As the sun peaks over the North Shore Mountains, the Port of Vancouver welcomes the Liberian-registered tanker World Harmony at Kinder Morgan’s Westridge dock in Burnaby.
“When the ship is loading, oil flows through this pipeline from our terminal in Burnaby, to the loading arms of the ship,” says Mike Davies of Kinder Morgan.
In two days, the ship will leave Vancouver with its cargo hold full of Alberta crude.
Five oil tankers a month currently travel through Vancouver waters, and are barely noticeable. But that number will increase dramatically if Kinder Morgan’s proposal is accepted by the National Energy Board.
“There could be up to three tankers here at a time; we would have the berth space capacity for that — it wouldn’t be a common event but we would have the capacity for that.”
October marks the 60th anniversary of the Trans Mountain pipeline. It plays an integral role in the Lower Mainland’s energy security.
Burnaby has grown around Westridge terminal. It was 1953 when Alberta crude first made its way to B.C., starting in Edmonton and snaking through the Rockies.
One-third of the oil that flows through the line today fuels B.C. vehicles. The remainder of the oil is sold to Washington and California.
“All three of them are under strain to get the capacity we need for the Lower Mainland gasoline and diesel market — we service 80 to 90 per cent of that through our pipeline,” says Ian Anderson, CEO of Kinder Morgan.
“It’s Washington State refineries and increasingly off-shore, mostly California.”
Capacity is now at maximum even while demand continues to grow locally and in Asia.
300,000 barrels of oil flow a day from Alberta. Kinder Morgan’s proposal to twin the line would move 890,000 barrels.
It would mean oil traffic in Vancouver would increase from five tankers per month to 34.
Carleen Thomas, Project Manager for the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, watches the tankers’ arrival with concern.
“I’m fine with five tankers a month, but the status quo should be it because there are so many other aspects of society that are impacted by greed.”
Thomas is concerned because of the Burnaby Mountain oil spill in 2007.
A contractor operating an excavator ruptured the pipeline, spilling 1,500 barrels of oil leading to the evacuation of several homes.
Thomas claims the crabs and shellfish her people harvest near the spill have been impacted.
Ultimately, critics say that once the oil is loaded onto tankers, Kinder Morgan’s liability ends.
Any oil spill would mean going after internationally-registered shipping firms.
“We are responsible for the safe loading, and we are responsible for the response at the terminal,” says Davies.
“Once the ship leaves, our strict regulatory obligations end, but we are very concerned that that part of the business is done well.”
Authorities say shipping nowadays is much safer.
Tankers are double-hulled; they receive tug support through Vancouver waters; and two local pilots help vessels navigate through our waters all the way to southern Vancouver Island.
That’s still not enough, says Vancouver’s mayor.
“We put all that at risk, to ship oil through our port?” says Mayor Gregor Robertson. “That’s folly, we are putting enormous risk on the environment, on our brand, and the jobs we have here on the ground and have had for generations here in Vancouver.”