Regulator admits risks but recommends Trudeau government approve project to ramp up shipping of tar sands crude via Salish Sea tribal fishing grounds
Canadas energy regulators have recommended the approval of the Trans Mountain oil sands pipeline, which has drawn environmental and tribal protests over the dramatic increase it would mean to the number of oil tankers moving through the waters between the US and Canada.
The National Energy Board recommended the federal government conditionally approve Kinder Morgan Canadas plan to nearly triple pipeline capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels of crude oil a day. The $5.4bn Trans Mountain project would carry oil from Alberta s oil sands to near Vancouver, British Columbia, to be loaded on to tankers for export to Asian and US markets. It would mean a sevenfold increase to shipping through the Salish Sea.
Important benefits of the project including thousands of construction jobs, hundreds of long-term jobs and increased access to diverse markets for Canadian oil outweighed the residual burdens, the energy boards chief environment officer, Robert Steedman, said during a news conference.
The board concluded that the project was in Canadas public interest, despite finding it would increase greenhouse gas emissions and marine traffic would have significant adverse effects on southern resident killer whales. The orcas, which spend time in the inland waters of Washington state, are protected as endangered in the US and Canada.
Kinder Morgan has said the pipeline expansion will be done in a way that minimises impact on the environment, addresses social impacts and provides many economic benefits. It said in a statement on Thursday that it was pleased the board had recommended approval of the project.
The project has faced fierce opposition from environmental groups and tribes in the US and Canada, as well as the British Columbia government.
Several Washington state tribal leaders traveled to Canada to testify against the project, telling regulators that the increased oil tanker traffic in the Salish Sea could boost the risk of oil spills and have devastating consequences for tribes way of life, culture and the environment, as well as their US treaty right to fish.
In a statement on Thursday, those US tribal leaders said they were disappointed in the panels recommendation.
We are facing the very real threat of an oil spill that puts the Salish Sea at risk, said Mel Sheldon, chairman of the Tulalip Tribes. The fishing grounds of the Salish Sea are the lifeblood of our peoples. We cannot sit idly by while these waters are threatened by reckless increases in oil tanker traffic and the increased risk of catastrophic oil spills.
Officials have said they expect an additional 350 loaded oil tankers moving though the waters each year if the project is built.
The vessels would be loaded with oil at a terminal outside Vancouver, British Columbia and generally travel through the Haro Strait west of San Juan Island and the Strait of Juan de Fuca for export to markets in Asia and the US.
The energy board found that while the consequences of large spills could be high, it said the likelihood of such events occurring would be very low given the extent of the mitigation and safety measures that would be implemented.
Kinder Morgan will have to address 157 engineering, safety and environmental conditions, including that it offset greenhouse gas emissions from construction of the project. Another condition requires Trans Mountain to develop a marine mammal protection programme and undertake or support initiatives that try to understand or lessen project-related effects.
Trans Mountain proposed extended tug escort through the Strait of Georgia and an increase in the existing level of tug escort for loaded oil tankers from the terminal to the west entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The board said its 533-page report was one of the factors that the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and his cabinet will consider when making the final decision, which is expected by the end of 2017.