Tankers and tar sands oil threaten Salish Sea

Kinder Morgan plan for Burrard Inlet poses serious risks

On British Columbia’s south coast, Kinder Morgan wants to triple the amount of crude oil being shipped from Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet through Georgia Strait, the Fraser estuary, the Gulf Islands, the San Juan Islands, Haro Strait and Juan de Fuca Strait.

Its proposed pipeline expansions would deliver 700,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day to Burrard Inlet by 2016. Recently, the National Energy Board approved the latest request by Kinder Morgan to divert more oil to their Burnaby terminal, which will consequently increase tanker traffic in the Salish Sea. Despite requests to the NEB by Raincoast Conservation Foundation, the Gulf Islands Alliance and other NGOs, this was done without a full public process. Kinder Morgan is seeking approval for additional increases in pipeline capacity by 2016, which would further expand tanker traffic.

While concerned British Columbians are focused on the threat of oil tankers to B.C.’s north coast posed by the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, these incremental applications to the NEB are an effective way for Kinder Morgan to significantly increase the amount of crude oil exported out of Burrard Inlet without ever mentioning the terms “oil tanker” or “tar sands.” The implications of these expansions are significant globally, regionally and locally; the Salish Sea populace will be asked to bear the risks with virtually no public engagement.

The implications of Kinder Morgan’s plans are enormous for the Georgia Basin-Puget Sound ecosystem. This archipelago hosts wild salmon populations, migratory birds on the Pacific flyway, important estuaries, shellfish beds and the habitats of many rare, threatened or endangered marine and coastal species.

The Salish Sea is already suffering intense pressures from growth; chronic oiling and spills will only intensify the declining health of this fragile region.

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin and the Islands Trust, as well as the mayors of Vancouver, Burnaby, North Vancouver, Delta, Sechelt, Whistler and Tofino, are entirely justified in expressing their consternation with the NEB’s decision, particularly given the lack of public consultation. Locally, the southern Gulf Islands and southern Vancouver Island will be left exposed to an increased risk of a catastrophic oil spill as a result of the NEB’s decision.

Chris Genovali is executive director of Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

Misty MacDuffee is a biologist with Raincoast and chair of the Gulf Islands Alliance.