Why does the Canadian government want to push forward with this ill-considered project in the face of such overwhelming opposition and evidence?
Despite overwhelming opposition from British Columbia, Washington state, and tribes, counties and cities on both sides of the border, plus strong evidence that the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project would inevitably harm endangered southern resident killer whales, the Canadian National Energy Board has recommended that the project should proceed. This is a deeply flawed decision.
Of paramount concern to Washington citizens are the adverse impacts on the struggling orcas, whose population in the wild is now down to 74 members — the lowest level in decades. If this project is completed as planned, an additional 590,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil could be shipped daily from a Burnaby, B.C., terminal. That would result in a sevenfold increase in tanker traffic to more than 800 transits a year through the orcas’ critical habitat in Haro Strait, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and adjacent Salish Sea waters.
The additional underwater noise from hundreds more tankers annually will be difficult if not impossible to mitigate. The inevitably increased racket will further obscure orcas’ Chinook salmon prey, which they track and find using echolocation. And the tugboats necessarily accompanying these tankers for safety reasons would ironically generate even more underwater noise.
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If a major oil spill occurs in the Salish Sea from one of these tankers, the impact on the orcas would be devastating, possibly wiping out the entire species. The “clean up” of conventional, floating oils is a widespread myth, as the recovery level is 20 percent at best. Not only could such a large spill in Haro Strait coat nearby shores and tidelands with sticky ooze, if the tanker carried diluted bitumen from tar-sands deposits in Alberta, a sizable portion of it could also separate and sink to the sea floor under conditions of high winds and waves — smothering benthic species there, including the Pacific sand lance that are a principal prey of Chinook salmon.
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So why does the Canadian government want to push forward with this ill-considered project in the face of such overwhelming opposition and evidence? It’s because the Trans Mountain pipeline is the only option left to get added Alberta tar-sands crude oil to tidewaters, where it could be shipped overseas and purportedly earn higher profits. Two other such pipelines have been canceled, and the federal government bought up the existing Trans Mountain pipeline for 4.5 billion Canadian dollars ($3.4 billion U.S.) to keep the third option alive. And it will cost Canada at least CA$7.4 billion more to nearly triple its capacity.
The likely government decision to expand this pipeline is based on deeply flawed economic analysis. The demand for high-sulfur, tar-sands crude is projected to drop when the International Maritime Organization’s global pollution standards become more stringent less than a year from now. All large commercial vessels must significantly reduce their sulfur-dioxide emissions by Jan. 1. Most will do that by switching to low-sulfur fuels rather than the high-sulfur bunker fuels that have been commonly used on oceangoing vessels. And because Alberta tar-sands crudes have among the highest sulfur content in the world, which makes refining them costly, the market for them is likely to plummet.
In addition, Canada’s fond hope that Asian markets for its heavy crudes will materialize is a pipe dream. According to a recent Greenpeace analysis, 92 percent of the current shipments from Burnaby go to U.S. refineries, mostly those in California and Washington that can handle heavy, sulfur-laden crude oil. That number is unlikely to change much if and when the expansion goes through. Asian refineries have been reluctant to invest the billions required to refine high-sulfur crude oil. And this figure ignores the more than 150,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil that currently enter our state daily via Puget Sound pipelines, headed for Whatcom and Skagit County refineries.
In all likelihood, the added Trans Mountain pipeline capacity would be for naught. And Canadian citizens will be left holding the bag, wondering how they ever got snookered into wasting billions on such an economic dinosaur.