Category Archives: Oil-Free Coast

Oil spill risk unacceptable: GIA

Gulf Islanders have a vital stake in the current debate over the future of oil tanker traffic in BC’s coastal waters. A major spill in our area would be an environmental disaster.

While this is a complex issue that has ignited ongoing and wide-ranging political, business and environmental passions and opinions, the Gulf Islands Alliance (GIA) is convinced that proposed pipeline capacity and tanker traffic increases pose an unacceptable risk for our islands.

GIA arranged a series of free public meetings in the Southern Gulf Islands in early 2014 to give islanders an opportunity to have their say about plans to quadruple the volume of Tar Sands oil shipped through the Islands Trust Area. These community meetings focused on the risk to our environment and wildlife and explained how you can best voice your concerns. Sponsored by the Gulf Islands Alliance, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Georgia Strait Alliance, these meetings preceded hearings by the National Energy Board into an application by Kinder Morgan to twin their pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby. GIA’s Misty MacDuffee, a marine biologist, is leading our campaign to keep our waters free of oil and other harm. Of proposals to convert our coast to an energy corridor for global shipments of tar sands oil, she says:

“Between Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal and Kinder Morgan’s (KM) Trans Mountain Proposal, 700 loaded tanker trips (one-way) could occur annually. KM wants to deliver 700,000 barrels per day to the Vancouver region by 2016 with tankers transiting the Fraser estuary, GulfIslands, Haro and Juan de Fuca Straits.  In the hopes of not triggering a public review, KM is seeking incremental approvals for this increased capacity. Traffic could also come from loaded Northern Gateway tankers entering the Juan de Fuca for Cherry Point.

“The implications for the SalishSea region are enormous and the populace is being asked to bear the risks with virtually no public engagement. Our archipelago hosts wild salmon populations, migratory birds on the Pacific flyway, important estuaries, shellfish beds and the habitats of many rare, threatened or endangered coastal species including southern resident killer whales. The SalishSea is already suffering intense pressures from growth; chronic oiling and spills will only intensify the declining health of our ecologically fragile region. In saying ‘no’ to pipeline expansion, we are saying ‘yes’ to a different vision for our islands, coast and country.”

The pipeline-tanker file is one of GIA’s priority initiatives, consistent with the idea behind GIA’s reason-for-being as a non-profit grassroots group — to bring together like-minded people from across the Trust Area islands to speak with a strong, unified voice in support of the Trust object to preserve and protect our islands.

In December, 2013, GIA reiterated its support to Islands Trust for its “leadership in opposing the proposed expansion of oil tanker traffic…as well as shipping US coal through the SalishSea.

“The Salish Sea must not become a carbon corridor,” GIA said in a letter to the Trust. “In particular, the Trust should ensure it secures its role as an intervenor in the upcoming National Energy Board hearings on Kinder Morgan’s proposal.”

The Islands Trust jurisdiction over lands and waters that surround the tanker route command such status. This status should also extend to citizens within the Trust Islands who are equally affected by this proposal. Protecting democracy is crucial for protecting our environment. “We also suggest that Trust Council support the demand of several environmental groups to withdraw from the Equivalency Agreement between BC and the federal government. Such action would reclaim BC’s right to hold its own environmental assessment of Kinder Morgan’s expansion plans and other major energy projects.”

The Salish Sea must not become a carbon corridor.

The scope of these reviews could also be widened to properly assess upstream and downstream consequences not being considered by the NEB process.

In February 2014, GIA applied for commenter status at the upcoming NEB hearings. Here’s the text of GIA’s application:

“The Gulf Islands Alliance (GIA) is a non-profit NGO formed in 2006 to protect BC’s Gulf Islands, their natural environments, rural nature, and unique cultures, for now and for future generations. We support the Islands Trust federation in achieving its legislated Object of preserving and protecting these unique Islands. Our organization draws its support from hundreds of individuals, families and communities that live throughout the Gulf Islands.Gulf Islands ecosystems are finite, threatened and in need of policies that offer greater protection for land and marine ecosystems.

“GIA supports and encourages the conservation of island landscapes, habitats, and native species. We advocate for new marine protected areas and the expansion of the proposed National Marine Conservation Area to safeguard marine features, processes and species in the Trust area. Kinder Morgan’s oil tankers must traverse the Gulf Islands to reach their Vancouver and international destinations. These islands, and the marine and coastal habitats they lie within, are directly affected by increased oil tanker traffic. As such, the interests of our organization are directly affected by this proposal, as they would be adversely affected in the event of an episodic oil spill, chronic oiling and/or air quality impacts that would accompany increased tanker traffic. Impacts to the ecological quality of this region have further consequences for the social and economic health of these rural island communities and their ability to support and accomplish GIA’s objectives.

“GIA plans to comment on the ecological risks, the known and the potential adverse effects of increased tanker traffic on species, habitats and ecosystems of the Gulf Islands that surround Kinder Morgan’s oil tanker route. This includes the adverse consequences from chronic oiling, episodic oil spills, and increased shipping. We will also consider cumulative anthropogenic effects which already adversely affect species within the proposed project area.”


