Claims by anti-Trans Mountain pipeline expansion groups regarding tanker safety usually cry doom and gloom and lack information for the reader to even begin to form a judgement, in my opinion. Here are some facts.
There has never been a reported oil tanker spill (except canola oil) in B.C. waters in our 100-years-plus of B.C. oil tanker operations (60 years plus at Trans Mountain’s Burnaby terminal). Much or most of this period was before double hulls, modern radar, tethered tugs, coastal pilots, and other improvements in safety. On our Atlantic coast, with far more tankers than the B.C. coast, there were two fair size (about 10,000 tonnes) spills in the 1970s, but no such large oil tanker spills in Canadian waters since. (A “tonne” is about 7.35 barrels of oil or 257 imperial gallons.)
Oil tankers ply the Great Lakes, the source of drinking water for many U.S. states and several Canadian provinces. Tankers carried crude oil from the Bent Horn oil field in the Canadian Arctic for a decade through ice choked waters, without incident. Tankers ply the pristine St. Lawrence River, the eastern seaboard, and Newfoundland waters.
Contrary to frequent false claims, “supertankers” are not proposed for the Trans Mountain project; it is the much smaller Aframax ships, already used here for years. Claims of high currents under the Second Narrows Bridge are true but alarmist and irrelevant since loaded tankers go through at slack water (minimal current) and even then are tethered with tugs.
Others raise the specter of Exxon Valdez and demand that no tankers be allowed in B.C. Think of the Titanic, the repeated crashes of the first jet passenger aircraft (Comets), the space shuttle Challenger, the Queen of the North ferry, and so on. Fortunately, the world rejected this “never try it again” approach, and instead tightened regulations, designs, and practices, rather than throwing technological progress under the bus after these disasters.
The idea that tankers will trash Vancouver’s tourism reputation is questionable. Vancouver, like most large U.S. coastal cities, is a port—people know that. Ninety-plus percent of Vancouverites, let alone tourists, can’t tell a tanker from a freighter. What blights our tourist reputation is rain, horrendous traffic, expensive parking, overpriced hotels, the Downtown Eastside right by the cruise ship terminals, and beggars on the streets. Has Exxon Valdez killed tourism to Alaska?
Looking worldwide, since 1970, tanker traffic (billion ton-miles) has increased about 60 percent; yet, “large” spills (over 700 tonnes) have decreased from their mid-1970s' peaks by about 95 percent. There was only one such spill across the world in 2014 (source: ITOPF).
This B.C./Canadian history and world progress do not guarantee there will never be a spill in B.C., but does perhaps suggest that it is not quite time to light our hair on fire and claim disastrous spills in B.C. are “inevitable”.