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POLITICS & BUSINESS – Sinking the myth of dangerous West Coast oil tanker traffic

(Image: Kinder Morgan photo)

VICTORIA – The expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline system, to ultimately move Alberta crude oil by tanker through the Port of Vancouver, was a high-profile issue in the recent B.C. election.

Liberal Premier Christy Clark agreed to support the federally-approved project in exchange for Ottawa’s commitment to a substantially upgraded emergency spill response plan and financial compensation from Kinder Morgan that would see the province paid as much as $1 billion over the next two decades.

This didn’t appease spill-fearing Vancouverites, who shifted their votes to NDP Leader John Horgan in the May 9 provincial election after he vowed to use “every tool in the toolbox” to fight the project. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver also voiced strong opposition.

Now that a New Democrat/Green coalition looms as strong possibility to be B.C.’s next government, the federal government’s resolve to enforce its approval of the project will be sorely tested.

Prior to the election, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson stated that expanding Kinder Morgan’s tanker traffic from five to 35 per month isn’t worth the “disastrous risks’’ of a spill.

But does the project actually pose such risks?

Let’s move beyond the rhetoric to some hard facts.

While there has never been a serous oil tanker spill on Canada’s Pacific coast, the truly disastrous environmental impact of the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska’s Prince William Sound is the most often cited reason to oppose the Kinder Morgan expansion.

As a change in government looms in British Columbia and puts the Kinder Morgan expansion project in jeopardy, we need to realize just how safe oil tankers are

Paradoxically, the Exxon Valdez spill proved to be a powerful catalyst that set off a spill-prevention movement in the global oil shipping industry. Investigators concluded that the spill wouldn’t have happened if the Exxon Valdez had been a double-hulled vessel. As a result, 150 countries mandated a 25-year phase-out of single-hull tankers and a requirement for all new vessels to be double-hulled by the end of 2014. That phase-out began soon after with new, greatly improved ships progressively replacing older ones. The new double-hulled ships, combined with advanced navigation systems and other safety measures, have resulted in a precipitous drop in global seaborn oil spills from an annual average of 2,340 barrels per day in the 1980s to just 110 barrels per day since 2010. That staggering reduction has been achieved despite a doubling of tanker shipments to 60 million barrels per day.

As a result, hundreds of times more petroleum from leaking vehicles, trucking spills, illegally disposed used oil and other land-based sources runs down municipal storm drains into the world’s rivers and oceans than from tanker spills.

That’s the global picture. What about in Canada?

Let’s start on our eastern coasts. Transport Canada data shows that more than 1.6 million barrels of petroleum is safely moved from 23 Atlantic Canada ports each day. Another 500,000 barrels per day moves up the St. Lawrence to Montreal and other Quebec ports. Overall, Eastern Canada’s ports berth some 4,000 inbound petroleum tankers each year without any major incidents.

Due to the proximity of the Vancouver and Seattle areas, analysis of tanker movements on the West Coast must include Canadian and American traffic. Essentially all tankers must transit the Strait of Juan de Fuca bordered to the north by Vancouver Island and to the south by Washington State.

Of the approximately 1.2 million barrels per day of oil that goes though the Strait of Juan de Fuca, about 500,000 barrels per day of mainly Alaskan oil similar in grade to Canada’s diluted oilsands crude moves south to the Seattle area.

About 700,000 barrels per day moves from the Vancouver region transported by various means, including tugboat-towed barges, refined fuel tankers and, five days a month, an outbound tanker carrying crude from Kinder Morgan’s Vancouver pipeline terminus. Despite hundreds of millions of barrels of seaborn petroleum movements over many decades, the only significant spill on the West Coast didn’t come from a tanker. It occurred when the BC Ferries vessel Queen of the North foundered near Price Rupert with 1,750 barrels of fuel on board.

The Kinder Morgan capacity expansion would see its tanker shipments grow to 35 per month. The company’s spill prevention measures go far beyond employing the strongest and safest double-hulled tankers. Certified Marine Navigation Pilots will be on the bridge until the ships reach open ocean. Powerful ocean tugs, one of which will be tethered to the tanker and the other available to assist, will keep the ships safe, even in the highly unlikely event of engine failure.

Like many West Coasters, my wife and I treasure the unique and beautiful environment of the region, spending time kayaking its waters and anchoring our boat in its myriad coves. I’m not worried about adding one more oil tanker per day. But I do worry about the boat diesel, heavy bunker fuel and chemical pollutants pumped from the bilges of the other 6,000 large ships that travel our waters each year, ships that are not nearly as closely scrutinized as those 35 Kinder Morgan tankers are sure to be.

Gwyn Morgan is a retired Canadian business leader who has been a director of five global corporations.

© 2017 Distributed by Troy Media

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About Mel Rothenburger (4613 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

4 Comments on POLITICS & BUSINESS – Sinking the myth of dangerous West Coast oil tanker traffic

  1. This is written from a political perspective, with enough ‘facts’ to justify a conclusion. Too bad it misses the mark.

    Does the writer understand the difference between what the Valdez was carrying and what is proposed to go into the tankers in Burnaby? Any understanding of the concept of ‘sinkers and floaters’?

    The scientific consensus seems to be that dilbit is more likely to sink than float. I really don’t know how any ‘world class spill response’ would deal with that… but I’m visualizing Sponge Bob Square Pants and all his friends wandering around the bottom of the sea with little mops and buckets.

    One thing for sure, all those who talked big words about how it would all be fine won’t be anywhere close enough to take responsibility…

  2. tony brumell // May 27, 2017 at 7:21 PM // Reply

    strange that the exxon valdez spill still hasn’t been cleaned up and no fines were paid by the company .The drunken captain got away with an absolute minimum penalty.
    How about he Torry canyon on the french (?) coast 30 years ago.
    I suppose you can’t call the gulf spill a ship spill but it goes to illustrate just how little the poil companies care about oil spills of any kind
    The spill drills we witnessed in kamloops and on Nicola lake by Kinder Morgan were a joke.They also went to show how little KM care unless there is a reporter about.
    If the ferry that sank on our coast a few years ago had been a tanker it wouldn’t have mattered how many hulls it had.WE would be trying to get it cleaned up for the next 50 years.
    How many whales are killed each year by transport ships ???How much are they harmed by the increased acousticle damage ?Whales and Orcas have washed up on our beeches from apparent noise impact.
    I’m amazed.Just think !!!only 110 barrels per day.That’s what ??? Lets see 110 times 360 equals only just over 40,000 barrels per year.Hardly significant!!!!! UNLESS IT HAPPENS IN YOUR BACK YARD>!!!!!

  3. Well, if Orange Crush along with its bed partner’s the BC Green Party take power, and then spend, spend, spend, they might need the Kinder Morgan cash to help drive the collectors away from our borders and shorelines. Of course, Orange Crush territory and the slice of green heaven on Vancouver Island could build a Dome and a wall to separate La-La land from the rest of the province. It is unfortunate that the interior did not have a way to shut off all oil and LNG lines leading into the Lower Mainland, that way La La land could have time to develop all sorts of other methods of fueling their vehicles and heating their homes throughout the year.

  4. Sound, fact based discussion that bypasses the rhetoric amplified by Vancouver and BC politicians playing upon the fears of the good people of the coastal population for political gain. That said, BC needs a large amount of Kinder Morgan cash locked away for immediate response should the unthinkable happen.
    We can probably trust the ships … we should not trust the company that’s filling those ships.

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