In part one of our 2018 Tanker Series, we discussed oil tanker traffic off Canada’s West Coast, where these tankers originate, their routes, and what they carry. We also looked at the impact an increased number of tankers to support Kinder Morgan Canada Inc. (TSX:KML)’s Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project (TMEP) will have on this traffic. This increase in tankers has raised concern surrounding potential of an increased risk of oil spills in the Pacific Region. In fact, a , recent Angus Reid Institute Poll found that 67 per cent of all Canadians are concerned about the potential of oil spills in Canada. In this installment, we will take a closer look at Canada’s oil spill history and the new safety measures being proposed by both Kinder Morgan and the Canadian government to negate these types of accidents.
Globally, oil spills have been in decline since the 1970s, and while they have been particularly rare in Canada, and especially on its West Coast, they have occurred periodically. The following statistics depict the frequency of these spills, as well as their locations and causes:
64 per cent of notable spills were on the Atlantic coast due to the sheer volume difference in vessel traffic over that of the Pacific coast, and of the spills that did occur in the Pacific region, none were tankers.
Though there has never been a serious oil spill off the West Coast in Canadian waters, the risk does exist, and those opposed to TMEP site this risk and the effect ship-sourced oil spills have on the environment, water supplies, and local marine habitats as the one of the biggest reasons for their opposition. The closest significant spill we can look toward to gauge this impact was the disastrous 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in which the oil tanker struck reef in Alaska's Prince William Sound, spilling 10.8 million US gallons of crude oil over the next few days. This incident, however, served as a catalyst for the rules and safety regulations for oil tankers to be completely overhauled and mandated globally, significantly minimizing the risk of a similar occurrence.
Canada’s Existing Preparedness and Response for Ship-source Oil Spills
Transport Canada outlines the many measures it has in place for spill prevention in Canadian waters. All vessels must:
- Follow international rules for preventing collisions at sea
- Have up-to-date nautical charts
- Have a passage plan
- Be equipped with tracking and monitoring equipment
- Report their information
Furthermore, all tankers must be double-hulled to operate in Canadian waters, which means they have two complete layers of watertight hull surface. The inner hull is typically a few feet within the outer, which forms a redundant barrier to protect seawater in the event of a leak. Extensive inspections are also conducted. Canadian vessels are inspected under the Flag State Control Program and foreign vessels by the Port State Control Program. Law requires Canadian tankers to be fully inspected once per year.
ClearSeas outlines further measures in place to prevent spills from taking place:
- Marine Pilots: licensed Canadian navigational experts that maneuver vessels through congested waters
- Navigational Aids: a complex system of visual, auditory, and electronic aids to warn of barriers and mark routes
- Tug Escorts: small navigational vessels which escort loaded tankers to sea by slowing, stopping, or steering
Kinder Morgan’s Safety Enhancements
In addition to its existing Marine Spill Response Regime, Kinder Morgan has proposed additional measures to mitigate navigation risk, including:
- A newly established shipping channel for East Burrard Inlet off West Vancouver
- An expansion of tug escorts of outbound laden tankers through the Strait of Georgia and at the western entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait
- Extended pilot disembarkation to Race Rocks instead of Victoria
- Enhanced Situational Awareness techniques such as safety calls by pilots and masters of laden tankers, tactical use of escort tug along shipping routes, boating safety engagement and awareness program
Kinder Morgan has also proposed response enhancements for the Salish Sea and Strait of Juan de Fuca; the company has the support of the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC), which will implement the following:
- An investment in WCMRC of over $150 million
- Five new response bases and new vessels added strategically along BC’s southern shipping line (three of these will have 24/7 operations)
- This will ensure response capacity resident in Salish Sea will be 20,000 tonnes – twice Transport Canada’s Tier 4 capacity
- Spill notifications in Port of Vancouver will have a two-hour response time
- Spill notifications outside any port between Vancouver and the western entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait will have a six-hour response time
Liability: Who’s Responsible?
In Canada, full responsibility for an oil spill lies with the shipowner. However, there are programs set in place to help offset these costs, including The Ship-Source Oil Pollution Fund, which is funded by levies collected from oil cargo companies, and International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds.
While the risk for ship-source oil spills will exist as long as oil is transported by water (note that over 50% of global oil supply is transported via water every single day), significant and extensive measures have been taken and will continue to be taken to minimize this risk. Canadian oil develop continues to hold the highest environmental standard globally, and TMEP is no exception. One safety advantage tankers leaving Canadian West Coast ports have is that they must have a marine pilot on board who is familiar with and has been trained in British Columbia, while many foreign vessels, such as those carrying oil between Alaska and Washington state, could be operated by a crew who have never been through the Salish Sea and are unfamiliar with its terrain. It is far more likely for these foreign-originating vessels to incur an incident which would result in a spill than for those originating in Canada.