Monday, August 21, 2006

Time to Terminate TERMPOL

Well, maybe not TERMINATE, but certainly overhaul! TERMPOL is the process Transport Canada ( TC ) uses to evaluate the viability of the shipping component of coastal terminal projects. While TERMPOL goes back quite some time, and has served its purpose, it has shown its weaknesses in the case of Enbridge's Gateway proposal for a tanker terminal at Kitimat on BC's North Coast. It is clearly time to either scrap the process and start from scratch, or drastically revamp the way government reviews such projects.

In the case of Gateway, the real deficiency in the process is that the project shouldn't even be reviewed in the first place, since there is a longstanding moratorium in effect on tanker traffic in the Queen Charlotte Basin. But, tell that to the boys at the shipping branch of TC, who have been in cahoots with shippers so long they bend over backwards to please the industry. The shippers say "Jump!", and TC says: "How high?".

The main weaknesses of TERMPOL are manifold. For starters, it is a voluntary process, which means the proponent doesn't have to submit to it. I don't know if there has ever been an instance when a project hasn't been reviewed because the proponent refused to go through the hoops, but the question really is academic - the process should be made mandatory, so as to give it teeth.

Another problem with the process is that it is basically conducted in secret. The documentation the proponent is tasked with furnishing is kept confidential, with the public not having any access to it. Nor is there any public input into the process. In short, there is absolutely no form of public consultation involved in TERMPOL, whether it be a duty of the proponent to consult the public or of Transport Canada to let the public say what they think about the proposal. Instead, one is left with the distinct impression that the old boys are just continuing the kind of "Nudge nudge, wink wink!" practice that shippers and government regulators everywhere are notorious for. We are talking here about a kind of culture that runs very deep, and that goes back generations.

A further weakness of TERMPOL is that it basically applies only to construction of new berths. This restriction allowed Encana's condensate tankers to enter Kitimat recently without TERMPOL applying, since the proponent is using an existing berth instead of building a new one. The same loophole will also be used, no doubt, by Trans Mountain Pipeline to get around their proposed capacity increase of the TMX line, in the case of the so-called Anchor Loop project. In other words, they'll be able to dramatically increase the number of fully-laden tankers leaving their marine terminal at Burnaby, so long as they use the one berth that's there now, and don't build a new one. Do you think the endangered killer whales of the Salish Sea give a hoot whether the tanker that's spewing out oil all around them came from a new dock or an old one? The situation is ludicrous!

Finally, the process is woefully inadequate in that it only applies to oil, natural gas and chemical terminals, and not the massive expansion of container terminal expansion planned for Vancouver and Prince Rupert. This particular loophole allows the ambitious Deltaport expansion at Roberts Bank in the Strait of Georgia to proceed without ever being TERMPOLed. Again, do you think the killer whales in the area care whether the oil that is wiping them out came from a supertanker or an enormous container ship? I think not.

In summary, what looks at first blush like a viable effort by the government to put order into the process of reviewing coastal development projects with a marine shipping component is actually a leaky boat. In the case of the Enbridge Gateway project, the evaluation of the marine component is evidently regarded by the proponent as little more than an add-on to the pipeline component of its proposal. Unless and until the TERMPOL process is completely rethunk, all marine projects with a shipping component that has potentially negative environmental implications should be an integral part of the transparent NEB process for project review. This is the only way to assure public input, and public access to all the relevant project documentation.