A controversial oil pipeline that would increase tanker traffic off Vancouver Island seven-fold has received conditional approval from the National Energy Board.
While the NEB found the $6.8-billion expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline to be in Canada’s best interest, critics say it would devastate killer whale populations and put British Columbia waters at risk of a disastrous oil spill.
Kinder Morgan has said the project would increase the number of tankers destined for Vancouver’s Westridge Marine Terminal to about 34 a month from five.
“These whales are on a precipice right now, they can go one way or the other. If we specifically look at the noise increase from Kinder Morgan tankers, it sends them in the wrong direction — it sends them in the direction of extinction,” said biologist Misty MacDuffee of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
Beyond the noise threat that would interfere with the whales’ communication and ability to find food, an oil spill would be catastrophic, she said.
The southern resident killer whale population is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act, which requires project effects to be mitigated — something that is not demonstrated in the NEB’s report, even if it acknowledged the whales would be put in jeopardy, she said.
The NEB’s recommendation comes after two years of debate and often-contentious hearings.
Kinder Morgan wants to triple the capacity of its Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries diluted bitumen from oilsands near Edmonton to Burnaby for export overseas. Capacity would increase to 890,000 barrels a day from 300,000.
The NEB recommended Ottawa approve Kinder Morgan’s proposal, subject to 157 conditions. A decision by the federal cabinet is expected by the end of the year.
Torrance Coste, Vancouver Island campaigner for the Wilderness Committee, said Island waters would see an increase from just a few tankers per month to more than one every day. “It changes the spill risk from ‘if’ to ‘when’,” he said.
Coste said opponents of the project would continue to fight it. “They can make all the recommendations and conditions they want, but this project doesn’t have the social licence or jurisdiction from indigenous communities and it’s never going to be built.”
Others celebrated the economic growth and 37,000 jobs project backers say it will create.
“This project is a big economic win for B.C. and for Canada. This project will bring construction, operations and other indirect jobs to B.C., while enabling our national oil resources to reach Asian markets,” said Maureen Kirkbride, interim CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.
Tim McMillan, president and CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said it would bring revenue to B.C. and Alberta, as well as the federal government, and position Canada to be more competitive in global markets.
B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said the province would not endorse the pipeline unless it meets the province’s five conditions. They include successful completion of an environmental review, ensuring “world-leading” marine and land-based spill response, ensuring First Nations are provided an opportunity for input and benefit, and ensuring that B.C. receives a fair share of economic benefits.
The board spent 25 months deliberating the Trans Mountain expansion application and heard from hundreds of groups and individuals.
Tsawout Chief Harvey Underwood, who gave oral testimony, said he is disappointed. “We communicated our way of life,” he said. The Tsawout have always been good stewards of the Gulf Islands and rely on seafood harvested from the sea, he said.
First Nations must be consulted on projects affecting their traditional territory, Underwood said, and he hopes those pushing the pipeline expansion take that to heart.
Green MLA Andrew Weaver was the only B.C. MLA to act as an intervener at the hearings, which he called, “a box-ticking exercise.” He said he was disappointed with the federal regulator’s report. “What is profoundly troubling is the rigour of the report. There’s selective use of evidence.”
For example, there’s no refence to testimony by retired oceanographer David Farmer, who criticized the projected “worst-case scenario” as an underestimation, Weaver said.
—With files from the Canadian Press