A coalition of local B.C. governments has called on the National Energy Board (NEB) to increase public consultation surrounding applications affecting the delivery of oil products to coastal tanker traffic.
An approval to raise the capacity ceiling of oil products being loaded onto tankers at the Westridge Terminal in Burnaby through Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline was made Dec. 1.
Of the pipeline’s current 300,000 barrel per day (bpd) capacity, another 27,000 bpd will be allocated for dock transport at the expense of committed land capacity.
“Approval of long-term firm service contracts could significantly constrain the ability of other government regulators to achieve optimal and acceptable levels of social and environmental risk associated with future oil tanker traffic,” wrote Sheila Malcolmson to NEB this June on behalf of the Islands Trust Council.
Last year, Kinder Morgan loaded 69 crude oil tankers for delivery of products to markets like California and Asia.
While only 29 tankers had been loaded in 2011 by the start of December, the overall number of tanker loadings has increased over the last five years generally.
This approval will allow Kinder Morgan to pursue long-term contracts.
“The market is showing signs of being ready for increased pipeline capacity,” said Lexa Hobenshield, spokesperson for Kinder Morgan.
Depending on what offers come forward, the company will decide if it is to pursue a doubling of pipeline capacity to 600,000 bpd during the first quarter of 2012.
The concerns expressed by local governments including the Islands Trust, District of Sechelt, Whistler and North Vancouver centre on the potential for increased tanker traffic in coastal waters and the environmental risks that come with them.
With regards to the province’s ability to respond to an environmental disaster, a great deal of focus has been placed on unconventional crude oil products being delivered from the oil sands.
Sometimes referred to as sinking oil, these products can behave unpredictably when released into water, from submerging instantly to floating for varying degrees of time.
It’s a concern complicated by the confidentiality maintained by Kinder Morgan as to what products are being shipped through the pipeline to overseas markets, a policy meant to maintain its competitive nature.
What would happen if a spill did occur is a tricky business of jurisdictions, depending on the location and source of the leak.
If a tanker were to rupture along the West Coast, a mandated shipboard emergency plan would be followed under the federal lead of the Coast Guard.
“There’s a variety of people that input into the process; it’s not just Coast Guard acting unilaterally,” said Coast Guard spokesperson Don Bate.
A scientific body called the Regional Environmental Emergency Team (REET) would be activated to advise on the response. Composed of stakeholders and experts, they would aid the company and province on cleanup efforts.
Tasked with ensuring a state of preparation for such a disaster in B.C. is the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC).
“Sinking oils need to be addressed fairly quickly,” said WCMRC spokesperson Bruce Turnbull. “There’s anywhere up to 72 hours to make a response.”
As the industry evolves, so does WCMRC. While a major environmental disaster has never happened on the B.C. coast, the company conducts research along with other international groups to ensure its readiness.
The WCMRC frequently experiments with equipment to measure the effectiveness of recovering different products, including some heavy crudes.
If a spill happened, WCMRC would receive a spec sheet from Kinder Morgan detailing the nature of the product.
“With increased traffic, there’s probably increased potential,” Turnbull said, adding that technology has successfully averted a coastal disaster for the last 40 years. “I don’t think it’s just been luck.”
As of yet, no application has been received by NEB to increase overall pipeline capacity.
“A filing for new facilities or capacity would be heard by way of a public process, and a decision would be made in the public interest of all Canadians,” spokesperson Carole Leger-Kubeczek said.