Friday, February 15, 2013

Musings on Tanker Risks

The Enbridge Northern Gateway tanker project Marine Quantitative Risk Analysis (QRA) calculations are based on tanker casualties ( that's the lingo! ) over the course of X number of decades past. As the mutual fund ads warn, "past performance is no guarantee of future returns". Furthermore, NGP has already argued that because tanker safety has improved dramatically and steadily over the course of the past two decades, taking the average figure skews the results negatively against their project. In other words, they think their safety performance will be better than the predicted outcome. They have also argued that because the historical stats are global in nature, they reflect ( poor ) performance in parts of the world where standards are less rigorous than in countries such as Canada- in the areas of inspection and enforcement, for instance. For this reason as well, then, they would argue that the Canadian performance in future can be expected to be better than the world average in the past.

One of the problems with each of these caveats is that there is an unwritten assumption that things always improve, or are at least maintained at their current level. Deepwater Horizon taught us that this is not necessarily so. It's not exactly a straight line up- industry pressure, fierce competition, cost-cutting measures, etc. could lead to a relaxation of tanker standards and/or of enforcement, as well as a reduction in response capability. Also, Black Swan-type events have to be anticipated. Complacency can also set in after years without a 'catastrophic' tanker incident, leading, for instance, to a reduction in response capacity. Enbridge Northern Gateway has also argued that if oil is going to be transported by sea ( and on a worldwide basis the bulk of it is! ), then it's better to do it in Canada than in countries where laws and safety standards are not as strictly enforced. That's small consolation for the coastal communities of northern and central BC, I should think.

Another argument has been made ( by, among others, a retired provincial oil spill expert who happens to be working for one of the NGOs in opposition to NGP ), that if it’s a choice of transporting oil on either the north coast of BC or the south coast, then better to go north, because the tankers will generally speaking be bigger ( VLCCs, for example ), the theory being that bigger tankers means less transits, which translates into less risk. Of course, the counterargument to this is that bigger tankers means potentially more oil spilled in any given incident. In other words, that knife cuts both ways.


Post a Comment

<< Home