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The Aqualegend crude oil tanker is escorted by tugboats as it arrives at Kinder Morgan’s Westridge marine terminal in Burnaby, B.C., in July. Kinder Morgan plans to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline and ship much more crude from Vancouver. (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)
The Aqualegend crude oil tanker is escorted by tugboats as it arrives at Kinder Morgan’s Westridge marine terminal in Burnaby, B.C., in July. Kinder Morgan plans to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline and ship much more crude from Vancouver. (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)

OIL AND GAS

Trans Mountain: The other Pacific pipeline Add to ...

First, though, Kinder Morgan must find a way to sail huge new volumes of oil beneath Vancouver’s Lions Gate Bridge and past Stanley Park, a jewel not just for B.C., but the entire country. And the anger that has met Enbridge Inc.’s plans to build the Northern Gateway export pipeline to Kitimat, on the B.C. north coast, is already beginning to simmer against Kinder Morgan. The company has yet to formally apply for the project – that should happen next year – and to publish a map of exactly where the new pipe would run.

Already, the mayors of Vancouver and Burnaby have spoken out against it, as have local first nations. The B.C. government has published a lengthy technical document demanding substantial upgrades to tanker safety along its coast.

Neither the ruling B.C. Liberals nor the opposition NDP, who appear headed to take over in Victoria next year, have declared a public position on the Trans Mountain expansion, but the tiff between the Alberta and B.C. premiers over Northern Gateway seems poised to envelop Trans Mountain as well.

In case of accident

Before the Aqualegend, now loaded with Canadian crude, can so much as untie from the Kinder Morgan dock, it must meet an extraordinary set of demands. Loaded tankers are treated unlike any other vessel in Vancouver, starting with the two specially trained marine pilots they must have aboard, double the normal requirement. They can sail only during daylight, at high slack water, a window that on some days allows just 25 minutes for them to move. They must travel through a clear channel, meaning other ships must wait. Each tanker is first vetted for admissibility by Transport Canada, pre-screened by Kinder Morgan – which denies entry to ships that don’t meet its standards, including one that they must be less than 20 years old – and then inspected after entry by Transport Canada. Where other large vessels must only be accompanied by an untethered tug, a loaded tanker must sail with three tugs connected to it by thick metal cables.

Some of the requirements are new, intended to build on a nearly unblemished record of oil moving through these waters.

“We have never had an accident with a tanker. Not in 60 years,” says Kevin Obermeyer, chief executive officer of Pacific Pilotage Authority Canada.

But spills do happen. Since 2001 – the only period for which it could provide records – Transport Canada has recorded some 13 incidents with oil and chemical tankers in waters near Vancouver. The worst, in 2002, saw 2,300 litres of canola oil spill. In total, over the past decade, 31 litres of petroleum has spilled in the area. But those are minor, and nothing like the Exxon Valdez spill whose memory, and ongoing environmental damage, haunts any new attempts to carry oil along the West Coast. Kinder Morgan is eager to make clear how much has changed since that 1989 disaster.

With the “Exxon Valdez, there were no escort tugs, a single-hull ship, no pilots on board,” Kinder Morgan Canada director of engineering Mike Davies says. Tankers today do not suffer those weaknesses, and the changes “make quite a difference,” Mr. Davies says.

When critics accuse Kinder Morgan of pursuing a risky expansion, the company details the long list of safeguards in place – enough, the company says, that a reasonable person should have little reason for worry.

Oil shipping, Mr. Davies says, is “a highly regulated industry, the people are well-trained and there’s lots of scrutiny of everything that goes on.”

That’s not to mention the cleanup capability on the West Coast if disaster strikes. Barely a kilometre from the Kinder Morgan dock is the headquarters for the industry-funded Western Canada Marine Response Corp., which has equipment scattered up and down the coast and a video library showing every single kilometre of B.C. shoreline, which can be used to focus a spill response. WCMRC must, by federal mandate, be prepared to clean up a 10,000-tonne, or 63,000-barrel, spill. It has 2.5 times the capacity it needs, with resources across B.C. that include 118 fishermen and barge operators trained to help.

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