If a large tanker spilled a fifth of its oil while under the Lions Gate Bridge, the toxic substance would float out into English Bay within two hours, and likely begin washing up on the shores of tony West Vancouver within six hours, if no response was launched by authorities.
In nine hours, absent any official response, the tide would have carried about the equivalent amount of oil into Coal Harbour that was estimated to have spilled from the MV Marathassa's bunker fuel tanks last month. Within 40 hours, the wind and tidal currents would have combined to bring thousands of litres of oil into Burrard Inlet and its surrounding shorelines, causing significant harm to the local economy, population and environment.
That is what would happen in one of four worst-case spill scenarios modelled in a new study sponsored by Tsleil-Waututh First Nation and the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby, all of which are opposed to the proposed expansion of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline. The group says the expansion, which is winding 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.
The First Nation and the cities say they plan to file the report and other written evidence to the NEB on May 27 in their capacity as intervenors.
Vancouver city Councillor Andrea Reimer confirmed Friday that Metro Vancouver board members voted overwhelmingly, 35-2, to oppose Trans Mountain's NEB application. She said there was a new urgency to clarify the company's response plans in the wake of the MV Marathassa bunker fuel spill in English Bay early last month.
"We've asked hundreds of questions that have yet to be answered," Ms. Reimer said, noting that the company has kept details of its response plans secret in its NEB filings. "The ones that we're most concerned about all relate to emergency preparedness and response planning. Their response to date has been wholly inadequate through the NEB process, and what is available to us is what they say in media commentary and their basic approach seems to be to really emphasize that a spill is unlikely."
Ali Hounsell, a spokesperson for the Trans Mountain expansion, said the company welcomed the report and will study it in great detail.
"If there are pieces in there that could help improve the project … we'll consider it," she said.
Ms. Housell rejected the report's allegations that her company's spill response plan didn't take into account the tendency for tides to bring beached oil back into the ocean, and overestimated the effectiveness of a containment boom when deployed at a spill near the Burnaby terminal.
"It's important to remember that we also have signed many community benefit agreements with municipalities from Hope all the way to Edmonton," Ms. Hounsell added. "We understand that some of these mayors and the [Metro Vancouver] board have said today it is opposing the application, but it is not unilateral, we do have support from other communities."
Darryl Anderson, a marine shipping consultant and past president of the Port Alberni Port Authority, said the report provides valuable details about how spills would spread in the area that could feed into a larger risk-based assessment for the region that Transport Canada has ordered. By not calculating any oil spill response in its modelling, the report allows authorities to figure out where to best position management resources, which will help reduce the risk of a potential spill's impact, he said.
"Whether or not you're for oil tankers or not," Mr. Anderson said, "it is adding information for the decision-makers who are in charge of marine environmental safety to make better choices."