Pipeline called threat to B.C.'s tourism industry

British Columbia’s $1.5-billion wilderness tourism industry will be vulnerable if plans to triple the capacity of a pipeline sending oil from Alberta to B.C.’s coast is approved, the Wilderness Tourism Association of B.C. told a federal panel on Tuesday.

Wilderness and nature-based tourism comprises $1.5 billion of the province’s $14-billion tourism industry.

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Executive director Scott Benton said the province’s competitive advantage over other destinations is its spectacular beauty, climate and varied topography.

“Our business is entirely dependent on that natural resource remaining intact,” he said.

The tourism group was one of about a dozen environmental organizations that presented during the second and more emotionally charged of two days of hearings in Victoria on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion project.

The Trans Mountain Expansion project would triple the capacity of a pipeline running from Edmonton to Burnaby to 890,000 barrels per day. Tanker traffic in the Burrard Inlet would increase to 400 tankers per year, up from about 60.

The project received conditional approval from the National Energy Board in May.

The federal panel that travelled to Victoria this week was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to collect further input on the project and identify gaps in the National Energy Board’s consultation project.

Benton said expanding the pipeline would create a risk akin to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The loss of visitor spending in the Gulf states between 2010 and 2013 was estimated at $422 million. Sixty per cent of hotels experienced cancellations within six weeks of the spill, he said.

“Regional tourism declined, even in areas that did not experience direct pollution,” he said.

Most of the comments at Tuesday’s hearing centred on the effects of a potential spill. By Kinder Morgan’s estimates, the likelihood of a spill would increase to one in 46 years, up from one in 309 years, or one in 237 years with additional safety measures.

On Tuesday, it heard from people such as Caitlin Vernon, campaign director with the Sierra Club of B.C., and biologist Peter Vix, who received hoots and cheers from about 70 people who attended the public meeting.

Vernon said it can be overwhelming to try to consider every little impact of a project like Trans Mountain, but said it is necessary.

“Behind every impact is a story, a love for a place. And a whole lot of grief and fear,” she said.

The National Energy Board review did not evaluate the project’s contribution on climate change, which should include the greenhouse gas emissions released by the oil combination, Vernon said.

Vix said he left the oil and gas industry after working for 25 years as an oilsands consultant and now campaigns for renewable energy. Forty years ago, he was one of the first biologists to survey a tailings pond, he said.

“I got there with a motor boat and chugged around for a few hundred metres until a big blob of bitumen floated along and got stuck,” he said.

“This is too important for [a] business-as-usual mentality. We know from science we’re way past the safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, so we have to stop. We know from technology that we can do this.”

Others, including the B.C. Wildlife Federation, focused on specific topics such as wetland protection, calling for a natural resources practice board that would look at the cumulative effects of resource extraction projects.

Environmentalists demonstrated outside the Victoria Marriott Inner Harbour, where the hearings were held, after the meeting. The meeting was followed by a public town hall, the federal panel’s final hearing.

The panel will summarize its findings in a report to the federal government in September or October.

The government will make a decision on the project based on the panel’s report, as well as the NEB’s recommendation report, Crown consultations with indigenous groups and a review of greenhouse gas emission estimates by Environment and Climate Change Canada.

asmart@timescolonist.com

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