Since Kinder Morgan first proposed its expansion plan to twin its Trans Mountain pipeline, the project has encountered overwhelming opposition — the ever-expanding list of critics includes First Nations, environmental organizations, municipalities, and other concerned citizens across Canada. And in recent months, the groundswell of resistance against the project has only increased.
In the first half of January 2016 alone, Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging him to postpone review hearings to allow more time for community consultation. Meanwhile, the B.C. government formally opposed the project after it concluded that Kinder Morgan had failed to provide enough information to satisfy the province’s five conditions for supporting heavy crude oil pipelines.
Next week, Ecojustice lawyers will appear before the National Energy Board on behalf of our clients, Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation. It’s our last chance to make a case for why the NEB should recommend to Cabinet that it reject the Kinder Morgan project. Here are four of the key issues we will address in our argument: Impacts on Southern Resident Killer Whales, risk of marine oil spills, and impacts on people.
The Kinder Morgan pipeline would lead to a nearly seven-fold increase in tanker traffic through Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet and through the Salish Sea, which is critical habitat for the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population.
- Oil spills
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Recovery Strategy for the Southern Resident killer whales describes an oil spill in the whales’ critical habitat as “potentially catastrophic” due to the immediate risk of toxic exposure and the potential for long-term damage to the marine ecosystem.We need to look no further than the Exxon Valdez spill and its effects on killer whales for a cautionary tale. The transient AT1 pod is the living legacy of a spill that unleashed millions of gallons of oil into Alaska’s coastal waters more than 25 years ago. Since surfacing in the massive slick left behind by the tanker, the pod has been unable to reproduce. One by one, the pod members are dying off, and scientists say the pod has no chance for recovery.
- Ocean noise
More tanker traffic means noisier oceans. Elevated ambient ocean noise reduces the range in which whales can hear (acoustic habitat), making critical activities such as navigating, maintaining complex social structures, and foraging for food, more difficult. Kinder Morgan admits that existing vessel noise is already a problem for the whales. Our clients’ evidence shows that the whales already lose up to 97 per cent of their ability to communicate during periods of heavy vessel traffic, and the addition of more tankers could take away their remaining opportunities to communicate. Specific instances of vessel noise may also cause whales to switch from useful behaviours, especially ones related to feeding, to avoidance behaviours. This requires the whales to use more energy — problematic for a species already facing food scarcity. Kinder Morgan’s evidence ignores some of the best available science on these behavioural responses.
The Southern Residents selectively hunt for Chinook salmon, eating 80-90 per cent Chinook during their time in the Salish Sea in the summer months. Different life stages of Chinook spawn, live in, and migrate through the lower Fraser River for most of the year, making them uniquely vulnerable to any oil spills in the vicinity. Kinder Morgan has not studied the effects of project-related loss of prey on marine mammals.
- Population viability analysis
The dynamics of small wildlife populations, such as the Southern Residents, make them vulnerable to random events and variations. Raincoast has filed a Population Viability Analysis that assesses the project’s effects on the Southern Residents, concluding that if the population is to recover, Kinder Morgan’s proposal can’t go ahead. If it does, the whales face a more than 50 per cent chance of declining to fewer than 30 animals, tantamount to eventual extinction. Kinder Morgan has not studied the population-level impacts of the project.
Killer whales aren’t the only wildlife that will be affected by the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion and tanker traffic.
- Forage fish
“Forage fish” (such as herring) may be impacted by oil spills and underwater noise. These fish also support diverse predators, including humpback whales and Chinook salmon, so negative impacts on them have the potential to reverberate through the marine ecosystem. Kinder Morgan’s review of potential marine impacts failed to adequately assess potential impacts to forage fish or the consequences of impacts for the broader ecosystem.
The Fraser River is one of the most productive salmon watersheds in the world, and the most economically important in Canada. The lower Fraser is used by 42 species of salmon and other fish, including at-risk species, and is a bottleneck through which all Fraser River salmon pass twice during their life cycle. The pipeline would parallel and cross parts of the lower Fraser. Because it is used so extensively by so many fish species, there is no “safe” time of year for a spill.
Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion proposal would mean more tanker traffic, which means more opportunities for a catastrophic oil spill off of British Columbia’s coast. Generally speaking, the evidence Kinder Morgan has put before of the National Energy Board fails to accurately capture and address this risk.
- Kinder Morgan’s application considers marine oil spills in only four locations, which do not adequately represent the areas where spills could occur. Some of the most sensitive habitats are ignored.
- Jeffrey Short, an oil spill expert, concludes that diluted bitumen (dilbit) spilled in the relatively fresh waters of Burrard Inlet or the Fraser River estuary would likely only float for a matter of hours before beginning to submerge — along the way it would foul most shorelines around Burrard Inlet, English Bay and West Vancouver.
- Dilbit spilled in the Salish Sea, Strait of Georgia and west coast of Vancouver Island could heavily oil tens of kilometers of beaches and substantially oil hundreds more. Submerged oil could travel the B.C. coast and reach as far as Alaska.
- Kinder Morgan’s evidence fails to recognize that dilbit is prone to submerge.
- Oil impacts different shoreline types differently. In some areas it may reach in the event of a spill, oil could persist for decades.
- Dilbit could harm intertidal organisms by smothering, ingestion, absorption, embryotoxicity or photo-enhanced-toxicity. Kinder Morgan’s evidence fails to assess the possible impacts on organisms exposed to submerged oil.
- Kinder Morgan failed to consider findings from oil spills other than the Exxon Valdez, and it misstates the status of shorelines affected by that spill.
- There is no commercially available technology to control sinking or submerged oil.
- Air quality
Dr. Isobel Simpson’s air quality impacts report concludes that Kinder Morgan’s application relies on unrealistically high baseline concentrations, making its potential effects on air quality appear smaller. She also found that emissions of benzene — a known carcinogen — from the project in the event of an accident would exceed air quality guidelines and potentially cause severe human health impacts.
- Toxic exposure
Dr. Stuart Batterman, an environmental health science expert, concluded that accidental spills and routine operations could result in significant chemical exposure and harm to public health. Kinder Morgan’s evidence fails to identify where people could be exposed to toxic emissions in the event of an accident. It also overestimated baseline data, and compared the existing case to a project case modified by proposed new regulations that are not yet in place — a false comparison.
- Cost-benefit analysis
Kinder Morgan has estimated that the pipeline expansion “will generate between $18.2 and $22.1 billion in direct, indirect, and induced effects to GDP and up to $4.5 billion in government revenues.” Researchers from Simon Fraser University, however, came to a different conclusion: Their research indicates that the company has overestimated the project’s anticipated financial benefits, and that it will actually be a net cost, not an economic benefit, to Canada.