Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has launched a crusade to protect the city from increased tanker traffic, kicking off with a motion this week to create a bylaw requiring ships to get liability insurance to pay for any oil-spill cleanup costs.
But while the mayor and his council are demanding the industry take full responsibility for spill cleanups, it turns out the industry already does – and has for years.
"Tankers are required to have insurance to pay for a cleanup. They also have to have an agreement with a local oil-spill response company," said Yoss Leclerc, the harbourmaster and director of operations and security for Port Metro Vancouver.
As well, he said, if a ship's insurance isn't sufficient to pay for all the costs, there's an international fund set up that covers the difference – something like an underinsured motorist's insurance provision.
And, failing all else, the Canadian Coast Guard is the lead agency responsible for any cleanups that aren't covered by the above, he said.
Last week, Mr. Robertson launched a high-profile campaign against Kinder Morgan's controversial plan to twin its existing 65-year-old pipeline, which brings crude oil from Alberta to the Westridge facility in Burnaby, where it is shipped either to the United States or Asia.
The mayor has raised the vision of tankers crashing into Stanley Park and devastating oil spills that cities will be required to pay for cleaning up.
"Think of images beamed worldwide, showing oil-fouled seals, herons and Canada geese on the crude-blackened sand at English Bay and Kits Beach," he wrote in a public statement. "The damage to Vancouver tourism and our destination brand would be exceeded only by the toll on our local marine habitat."
Councillors are repeating that message.
"Presently, the municipalities are on the hook for any clean up," Councillor Kerry Jang wrote to one resident who asked the city to start a constructive dialogue rather than just mounting an opposition drive.
Vision Vancouver, the mayor's party, is also encouraging people to sign an online petition opposing the expansion.
The mayor's public campaign against the pipeline expansion and increased tanker traffic started two weeks after Kinder Morgan announced it would be looking to increase its pipeline capacity from 300,000 barrels a day to 850,000.
Kinder Morgan has said the expansion could mean up to 25 to 30 tankers a month taking oil out of the harbour, compared to the 69 it served for all of 2010. The expansion is in response to commitments from Asia to buy much more oil.
Kinder Morgan is currently conducting a two-year public consultation to build the new $5-billion pipeline, prior to making a formal application to the National Energy Board in 2014 and possibly starting construction in 2016.
Mr. Robertson's office stated in an e-mail that there isn't enough protection for the city in spite of the liability insurance tankers already have.
"What we've seen from other major oil spills around the world is that the companies do not bear the full cost of cleanup and damages," says a statement provided to The Globe from the mayor's office after clarification was requested. "This leaves communities, their small businesses, and their taxpayers on the hook."
After a 2007 pipeline leak of 210,000 litres of oil in Burnaby, caused when an excavation company punctured the line, Kinder Morgan paid $15-million for remediation and reimbursement to residents forced out of their homes.
Mr. Leclerc also said Kinder Morgan has made no application to have larger tankers come in and both he and company representatives say any increased production could be handled by the Aframax tankers that already come into the port regularly. As well, tankers would be unlikely to crash into land, as they are tethered at all times to three tugs that would take over if the ship lost power.