries critical to the survival of some of B.C.’s most iconic species, such as sockeye salmon and resident killer whales, and vulnerable species like the cormorant and heron. A spill could also hurt tourism, recreation, industry and operations at the largest port in Canada.
We know that the federal government doesn’t have a clear response system to handle a potential spill. In a report released late last year, the auditor-general’s office identified gaps and inadequacies in Canada’s system of responding to oil spills from ships.
All of this is why the Trans Mountain proposal is alarming. The application before the National Energy Board sets the stage to increase tanker traffic in our communities, but contemplates no meaningful public engagement of those whose lives and livelihoods would be affected if something went wrong.
It feels like government and industry stakeholders are trying to sneak more tankers through the back door, while we, the public, aren’t even invited to the party.
But here’s the thing. These are our waters. Our lives. Our coastline. We all have a stake in protecting B.C.’s coast from the threat of an oil spill, which is why it’s time for us to shout, louder than ever, to make sure we are heard.
Karen Campbell is a staff lawyer at Ecojustice, a charity that uses the law to protect and restore Canada’s environment.
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