Subject:  RISK ASSESSMENT   salish sea oil spill

Probability of oil spill low, risk assessment analysis shows

Environmentalists, island communities question findings of study done for Kinder Morgan


When it comes to Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the biggest fear of British Columbians is the increased risk of a catastrophic oil spill in the Salish Sea. To gauge the probability of such a spill, the oil transport company sought an opinion from Det Norske Veritas, world-leading risk analysts. The company was reassured by the findings of their consultants. Det Norske Veritas calculations show the existing risk of a “worst-case” oil spill of 104,000 barrels in the Salish Sea is extremely low: once in 3,000 years.

The risk increases significantly – to once in 460 years – with the jump in tanker traffic from Kinder Morgan’s $5.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. But the probability of such a spill is driven back down to once in 2,300 years when the company’s proposed mitigation measures, including additional tug escorts, are factored in. Annual tanker traffic would increase six-fold, to 408 return trips.

The figures are outlined in a 15,000-page project application submitted to the National Energy Board (NEB) last month.

For a spill half the size of a worst-case spill, the probability increases to once in 437 years. For a spill of any kind, as low as less than one barrel, it jumps again to 237 years.

The estimates are based on historical accident and spill figures, and include future ship traffic projections.

The findings give the company confidence tankers will continue to safely navigate the Strait of Juan de Fuca, thread Haro Strait and Boundary Pass through the San Juan and Gulf Islands, and into the Strait of Georgia, eventually passing Stanley Park and into the slim gap of the Second Narrows rail bridge to Westridge Terminal.

Whether Kinder Morgan’s calculations will provide assurance to its long list of opponents is another question.

Most critics tend to focus less on the probability of a major oil spill, and more on the consequences should one happen. (Kinder Morgan has also proposed to increase oil-spill response capacity).

With the devastating effects of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill still in mind, environmentalists, communities in the Gulf Islands but also Vancouver, and First Nations, point to the consequences a major incident would have in the Salish Sea – an area rich in aquatic life and wildlife and renowned for its beauty.

As the province’s tourism slogan “Beautiful B.C.” suggests, the promise of unsullied nature is a draw for visitors from around the world. The marine environment in the region is also a playground for the 11 million residents of British Columbia and Washington state.

Computer spill scenarios in Kinder Morgan’s project application show oil from a spill could end up on the shoreline of Washington state.

“You can come up with a doomsday scenario, but it’s not really helpful to the discourse unless we can frame it in terms of how likely it is to happen,” says Michael Davies, director of marine development for Kinder Morgan.

“What sets the work apart that we’ve provided in the application, is the fact we have this risk assessment on the probability side. And that’s an important piece for the public to understand.”

About 60 Aframax-size tankers – which can only be loaded about 80 per cent to 585,000 barrels so they can safely make it through the Second Narrows – already dock each year at the Westridge Terminal in Burnaby.

Many, such as the 250-metre DHT Sophie, which loaded at Westridge a week ago , are headed to refineries in California. But there’s been increasing demand by Alberta oilsands producers to access new markets in Asia. Their goals are being championed by both the Alberta and Canadian governments.

Canada is almost solely reliant on the U.S. as a destination for its oil.

Both Enbridge’s $6.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline through northern B.C. and Kinder Morgan’s expansion of its Trans Mountain pipeline are meant to satisfy this export appetite.

The additional 350 tanker loadings each year from the Kinder Morgan expansion will be added to more than 500 tankers that already ply the Salish Sea, headed to refineries in Washington state.

In an effort to keep the calculated risk of a major spill extremely low, Kinder Morgan is proposing to fill in gaps in tug escorts between Westridge Terminal and the Pacific Ocean.

happens,” said Obermeyer.

He notes there’s never been a major oil tanker incident in B.C. waters.

When looking at all tanker mishaps, including smaller vessels carrying chemicals and liquids such as canola, there have been few serious incidents in the past two decades.

According to Pacific Pilotage Authority data cited in Kinder Morgan’s application, there were only six tanker incidents in the past 20 years.

The numbers don’t include other shipping incidents involving large ships. For example, on Dec. 7, 2012, a bulk carrier sliced through a causeway and Westshore Terminals coal conveyor at Roberts Bank, dumping some coal into the ocean. The last tanker incident was in 2008, when the chemical tanker Fujigawa damaged a midship rail at Lynnterm Terminal in North Vancouver. Other incidents in 1999, 1997 and 1994 were also minor in nature, with damage taking place at dockside.

In the past decade, the largest oil spill the industry-funded western Canadian Marine Response Corp. (WCMRC) dealt with was at Westridge Terminal in 2007. But that leak was from a pipeline punctured by an excavator, not a marine spill.

The most recent call-out for the response team was two months ago, when it cleaned up two tonnes of canola in Burrard Inlet.

The organization, created in 1971, has never responded to a major oil tanker spill, noted WCMRC spokesman Michael Lowry.

Critics of the pipeline expansion are not satisfied with Kinder Morgan’s risk analysis or the oil tanker safety record in B.C. They point to a Nestucca tank barge spill in Washington state on Dec. 23, 1988 in which 5,500 barrels were spilled after a tug hit the barge. Oil reached beaches in northern Oregon, and a week later washed up on Vancouver Island shores. Tens of thousands of sea birds died, according to a 2011 report from the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force.

Also of concern is a November 2009 incident in which the bulk carrier Hebei Lion dragged its anchor in high winds and was blown on to a rocky reef near Mayne Island, also noted in the task force report.

That incident was a wake-up call for Gulf Island residents, says Islands Trust chairwoman Sheila Malcolmson.

The Trust, which has municipal responsibilities for the Gulf Islands, opposes the Kinder Morgan expansion. “Any spill is going to be bad news,” said Malcolmson, noting the islands are an ecologically sensitive area with “funky” currents.

“We don’t have any confidence that Canada is in a position to handle the risk we have now, let alone the risk that’s posed by an additional almost 400 tankers a year through our waters,” she said.

Living Oceans Society executive director Karen Wristen does not trust Kinder Morgan’s risk analysis.

She points to a federal government-commissioned risk analysis carried out in 1990 following the Exxon Valdez spill that found the probability of a “catastrophic” marine oil spill – of over 84,000 barrels – can be expected once every 15 years in Canadian waters. A major spill of 100 to 10,000 tonnes was probable once a year. The highest risk was pegged in Eastern Canada, particularly Newfoundland.

“Somebody has to explain to me how we get from one in 15 years to one in 2,500 someodd while increasing the number of vessels out here,” said Wristen.

“You are playing with numbers,” she argued, while acknowledging that her organization does not have the money to hire experts to “poke credible holes” in Kinder Morgan’s risk analysis.

Wristen said the increased tanker traffic conflicts with protection requirements for federally designated habitat in southern waters for killer and humpback whales.

Under federal laws, the whales are meant to be protected from identified threats, said Wristen. She said it’s a “no brainer” that an oil spill is a threat to the whales, adding even the underwater noise and an increased risk of strikes of whales by the ships is a problem.

“There’s no way we should be shipping any oil out of the Burrard Inlet and through the Salish Sea,” Wristen said.


© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun