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The National Energy Board review process for Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline is now well-underway.

If the project is approved, we would see an increase from 60 to more than 400 heavy oil tankers leaving Vancouver harbour each year. Those tankers would then pass around the tip of southern Vancouver Island—an area identified by the federal Tanker Safety Expert Panel as being one of the most high risk areas in Canada for an oil spill.

The thought of this enormous increase in tanker traffic alarms me, and I know I’m not alone. With more oil tankers comes more risk of an oil spill—one that could destroy our pristine coastline and devastate our local communities. The whole idea undermines Vancouver’s award-winning efforts to become the world’s greenest city by 2020.

That’s why I applied to be a full participant in the Kinder Morgan hearings.  My constituents, and British Columbians across our province, will be affected by this pipeline and they deserve a voice in the process.

Last week I joined dozens of other participants in submitting questions to Kinder Morgan on their application. With a 15,000 page application to review, and only one month to submit questions, I chose to start by analyzing Kinder Morgan’s evidence around oil spills: How likely are they? What impact will they have? And how effectively can we actually clean them up? I also asked about whether my constituents, and others in the coastal communities, were properly consulted, given the impact this project could have on their health and livelihoods.

If the number of questions a participant submits is any indicator, I had nearly 500 questions on oil spills and consultation alone. Collectively, participants submitted thousands of questions on these and other topics as we try to better understand what this project will really mean for British Columbians.

Here are just a few examples of the areas I asked about:

1) Federal studies clearly show that, unlike most other crude oils, the diluted bitumen Kinder Morgan will be transporting through its pipeline is so heavy that when it mixes with suspended particles in the ocean, it sinks. If there is one thing we have plenty of in our coastal waters, it is suspended sediments. Unfortunately, Kinder Morgan’s oil spill response is based entirely on the faulty assumption that the spilled oil would float. How are they going to respond when it actually sinks?

2) When assessing the impact of an oil spill and their ability to clean it up, Kinder Morgan based their projections on near-perfect conditions, including: 20 hours of daylight, pristine weather with only minimal waves, the availability of all staff and equipment to respond, and of course, floating oil. They also assumed that they would have twice the response capacity available to them as currently exists. Despite these ideal circumstances, they only predicted that 45% of the oil would be recovered. Even then, they acknowledge that their model isn’t consistent with historical averages (generally only 5-15% of spilled oil is ever recovered). I asked Kinder Morgan to redo their model analysis to offer realistic projections, based on credible assumptions, so that we can know what to really expect.

3) A typical heavy oil tanker will carry more than 100,000 tonnes of oil. Yet in their analyses, Kinder Morgan assumed a worst-case scenario that only 16,500 tonnes would ever “credibly” spill at a time. That may be true according to Kinder Morgan’s calculations, but credible risk analyses consider the full range of scenarios, including one where the ship sinks and all of its oil is released. How can we know the full risk that comes with these tankers, if the worst-case scenario is excluded from consideration?

Ultimately, in applying to build their pipeline, Kinder Morgan is applying for a social license from British Columbians. Earning that social license begins with providing credible evidence that can stand up to thorough cross-examination.

Kinder Morgan has already advocated excluding oral cross-examination from the hearing process. Those who followed the Northern Gateway hearings know just how significant this change is.

What the above points suggest is that Kinder Morgan’s submitted evidence is far from complete. After reading countless pages of documents it’s pretty clear to me that neither Kinder Morgan, the scientific community, nor the federal or provincial governments have even a cursory idea of what would happen in the case of a catastrophic diluted bitumen spill in our coastal waters.

The bottom line is this.  It’s our coast, and we deserve better. 

6 Comments

  1. John Campbell-
    June 1, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    I agree that Kinder Morgan should be advocating the highest safety levels if it expects to win the confidence of British Columbians. Stonewalling, being parsimonious with the truth, downplaying risks and denying debate will not cut it. Why should we trust a company who chooses to deal with us in this manner?

    The picture at the top of this post shows a relatively small tanker transitting the hazardous First Narrows of Vancouver Harbour. The tanker has the assistance of a tug which has a line on board to keep the tanker orientated correctly in this narrow channel with fast running tidal currents. If it came from the Kinder Morgan terminal in Burnaby this tanker had already transited the even more hazardous Second Narrows as well as the entire length of Vancouver harbour, one of the busiest harbours in the world.

    How can we even consider such a constricted and hazardous route for major tanker traffic?

    A much more rational option would be to terminate this pipeline near Tsawwassen where there is wide, well monitored traffic lanes to the Pacific Ocean. A Coast Guard radar monitored traffic system is mandatory as is the use of certified Canadian marine pilots. This is one of the worlds major sea routes and is protected from the worst weather of the open ocean and has not had a major marine mishap in over fifty years.

  2. May 23, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    Doing “better” is not saying much these days, so how about “best”? It’s funny that you said we deserve “better” at the same time that “best” happened to start showing up in all my social media feeds: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/solar-roadways#activity

    Let’s drop these pipeline proposals like hot potatoes and give these smart projects our attention!

  3. jim reeves-
    May 23, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    Honestly i do think there need to be strigent rules and regulations in place but we need to still find a way to get oil to customers and coal
    for that matter safely. Do not think tying the legs of Canada economically in any way helps us. Until we are all running on nuclear energy with electric cars it is a must we move foreward with making the funds it takes to progress at every level.

    • Rob Black-
      May 30, 2014 at 3:32 pm

      Honestly, I think anyone who has only the capacity to think about the economy and not the economy and the environment in a symbiotic way – they’re inextricably linked – shouldn’t be trying to make suggestions on the best way forward.

  4. yyj72-
    May 23, 2014 at 10:06 am

    I’d be curious to know what the viewpoints are of our neighbours across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Do their local representatives have a say in this process? I believe they should, given the trans-boundary nature of the issue.

    • May 23, 2014 at 1:06 pm

      Great question. I am not sure whether or not they have intervention status.