Georgia Strait Alliance responds to NEB report

In response to the National Energy Board’s report that recommends the federal Cabinet allow the Trans Mountain expansion project to go ahead, Georgia Strait Alliance’s Executive Director Christianne Wilhelmson, said:

The National Energy Board’s rubber stamp is not a surprise, but it’s still disappointing. The NEB’s recommendation relies on spill planning that’s based on an unscientific hope that diluted bitumen won’t sink into our coastal waters. Weather and sea conditions on the proposed tanker route often make it impossible to respond to an oil spill. And if there is a spill it’s us—the public—who will likely be on the hook for clean-up costs and navigating our health and economy in the aftermath.

This project is bad for the Salish Sea and bad for our climate, and the NEB acknowledges fully that this is the case. It increases the risk of a diluted bitumen spill on BC’s coast. It threatens coastal economies, our communities, and the web of life that sustains us. We in BC are being told that we have to risk our region, and sacrifice orca and other species, for an industry that provides less government revenue, that requires more and more government support, and that employs fewer people, all while they keep pumping more oil. It’s not acceptable. This is why there is so much resistance to this pipeline, and why that resistance is not only not going away, but growing.

We know the risks:

On the impact of weather on spill response:
The NEB approved this project knowing that oil spill response is impossible due to weather and sea conditions in parts of the proposed tanker route up to 200 days a year.

The technical study that we submitted to the NEB shows that wind and wave conditions on BC’s coast regularly exceed the operating limits of oil containment booms—the equipment that all other spill response relies on.

Winds at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca would degrade boom performance by at least 75 percent for more than 300 days of the year. Wind and waves in combination would make oil spill response impossible almost 200 days a year. This means that booms will be ineffective most of the fall and winter, and fail to contain much spilled oil.

Weather conditions suspended oil spill clean up operations of the Nathan E. Stewart near Bella Bella in 2016 for 11 of 40 days. Containment boom failures meant that about 1,400 litres of oily water and waste were recovered, compared to the 110,000 litres of fuel and lubricants that ended up in the surrounding waters—and WCMRC, the spill response organization for BC’s coast, called this a “success.”

On the NEB’s conditions and recommendations:
These do not make our coast safer. They didn’t prevent Kinder Morgan from illegally installing spawning deterrents in rivers, and they didn’t result in any penalty for the company. Most of the NEB conditions are administrative checkboxes that lack real effects.

There are some important policy recommendations for government in the NEB report, but the NEB can’t force the government to act on them. The Oceans Protection Plan, for example, contains policy initiatives that should protect our coasts, but after years of efforts we’re still not seeing timely or comprehensive action on reversing the plight of orcas, or measurable improvement to oil spill preparedness.

On diluted bitumen:
We are not prepared for a significant diluted bitumen spill on our coast.

The federal government claims that bitumen is likely to float when spilled in the ocean. However, its research relies almost exclusively on laboratory experiments that do not reflect real-world conditions in the Salish Sea.

Our worst-case planning scenario considers a spill of 20,000 tons of diluted bitumen—that’s equivalent to a single compartment of a much-larger Aframax tanker being breached.

In Washington State, “worst case” plans involve the entire 120,000 tonne cargo of an Aframax tanker, plus its fuels, under adverse weather conditions.

Why should Salish Sea communities be comfortable with a plan that relies on hoping that diluted bitumen won’t sink? The NEB has ignored the voices of our communities; it is recommending the project despite its risks.

On the polluter-pay principle:
If a spill were to happen, would compensation even be possible? A judge recently ruled that the owners of the Marathassa, the ship that leaked diesel into English Bay in 2015, didn’t have to pay any money in compensation or damages.

The Heiltsuk Nation are in court, seeking compensation for the fuel spill from the Nathan E. Stewart incident.

The NEB recommendation solidifies that it’s us—the public— who will likely be on the hook for clean-up costs and navigating the long-term damages if there’s a diluted bitumen spill off the BC coast.

On orcas:
The NEB is further endangering orcas by recommending this project, while at the same time the federal government is investing millions to try to protect them from drowning in the already noisy waters off our coast. Southern resident killer whales are being pushed to the brink by a project that coastal communities don’t need and don’t want.

An oil spill would be devastating for orca: after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 in Alaska, one local pod of orcas lost half of its population, while another pod hasn’t had a live birth since the spill, rendering it functionally extinct.