Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Kill the Tankers, Save the Whales

Kinder Morgan announced yesterday that it plans to increase its Trans Mountain Pipeline capacity from the current 225,000 barrels per day ( bpd ) to 1.1 million bpd. The Trans Mountain line runs from Edmonton to Burnaby, British Columbia, from where most of the oil is shipped by another pipeline to the United States. However, at the present time a small percentage of the oil that ends up in Burnaby is shipped out by tanker, at the rate of about one tanker shipment per month.

This staggered expansion project will see capacity increase to 300,000 bpd by 2008, and to 400,000 the following year, and eventually to over one million bpd. How much of this capacity will end up being shipped through Georgia Strait, Boundary Pass, Haro Strait and the Straight of Juan de Fuca is unknown. Nevertheless, the tanker component of the expansion project should definitely form part of the proposed review of the project by the National Energy Board ( NEB ), which is expected to commence in August of this year, if for no other reason than the fact that this tanker route runs right through the critical habitat area for the southern resident killer whales. These orcas are an officially-listed endangered species in both Canada and the United States. It is generally recognised that a major oil spill could have catastrophic impacts on the southern residents, potentially wiping out the entire southern resident population, which currently consists of approximately 90 individuals in three pods - J, K and L. The 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound, it will be recalled, essentially decimated a local pod of killer whales, to the point where their eventual extinction is a virtual certainty.

BCers should rise up and protest this massive expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline for its potential impact on the health of the local marine environment, popularly referred to as the Salish Sea. Canadian controls over tanker movements in this area are far less stringent than those of our American counterparts for Puget Sound and the Straight of Juan de Fuca. Our Yankee cousins, for instance, impose limits on the size of tankers in the region, and have requirements for tug escort over certain portions of the route. Canada has no such restrictions at present.

A stark choice may face Canadians - do we want to protect the orca whales, an iconic symbol of the Pacific Northwest, or do we want to develop the southern mainland as a principal outlet for tar sands oil on the west coast? Which do we prefer? Because to think that we can have both, especially when the orcas are already subject to a wide variety of stressors, including noise pollution, deterioration of habitat, scarcity of food supply and hounding by whale watching vessels, is to dream in Technicolour.

So, get out there and demand that the NEB's public review of the Kinder Morgan expansion include the tanker component. Also, demand that the BC and federal governments institute a comprehensive planning process for the Salish Sea - one that effectively recognises the crucial links between future development of the Lower Mainland and marine environmental quality in the region. The Kinder Morgan expansion, when coupled with other plans for upgrading of facilities, such as the doubling of capacity at the Roberts Bank bulk terminal, force one to take a long, hard look at the direction in which we are headed. We talk the talk about sustainable development for our kids and grandkids, but with these and other development proposals on the table, does this accurately reflect our vision for the area? Are these plans, for instance, compatible with the goals and objectives of the draft Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Reserve initiative? Somehow I doubt it. We must be prepared to walk the walk as well, to put our money where our mouth is, and to stand up for what we believe in.

Kinder Morgan's proposals should also be looked at in terms of the cumulative effects this and other maritime shipping proposals on the Lower Mainland could have on the marine environment. For instance, in addition to the expansion of the Trans Mountain terminal, a third berth is being added to the Deltaport terminal, and a new terminal is being built at the Roberts Bank facility. It is definitely time to stand up and say "Enough is enough!" We want the same kind of planning for the marine environment that we have come to expect for terrestrial ecosystems. Better still, we want the terrestrial and marine ecosystems to be viewed in an integrated manner, in recognition of their fndamental interconnectedness."


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