After being granted ‘commenter’ status, GIA submitted the following on August 17, 2015
To the National Energy Board
Re: Application to expand Kinder-Morgan Pipeline Commenter Number A58491
In an earlier letter the Gulf Islands Alliance objected to the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline for reasons such as increased risk of spillage — which along with the perception that the NEB process is industry-biased — that have been voiced by the thousands of Canadians.
This letter focuses on an even more crucial issue: the NEB’s role, as seen in the Kinder Morgan process, in responding to climate change.
If we could imagine seeing the world from outer space or a future century, our age will be described as a time when humanity collectively shot itself in the foot. Maybe, in the heart. Because, in the pursuit of cheap and abundant fossil fuel energy, we made the climate unbearable for healthy life and the natural environment as we’ve known it.
In that distant assessment the culprits will be identified. Most of us will share the guilt, but those in positions of power and authority, including NEB appointees, who foster carbon fuel extraction, transport and consumption, will be blamed most.
The suggestion that consideration of climate change is outside the NEB’s mandate is a cop out. Energy and climate change are dance partners. Official blindness to this fact moves the agency into the same place of revulsion we have for soldiers who murder on orders from superiors. Moral law must trump contrary human law. To behave as if escalating fossil fuel use can be done safely perpetuates the lie that catastrophic harm isn’t being done.
The Gulf Islands Alliance is a non-profit, grassroots group that supports the ‘preserve and protect’ mandate of the Islands Trust Act. We see climate change as the greatest long-term threat to the Gulf Islands and the world beyond. We believe there comes a time when enlightened people of conscience and decency must stand up for our children’s future and the earth itself. That time is now. We beg you to do the right thing.


The Kinder Morgan problem

By Chris Genovali and Misty MacDuffee

Huffington Post

Earlier this year, energy giant Kinder Morgan submitted an application to the National Energy Board (NEB). The application proposes to increase the capacity of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline that is delivering tar sands crude to the Westridge Marine Terminal in British Columbia’s Burrard Inlet. Nothing new for Kinder Morgan; two earlier applications had already increased capacity to the current 300,000 barrels per day. This and other ensuing applications propose expansions that would deliver 700,000 barrels per day to the Westridge Terminal by 2016.

While concerned British Columbians are focused on the threat of oil tankers to B.C.’s north coast posed by the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, these incremental tariff applications are an effective way for Kinder Morgan to quadruple the amount of crude oil going from Burrard Inlet through Georgia Strait, the Gulf Islands, Haro Strait and the Juan de Fuca without ever mentioning the terms “oil tanker” or “tar sands.” The implications of these expansions are enormous both globally and locally, and the Salish Sea populace will be asked to bear the immediate risks with virtually no public engagement.

According to Kinder Morgan, an estimated 288 tankers (576 transits) will leave Westridge Terminal by 2016, up from 71 tankers (142 transits) in 2010. This translates to more than one tanker per day transiting our region’s front yard. The risks posed by oil tanker and barge activity here are poorly understood. However, one does not have to look very far to get a sense of the myriad concerns.

Last year, the federal Auditor General expressed concern about risks, gaps and inadequacies in Canada’s marine oil spill response system. The audit found that current spill response capacity by Transport Canada, Environment Canada, and the Coast Guard is insufficient to respond to spills in any of Canada’s oceans. In addition to these limitations, the U.S./Canadian Transboundary Spill Planning and Response Project Workgroup found that agencies on both sides of the border are ill-prepared to deal with oil spills. The final report contained over 130 recommendations for improvement.

Yet, even with better response capabilities, most oil from marine spills is never recovered. This implies significant risk to ecosystems throughout Georgia Strait, the Fraser estuary and the Gulf Islands. These areas include wild salmon populations, migratory birds on the Pacific flyway, important shellfish beds, and the habitats of many rare, threatened or endangered marine and coastal species.

One example of this risk is the overlay of the tanker route onto large sections of the critical habitat for Canada’s endangered southern resident killer whales. The southern residents are a small population hindered by previous loss of individuals that make them vulnerable to chance circumstances. Dropping birth rates, increasing death rates or random events like disease, food shortages or oil spills can be irreversible. A similar situation existed in Prince William Sound in 1989 when the Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef with two populations of killer whales in the vicinity. In one population, 14 of the 36 resident whales died following the spill. Twenty years later, the pod has still not recovered. In the second population, five breeding females died. Now, with no reproducing females and only males left, this population is going extinct.

The increased presence of tankers also brings concerns of physical and acoustic disturbance to killer whales. Physical and acoustic disturbance are two of the four threats, along with food quantity and quality, identified by Canada’s killer whale scientists as reasons for their endangered status. Increased 
impact a geographically
termed the 
 Group, which are currently listed under the federal Species at Risk Act.

The impacts of increased oil tanker traffic must also be considered within the context of cumulative stresses that local ecosystems and wildlife are already under. The Georgia Basin is an ecologically fragile region under intense pressure. These pressures have already had measurable impacts on water and air quality, as well as habitat quality and habitat availability for fish, birds and mammals. Additionally, changes to ecosystem function and processes within these waters — such as shifts in marine food webs and increasing ocean stratification — are a growing concern. Chronic oiling and spills will only exacerbate the declining health of the region.

The Gulf Islands Alliance and the Georgia Strait Alliance have all written the NEB arguing that the Kinder Morgan tariff application has serious implications for the marine environment which require, at minimum, broad public consultation and a federal risk assessment of oil spills. It is our hope the NEB will subject the application to much greater scrutiny and adequately engage the public who will be assuming the risk.

Misty MacDuffee is the chair of the Gulf Islands Alliance; Chris Genovali is the Executive Director of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation