Anger and obfuscation cloud pipeline issues in Chilliwack

We can’t pretend there aren’t already oil tankers in the Salish Sea

There are at least nine oil tankers plying the waters off B.C.’s coast as I write this.

The Alaskan Frontier is about 15 kilometers south of Victoria, en route to its anchorage near Blaine, Washington, just south of White Rock.

At 110,000 tonnes, she carries 850,000 barrels of Alaskan crude and is part of the larger fleet that ferries oil from the Alaska North Slope to The Cherry Point refinery – fourth largest refinery on the West Coast.

Several other vessels are already waiting; three oil tankers are also at anchor in the Burrard Inlet.

I write this not to reveal anything new. This is a normal day, and the oil tankers form only a part of the marine traffic in and around the Salish Sea.

But it’s easy to think otherwise.

It’s easy to believe, listening to arguments surrounding the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, that the waters off B.C. are empty.

They’re not.

On any given day there are 18,000 “vessel movements” in the Salish Sea – all tracked in real time and available for anyone to see.

To this mix, Trans Mountain’s pipeline plan would add an additional tanker a day.

For some, that’s one tanker too many.

And that’s fair. Statistically speaking, any increase in tanker traffic could increase the odds of a major catastrophe (ignoring the additional safeguards promised with that increased traffic).

What’s not fair is pretending stoppage of the Trans Mountain pipeline will keep our waters tanker free.

That ship sailed years ago.

The Cherry Point Refinery processes around 225,000 barrels of oil a day, most of it arriving by the tankers that quietly glide past the southern tip of Vancouver Island. (The rest comes from the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, which branches off near Abbotsford, and more recently by rail from the Bakkan shale oilfields in North Dakota.)

None of this will change if the pipeline expansion project is canceled. What will change is the $1.5 billion in additional money promised by the federal government to improve marine safety. That money dies with the deal.

Nor will throttling Canada’s oil exports stop the world’s thirst for fossil fuels.

The U.S., already the world’s largest consumer of oil, is expected to export 1.5 million barrels per day in 2018 – a number that some experts say could rise to four million bpd by 2022.

This reality should not take away from the important efforts to move the Canadian economy away from fossil fuels. But pretending cancellation of the Trans Mountain expansion will immediately sprout wind farms, or that the existing oil tanker traffic will disappear is a fantasy.

Worse, it’s a distraction from the very real issues like pipeline routing.

I’ve said in the past that the pipeline has no business running across Chilliwack’s sole source of drinking water for its 85,000 residents. Nor is it appropriate to run the new line through backyards and playgrounds in residential areas.

True, the Vedder Aquifer was not the main source of Chilliwack’s drinking water when the original pipeline was built in the 1950s. And it was someone else’s bright idea to build homes and schools on top of the existing pipeline right-of-way.

Nonetheless, this is the opportunity to rectify that problem: Realign the new pipe, and decommission the old.

It would be helpful if our premier was concerned with issues like this, rather than sporting the fictional mantle of a coastal defender, or tilting at constitutional windmills.

Greg Knill is editor of the Chilliwack Progress

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