Tanker traffic would soar under proposed Canadian pipeline

A big Houston-based energy company would triple the capacity of a Canadian pipeline that ships oil from Alberta to the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, a project that would increase from five to 34 tankers a month traveling through sensitive international waters.

Kinder Morgan Canada formally submitted its application to nearly triple, from 300,000 barrels a day to 850,000, the capacity of its Trans-Mountain Pipeline.

The purpose of the increased capacity is to serve what the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers describes as “rapidly growing markets in Asia.”

The tankers would travel through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and through Haro Strait, which forms the boundary between the San Juan Islands and Vancouver Island. They would pass just off two famed beauty spots of the new San Juan Islands National Monument, Turn Point on Stuart Island and Patos Island.

“Our government has been clear we will only allow energy projects to proceed if they are found to be safe for Canadians after an independent scientific, environmental and regulatory review,” said Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.

The additional question is whether such projects are safe for Americans, or whether concerns for the San Juans, salmon runs shared by the two countries, Olympic National Park, and the U.S. side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca will figure at all in Canada’s decision.

Oliver has been a relentless advocate of energy exports to Asia. He has denounced critics of pipeline projects as “foreign-funded radicals” and “jet-setting celebrities,” and thundered last year: “These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological goals.”

In a recent report, however, a panel appointed by the government in Ottawa said Canada is not prepared to deal with a big (or small) oil spill in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and waters off southern Vancouver Island.

Oliver promised on Monday that Canada’s government would “further enhance marine and pipeline safety.” But the government recently shut down a Canada Coast Guard station in Vancouver.

The Kinder Morgan pipeline application goes to Canada’s National Energy Board for a 15-month review. Environmental groups and opposition political parties in British Columbia vow to oppose the project. Greenpeace staged a media protest in Burnaby earlier this fall.

On Thursday, Canada’s federal government is expected to endorse construction of an even larger pipeline in northern British Columbia.

The Northern Gateway Pipeline would carry crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands to an export port at Kitimat, at the head of a long fjord on B.C.’s north coast. Aboriginal First Nations groups in Canada are strongly critical of that project.

If Northern Gateway is build, and the capacity of Trans-Mountain is tripled, an estimated 650 oil tankers will enter and leave British Columbia’s sensitive coastal waters each year.

Already, TV spots touting oil tanker safety are popping up during hockey game telecasts on Canadian TV, and big newspaper ads show a breaching whale and promise that tankers will have tugboat escorts. The promises are eerily reminiscent of those made when Valdez, at the head of Alaska’s Prince William Sound, was made a terminus of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

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