Key concerns

The Trans Mountain tanker and pipeline project is a threat to BC’s coast, putting communities, livelihoods, and an entire web of life at risk.


The operations of this tanker-and-pipeline project could result in an oil spill that BC’s coast is not prepared for. A study commissioned by the City of Vancouver indicates a 79-87% chance of a spill during the operation of this project. The 2016 Nathan E Stewart sinking near Bella Bella demonstrated the limits of spill response equipment along our coast. Containment booms were tossed around by waves and no spilled fuel was recovered. We still have no good answers on how spill response deployment will operate in coastal conditions like heavy wind and waves: Georgia Strait Alliance independent research submitted during the NEB reconsideration showed that regularly encountered coastal conditions will exceed the operating limits of containment booms. For example, in 2017 at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, there were 337 days where coastal conditions would impair containment boom operations for at least two hours of the day, with response impossible on 198 days. Currents at full ebb and flood tide at Race Rocks, near Victoria, breach the maximum operating limits of booms daily. Containment booms are the core piece of spill response equipment, used in almost every incident, and are likely to fail almost every time. Even in the best of conditions, oil spill response on our coast has failed. The 2015 Marathassa spill in English Bay demonstrated that in good weather, with ample resources and personnel nearby, spill response on our coast is a slow process where minor errors easily compound into a failed response. Even the National Energy Board acknowledges that Canada’s oil spill regime is insufficient, recommending your government drastically overhaul the rules and regulations for spill response.


Many questions remain about how current oil spill techniques will deal with a spill of diluted bitumen. We currently have no idea how spilled dilbit will behave in a complex coastal environment, like the Salish Sea. For example, we don’t know how spilled dilbit would behave when the freshwater of the Fraser River carries millions of tons of sediment into the Salish Sea during the spring freshet. Our current oil spill response regime is not adequately prepared for dealing with bitumen that sinks or is suspended in the water column, which the American National Academy of Science has shown are both possibilities for heavy oils like diluted bitumen. And there are no good answers for how to clean up dilbit that has been stranded on beaches in our region.


This project is an unacceptable risk for southern resident orcas, who are on the brink of extinction. The southern residents are seeing an exceptionally low birth rate, and acoustic smog from shipping noise is making it more difficult to locate what few chinook, their primary prey, are available. Many southern residents are emaciated and suffering from malnutrition, and their numbers continue to decline in front of us. More ship noise from the projected 700% increase in tanker traffic, in the heart of their critical habitat, would amplify the risk of their extinction. And an oil spill would be a death blow for this population. The 1989 Exxon Valdez spill devastated the orca of Prince William Sound, killing 33% of resident and 41% of transient orcas in its aftermath. The Chugach transient orca are now incapable of breeding, meaning they are functionally extinct, and almost 30 years later the residents have yet to recover. Both regular operations of this project, and a potential accident, represent an unacceptable risk to these iconic creatures.


Coastal communities rely on a healthy ocean. Coastal economic activity, from fishing fleets to tourism, agriculture to high tech, local transportation to film and TV, is estimated by Conversations for Responsible Economic Development (CRED) to employ over 200,000 people, and by the City of Vancouver to contribute $9.8 billion to our GDP. Our coast matters so much for our way of life: this is where we live, where we play, and where we recharge and connect with the beauty around us. All of this is endangered by an oil spill. The direct damage to the economy would be joined by damage to BC’s reputation, and the billions in clean-up costs that a spill would require. Communities that suffer spills face dramatic social dislocation, such as severe mental health impacts, increases in the crime rate, higher health care costs, and strained social services for decades. The Marathassa and Nathan E Stewart spills show that costs that municipalities incur because of spills aren’t always recoverable from polluters. The 50 permanent jobs associated with this project are not worth the risk.


The recently released IPCC report makes clear that we have only 12 years to prevent the worst of climate change. A recent federal government report shows Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. Canada’s biggest and fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions is the oil and gas sector. Before we even get our products into tankers or pipelines, they have already contributed more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector. On our current path, we’re not likely to meet our 2020 climate targets, or our Paris Accord climate targets. Meeting these obligations begins with saying no to this pipeline and becoming part of a global transition off fossil fuels. Rather than invest billions of public dollars in a sunset industry, that money could be spent on strengthening the rising green energy industry that Canada, and the world, needs.


Canada has signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and has promised to seek Free, Prior and Informed Consent for projects like Trans Mountain. As the last several years have made very clear, there isn’t full consent from the coastal First Nations of the Salish Sea. Without that consent, Canada does not have the moral right to build this tanker-and-pipeline project. Forcing though this project over the principled, thoughtful opposition from indigenous communities, communities whose way of life is at risk, undermines the work that Canada has only begun on reconciliation.