After all the enviro alarm bells, after all the corporate spin, theessential question remains: Is the Kinder Morgan pipeline worth the risk?
Or, to be more precise (and perfectly parochial), is it worth the risk to Victoria, which would see another 20 oil tankers a month slide by its front door?
The Kinder Morgan road show came to Colwood's Juan de Fuca rec centre Thursday, the latest stop in a three-month, 30-city series of info sessions on the company's proposal to twin its 59-year-old Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby.
The Kinder Morgan proposal is often portrayed as Northern Gateway Lite, slightly less controversial than Enbridge's dream of a pipeline to Kitimat. If you were to bet on one of the two being approved, the smart money would be on the former. It would mostly follow an existing route, not carve a new path like Northern Gateway.
The tankers' passage from terminal to open water is more established, too, though the Vancouver-Victoria corridor is obviously much more heavily populated. That's the bit that has Islanders asking what's in it for them.
The attraction for oil companies is obvious. They can diversify their markets and get a much higher price selling to California and Asia than they can by piping the same diluted Alberta bitumen directly to the continental U.S.
They already fill five or six tankers a month at Burnaby's Westridge terminal, 80 per cent of them heading for California, another 10 per cent off to Asia.
That number would rise to 25 tankers a month under the expansion plan, with half the ships Asia-bound.
Kinder Morgan talks about stringent safety measures: Double-hulled tankers, tethered to tugs from Vancouver through Haro Strait, two pilots on board until they clear Race Rocks. The extra tankers would boost the number of large vessels in Juan de Fuca Strait by just six per cent.
But that's hardly reassuring to opponents. To them, it just highlights how vulnerable our waters are to the oil equivalent of the Big One. It would only take a single spill to Exxon Valdez our shores.
Stand on the beach and you can already see a steady stream of tankers, roughly one a day, carrying Alaska crude to four refineries in Puget Sound. They're among the roughly 9,000 big ships transiting Juan de Fuca Strait each year, burning heavy bunker fuel.
We haven't seen a significant fuel spill since the Japanese fish processor Tenyo Maru collided with a Chinese freighter off the entrance to the strait in 1991, but there have been recent near misses.
In November 2009, the bulk carrier Hebei was blown onto a reef near Mayne Island. Little was made of the incident at the time, but the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force - a creation of government - later said we dodged a bullet, that there was a high risk of a fuel tank rupture that would have gunked up both sides of the strait.
In 2010, a South Korean captain was jailed after getting caught drunk-driving a freighter just west of Port Angeles.
In 2011, a U.S. nuclear submarine captain was cashiered for almost smacking into an Alaskan freighter right off our front porch. That's what many Islanders tend to think of, not the $2.5 billion in construction spending that Kinder Morgan says would come to B.C., or the $320 million in tax revenue that would flow into provincial coffers by 2048. How much would an oil spill cost? The Exxon Valdez price tag was more than $4 billion.
A smattering of sign-waving protesters huddled at the entrance to the Juan de Fuca fieldhouse, where 49 people attended Thursday's open house, but there was no sequel to Wednesday's little drama at the Cedar Hill rec centre. Company reps ended that information session early after protesters took down Kinder Morgan's signage and replaced it with their own (Saanich's version of total anarchy).
The only other local info session will be from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Saanichton Learning Centre gym, 1649 Mount Newton Cross Rd. This phase of the process winds up on Salt-spring Island on Jan. 12.
Kinder Morgan expects to make a formal application to the National Energy Board late next year. If approved, the expanded line would begin operating in 2017.
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