Andrew Weaver: The bottom line for Kinder Morgan—oil spill risk too high

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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 is it 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 its 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. It also assumed that it would have twice the response capacity available to the company as currently exists.

Despite these ideal circumstances, it only predicted that 45 percent of the oil would be recovered. Even then, Kinder Morgan acknowledges that its model isn’t consistent with historical averages (generally only five to 15 percent 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 its 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. 

Comments (9) Add New Comment
Earl Richards
If there is a tar sands spill, the diluents will float and the tar sands, being heavier than water will sink, as per the Kalamazoo River. The Salish Sea is not suited for fossil fuel tankers, and BC and Washington has to switch to renewable energies. Tankers with crude oil and tar sands should not be permitted to transit the Haro Strait and the Boundary Pass. With over 35 tankers passing through the Salish Sea, it is a disaster waiting to happen.
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Why negotiate?
There will be oil and LMG moving out of west coast ports regardless of how many thousands protest. When one side has no position besides rejection there is little point in bothering to listen to them, instead the moderates will be bought off and oil will flow. The funny thing is that proper exploitation of west coast oil & gas could pay for every social program the NDP dreamed of before they made the mistake of taking environmentalist into their tent. A party for working people would support the generations of employment and huge tax revenues but a party for "everything" except individual excellence & profit has no hope.
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Concerned Burnaby Resident
The only rational direction to take is to reduce activities that contribute to Climate Change. Allowing Kinder Morgan to transport dirty oil under rivers, through nature preserves and along the coastline of British Columbia to be sold to China for processing is a remarkably bad idea. The proposal presents enormous risks and minimal potential benefit, The pollution generated will not remain in China and the financial rewards will not remain in Canada. Contact your MP and tell them that you want this project terminated.
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Astro
Is China even a market anymore with its plans to buy gas from Russia?
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Donald
"Is China even a market anymore with its plans to buy gas from Russia?"
It is natural gas they are planning to buy from Russia. The bitumen will be refined into gasoline, to run their 250+ million cars. They already buy oil from Russia, but with that many cars, they will want to buy from everyone willing to sell (if the price is right).

But seriously, I'd have thought a climate scientist like Mr. Weaver would be more concerned about the pollution that certainly will be spilled into the atmosphere. Everyone needs to kick their fossil fuel addictions as soon as possible, so we can eliminate oil pipelines and tankers. Building more of them is the opposite of what we need to do.
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bike commuter
Here is a perfect solution. STOP DRIVING CARS THAT WEIGH OVER A TONNE!
Mans reliance on crude oil creates these pipe lines. What a bunch of hippocrates.
Are you drastically attempting to reduce your personal use of plastic, use less heat for your home?
Is any one willing to give up there over indulgent pampered lives?
Lets all point the finger at the evil corperation while doing nothing to change our personal consumption. Your sheep!
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keith cummings
sure am glad you're on our side. Thanks...
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Greenerthanthou
There is no reason to develop NLG in BC. We have plenty of wood and coal to heat all the highrises and houses in Vancouver. It is an outrage that BC primarily depends on dirty resources for revenue to fund schools, health care, DTES programs etc. This revenue can easily come from tourism and taxation. The mayor is right, we should not allow oil pipelines or tankers in. The refineries for gas and motor oil should be shut down now. Remove all cars, buses and trucks that use carbon. The ports should also be closed to any carbon powered ships. Vancouver does not need any gas from this dirty oil. Just refuse to buy any product produced using carbons either as an ingredient or in manufacturing. (take a look around your place. are you guilty of owning or consuming any items either made with, produced by or transported with carbon?) Also refuse any products such as wood, coffee, Happy Soups that do not transport by pedal, foot or paddle to your corner store. It's that simple.
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Salal
Our coast is simply too valuable to take the chance. Too many lives would be permanently destroyed by the contamination. High time to diversify
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