Escort tugs would accompany a wave of new oil tankers bound for the Juan de Fuca Strait, giving some comfort to coastal communities but not dispelling fears of a spill.
Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline extension is expected to result in a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic off Vancouver Island. The tankers will be escorted from Burrard Inlet to the entrance of the shipping lane at Buoy Juliet, about 16 kilometres off Vancouver Island, the company says.
Mike Hicks, Juan de Fuca electoral area director for the Capital Regional District, said he is ecstatic to learn the tug escort would be extended.
“It means that if there’s a breakdown, there’s an escort tug to latch on and keep [the tanker] off the beach until we can get someone there,” he said.
“If there’s going to be increased oil tankers — which we are not in support of — we wanted an escort tug to guide them.”
The National Energy Board granted Kinder Morgan conditional approval in May to triple the capacity of its Trans Mountain pipeline between Edmonton and Burnaby. Kinder Morgan projects tanker traffic will increase to 34 tankers per month from five.
Hicks said the CRD board and his constituents had asked Kinder Morgan to expand the escort beyond Race Rocks to Buoy Juliet on the Swiftsure bank.
“We think the Strait of Juan de Fuca is just as important as anywhere in the Salish Sea, and for that reason, I pushed for this,” he said.
Master mariner Bikram Kanjilal, the lead for marine development on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, said the company decided during the risk-assessment process to expand tug-escort requirements for the third-party tankers.
“Having tug escorts in those areas would reduce the possibility of a drift grounding, meaning if the vessel was to lose power and started to drift, then the tug would provide service to the vessel without delay,” Kanjilal said.
Trans Mountain’s additional marine safety proposals include pilot disembarkation near Race Rocks instead of Victoria, with pilots being trained to disembark by helicopter.
Christianne Wilhelmson, executive director of the Georgia Strait Alliance, said tug escorts should be required for any ship carrying hazardous material. The alliance is a not-for-profit organization that promotes marine environment protection and sustainability of the Strait of Georgia.
“I think any effort to reduce the possibility of an accident is a good thing,” she said. “But it does not deal with the myriad of other problems around this project.”
Diluted bitumen sinks, she said, which makes it impossible to clean up, causing environmental, economic and social damage.