The B.C. government has granted conditional approval to a controversial project to ship aviation fuel up the Fraser River and then by underground pipeline to Vancouver International Airport.
The approval, which includes 64 legally binding conditions, was announced on Thursday and follows years of debate over the potential risks of fuel-laden tankers plying the Fraser.
“Over all, while there is an increase in tanker traffic, we will also, as a net benefit, see an increase in capacity to respond to fuel spills on the Fraser in that area,” Environment Minister Mary Polak said in a conference call with reporters after the announcement.
“Because [the owner’s] equipment will not only be available just to them, but also for any other spill that may occur.”
Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corp. (VAFFC), a non-profit company owned by a consortium of commercial airlines serving Vancouver International Airport, will conduct the operation and own the equipment used to respond to spills.
VAFFC says it needs the project to meet demand. Fuel requirements at the airport are expected to grow by 2 to 4 per cent a year for the next 16 years.
Currently, 80 per cent of the airport’s fuel is delivered from two Burnaby facilities through a pipeline that was built in the 1960s. The remaining 20 per cent is trucked in by tankers from the Cherry Point Refinery in Washington State.
Without a new fuel delivery system, the number of tanker trucks delivering fuel to the airport would have to climb from 30 per day to an estimated 200 per day within 20 years, Ms. Polak said.
“On balance, we believe that with the conditions we have placed on this project, it means that the pipeline shipment is far safer to the public and far less risk to the environment,” Ms. Polak said.
The Richmond Fire Department has expressed concerns about its ability to respond to a fire at the project’s unloading facility. Area residents have also voiced worries about spills, pollution and explosions.
Under the conditional approval, VAFFC will have to implement significant fire control and prevention measures, Ms. Polak said. During the assessment process, the pipeline route was shifted to reduce the impact on residential neighbourhoods in Richmond, Ms. Polak said.
Last February, then-environment minister Terry Lake suspended the assessment to allow the province to review the results of studies that were under way on B.C.’s marine and land spill response and preparedness.
VAFFC welcomed the regulatory approval, calling it a key step in moving the project forward.
“The spill prevention and response strategies proposed for the Fraser River go well beyond industry standards and best practices,” VAFFC project director Adrian Pollard said in a statement. “The risk of a spill is low and the response presence designed for this project will benefit all other users on the river.”