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New tanker safeguards proposed with oil pipeline twinning

An oil tanker flanked by escort tug boats in Burrard Inlet, off Kinder Morgan
An oil tanker flanked by escort tug boats in Burrard Inlet, off Kinder Morgan's Westridge Marine Terminal.
— image credit: Kinder Morgan Canada

Kinder Morgan Canada says it expects tankers carrying oil from an expanded Trans Mountain pipeline will be flanked by escort tugs from Burrard Inlet all the way to open ocean and be protected from other vessels by a recommended exclusion zone.

The company sought to allay fears of a catastrophic crude oil spill in the Salish Sea Monday as it filed its long-expected formal application with the National Energy Board to twin the existing Trans Mountain oil pipeline from Alberta to its Burnaby tanker terminal.

The $5.4-billion expansion would nearly triple the existing pipeline's capacity to 890,000 barrels of oil per day. If approved, it would mean 400 oil tankers a year sailing through Vancouver harbour, up from about 60 now.

Mike Davis, Kinder Morgan's director of marine development, said the proposed "moving safety zone" would ban other vessels from coming within a set distance of a laden tanker, likely at least 500 metres.

Canadian and U.S. Coast Guard officials would decide the appropriate size of the no-go zone, he said, as they have the regulatory authority to put it in place.

"That helps reduce the risk of collisions with vessels transiting through that area."

Current regulations require laden tankers to be accompanied by tugs only in the Vancouver harbour-Burrard Inlet area and in the Gulf Islands from Saturna Island to Race Rocks.

Davis said Kinder Morgan recommends tugs also be mandatory where tankers now move unaccompanied – in the Strait of Georgia, from the Lions Gate Bridge to Saturna, and from Victoria right up the coast of Vancouver Island to the entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait.

An assessment concluded extra tug requirements in those two areas would significantly reduce the risk of a tanker losing power and drifting onto rocks, he said.

The company is also backing improved marine spill response requirements that Davis said would cut in half the response time of up to 72 hours in the Salish Sea.

Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson said tankers have moved safely for 60 years but supported federal and provincial studies that recently recommended more spill response resources and tightened regulations.

The 37-binder facilities application detailing Kinder Morgan's plans consists of 15,000 pages that stack seven feet high. It's available online at application.transmountain.com.

About 73 per cent of the route will follow the existing 60-year-old pipeline's right-of-way.

But the remainder breaks away onto new ground, often following other utility corridors or highways, in order to avoid pipeline construction in heavily developed parts of the Lower Mainland.

Anderson said the application addresses four of B.C.'s five conditions for new heavy oil pipelines, while the fifth one – a provincial share of benefits – is "a broader matter" to be resolved by talks between government and oil companies.

He said it's "premature" to talk about whether a toll or tax on each barrel of oil moved might be one way to address that condition.

The company has not yet won support of any First Nation along the corridor, but Anderson said talks continue with aboriginal leaders.

While the company will pay more in property tax to municipalities transected by the pipeline, Anderson said the firm is also in discussion with civic leaders on potential additional benefits that it may agree to on a community-by-community basis.

"We've got a long list of opportunities that communities have provided us of things that they would like to see happen concurrent with the expansion," Anderson said, adding the municipal wish lists range from playground equipment to new trails and bike paths.

Reconstruction of a burnt-down fish hatchery in Port Moody might be one way for the company to contribute there, he said.

The filing triggers a 15-month NEB-led public regulatory review, including public hearings. Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said the process will be thorough, independent and science-based.

Like Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, the Trans Mountain expansion would increase exports of heavy crude oil from Alberta's oil sands.

The Enbridge project has already been through public hearings and an NEB decision is imminent.

Canadian oil currently fetches less than world prices because of inadequate pipeline capacity to get it to international buyers.

Most of the additional oil to be shipped would be heavy crude and would be destined for Asia and California.

Environmental and aboriginal groups reiterated their opposition to the project.

"We will be going over the application with a fine-toothed comb in the weeks ahead," said ForestEthics campaigner Ben West. "If they think they will have an easier time getting approved than Enbridge they have another thing coming."

Wilderness Committee policy director Gwen Barlee said Kinder Morgan's expansion pipeline is entirely focused on export, unlike the original pipeline, which primarily supplied local demand, including local refineries.

Although the B.C. NDP opposed increased exports of oil from Metro Vancouver during the provincial election campaign, energy critic John Horgan indicated the party's position may be in flux.

"We're going to wait for more information," Horgan said, adding Kinder Morgan still faces a major challenge in seeking approval for the project.

"Anyone (who) thinks that, because we lost an election, that all of a sudden it's not a controversial issue, has not been paying attention."

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