Kinder Morgan greatly underestimated the effects an oil spill could have on the seabirds and fish that migrate through the Fraser River estuary in its submissions to a National Energy Board panel on a proposal to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline, a newly released report says.
Its "fundamentally flawed" assessment of the ecological risk is based on only one spill in the Strait of Georgia, likely after a collision between a ferry and an oil tanker, and it failed to calculate the "considerably greater" impact of a spill closer to Burrard Inlet on migratory birds and important fish species in the Fraser River estuary, according to a report by a Seattle-based oil spill expert.
The City of Vancouver, North Vancouver's Tsleil-Waututh First Nation and the environmental non-profit Living Oceans Society commissioned the report, which was released on Monday. The City of Vancouver has financed a string of reports critical of the expansion project and is expected to continue releasing them to the media as it prepares to submit its written evidence, in its role as an intervenor, on May 27 to energy board hearings on whether to approve the project.
Jeffrey Short, the study's author, criticized the company's application for stating that shorebirds are not "present in large numbers and are widely distributed" in areas potentially affected by a marine spill. He said if a spill hit the shores of Richmond's Sturgeon Bank during the spring or fall migration, tens of thousands of shorebirds could die.
"More generally, the Trans Mountain application fails to adequately value the extraordinary biological productivity, diversity, and hence ecological importance of the estuarine ecosystem of the Fraser River," Dr. Short said in his report. "The Fraser River estuary is arguably the most important estuarine ecosystem on the entire Pacific coast of North America, but the application fails to reflect this."
Ali Hounsell, a spokesperson for the Trans Mountain expansion, said Tuesday in an e-mailed statement that Kinder Morgan welcomed the new report as part of the NEB review process. "It will be reviewed by our team of technical experts and we will respond more fully through our regulatory process," Ms. Hounsell said.
Dr. Short also stated that the Texas-based oil company did not assess how quickly diluted bitumen would sink in the less dense spring and summer freshet coming out of the Fraser River and the effects submerged oil could have on shellfish and juvenile herring and salmon stocks.
Last week, the City of Vancouver released another study, sponsored in part by the City of Burnaby and the Tsleil-Waututh, that predicted shoreline devastation in much of Burrard Inlet if cleanup crews did not respond within 40 hours to a large tanker leaking about a fifth of its oil under the Lions Gate Bridge.
The group said the expansion proposal, which is wending its way through the National Energy Board's approval process, would increase the number of tankers plying Burrard Inlet each month by nearly six times, and it is concerned that Kinder Morgan's emergency and spill response plans "may not be adequate" in the event of the large spills modelled in the study.
One of the most vocal critics of the NEB's review process withdrew as an intervenor on Tuesday in large part because the board turned down her request to allow the cross examination of Kinder Morgan employees. The board ruled that two rounds of written requests to the company would be enough to test their evidence. But Robyn Allan, an economist and former president of the Insurance Corp. of B.C., pointed out that in those two rounds, the NEB required the company to respond to only a fraction of the thousands of questions from intervenors.
Ms. Allan said in her withdrawal letter to the NEB: "The absence of oral cross has turned this public hearing into a farce, and the written information request process into an exercise in futility."
A newly released report, commissioned by City of Vancouver, Tsleil-Waututh First Nation and the environmental group Living Oceans Society, concludes Kinder Morgan's emergency plan for the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion underestimates the potential effects of a spill.