Enbridge Northern Gateway officials are loath (to put it mildly) to speak to the media but sometimes they let things slip. Earlier this summer, at a social event, I heard an Enbridge official (probably inadvertently) reveal that when the company’s engineers came before District of Kitimat Council earlier this year they were surprised and somewhat unprepared to fully answer the detailed technical questions from Councillor Phil Germuth on pipeline leak detection.
The results of the municipal election in Kitimat, and elsewhere across BC show one clear message; voters do want industrial development in their communities, but not at any price. Communities are no longer prepared to be drive by casualties for giant corporations on their road to shareholder value.
The federal Conservatives and the BC provincial Liberals have, up until now, successfully used the “all or nothing thinking” argument. That argument is: You either accept everything a project proponent wants, whether in the mining or energy sectors, or you are against all development. Psychologists will tell you that “all or nothing thinking” only leads to personal defeat and depression. In politics, especially in an age of attack ads and polarization, the all or nothing thinking strategy often works. Saturday’s results, however, show that at least at the municipal level, the all or nothing argument is a political loser. Where “all politics is local” the majority of people are aware of the details of the issues and reject black and white thinking.
The Enbridge official went on to say that for their company observers, Germuth’s questions were a “what the…..” moment. As in “what the …..” is this small town councillor doing challenging our expertise?
But then Enbridge (and the other pipeline companies) have always tended to under estimate the intelligence of people who live along the route of proposed projects whether in British Columbia or elsewhere in North America, preferring to either ignore or demonize opponents and to lump skeptics into the opponent camp. The Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel also lost credibility when it accepted most of Northern Gateway’s arguments at face value while saying “what the ……” do these amateurs living along the pipeline route know?
“I am pro-development,” Germuth proclaimed to reporters in Kitimat on Saturday night after his landslide victory in his campaign for mayor.
On the issue of leak detection, over a period of two years, Germuth did his homework, checked his facts and looked for the best technology on leak detection for pipelines. That’s a crucial issue here where pipelines cross hundreds of kilometres of wilderness and there just aren’t the people around to notice something is amiss (as the people of Marshall, Michigan wondered at the time of the Line 6B breach back in 2010). Enbridge should have been prepared; Germuth first raised public questions about leak detection at a public forum in August 2012. In February 2014, after another eighteen months of research, he was ready to cross-examine, as much as possible under council rules of procedure. Enbridge fumbled the answers.
So that’s the kind of politician that will be mayor of Kitimat for the next four years, technically astute, pro-development but skeptical of corporate promises and determined to protect the environment.
Across the province, despite obstacles to opposition set up by the federal and provincial governments, proponents are now in for a tougher time (something that some companies will actually welcome since it raises the standards for development).
We see similar results in key votes in British Columbia. In Vancouver, Gregor Roberston, despite some problems with policies in some neighborhoods, won re-election on his green and anti-tankers platform. In Burnaby, Derek Corrigan handily won re-election and has already repeated his determination to stop the twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline through his town. In Prince Rupert, Lee Brain defeated incumbent Jack Musselman. Brain, who has on the ground experience working at an oil refinery in India, supports LNG development but has also been vocal in his opposition to Northern Gateway.
The new mayor in Terrace Carol Leclerc is an unknown factor, a former candidate for the BC Liberal party, who campaigned mainly on local issues. In the Terrace debate she refused to be pinned down on whether or not she supported Northern Gateway, saying, “Do I see Enbridge going ahead? Not a hope,” but later adding, “I’d go with a pipeline before I’d go with a rail car.”
Kitimat’s mayor and council elections also confirm that Northern Gateway plebiscite vote last April. Kitimat wants industrial development but not at the price of the community and the environment. The unofficial pro-development slate lost. A last minute attempt to smear Germuth on social media was quickly shot down by people from all sides of the Kitimat debate. Smears don’t usually work in small towns where everyone knows everyone.
Larry Walker, an environmentalist with a track record in municipal politics as an alderman in Spruce Grove, Alberta, won a seat. Together with Rob Goffinet and Germuth, that is three solid votes for the environment. The other new councillor is Claire Rattee who will be one to watch. Will the rookie be the swing vote as Corinne Scott was?
Mario Feldhoff who came to third to Goffinet in the overall vote (Edwin Empinado was second) is a solid councillor with a strong reputation for doing his homework and attention to detail and the unofficial leader of the side more inclined to support development. Feldhoff got votes from all sides in the community.
During the debates, Feldhoff repeated his position that he supports David Black’s Kitimat Clean refinery. But as an accountant, Feldhoff will have to realize that Black’s plan, which many commentators say was economically doubtful with oil at $110 a barrel, is impractical with oil at $78 a barrel for Brent Crude and expected to fall farther. Any idea of a refinery bringing jobs to Kitimat will have to be put on hold for now.
LNG projects are also dependent on the volatility and uncertainty in the marketplace. The companies involved keep postponing the all important Final Investment Decisions.
There are also Kitimat specific issues to deal with. What happens to the airshed, now and in the future? Access to the ocean remains a big issue. RTA’s gift of land on Minette Bay is a step in the right direction, but while estuary land is great for camping, canoeing and nature lovers, it is not a beach. There is still the need for a well-managed marina and boat launch that will be open and available to everyone in the valley.
Germuth will have to unite a sometimes contentious council to ensure Kitimat’s future prosperity without giving up the skepticism necessary when corporations sit on a table facing council on a Monday night, trying to sell their latest projects. That all means that Germuth has his job cut out for him over the next four years.
There’s a dumb, dumb, really dumb idea that just won’t go away—that Enbridge could solve all its problems if only, if only, it would send the Northern Gateway Pipeline to Prince Rupert.
Enbridge long ago rejected the idea. Before Enbridge updated its website to make Gateway Facts, to make it slick and more attractive, the old website had an FAQ where Enbridge explained why it wasn’t going to Prince Rupert.
Did you consider running the pipeline to Prince Rupert where a major port already exists?
We considered Prince Rupert and Kitimat as possible locations. We carried out a feasibility study that took into account a number of considerations. The study found that the routes to Prince Rupert were too steep to safely run the pipeline, and that Kitimat was the best and safest option available.
Here in the northwest even the supporters of the Northern Gateway roll their eyes when they hear the old Prince Rupert story come up again and again – and it’s not just because these people support the Kitimat plans for Northern Gateway, it’s because those supporters (not to mention the opponents) have driven along the Skeena from Terrace to Prince Rupert.
There just isn’t any room for a pipeline. It’s a game of centimetres.
Alternatives to Kitimat?
Now the new premier of Alberta, Jim Prentice, who should know better if he’s going to lead that province, is hinting that Kitimat isn’t the only possible solution for the Northern Gateway.
Without specifying Prince Rupert, according to Gary Mason reporting in The Globe and Mail, Prentice was speculating about an alternative to Kitimat.
Asked whether he believes the Gateway terminus should be relocated to Prince Rupert or another destination, Mr. Prentice said, “Everything I’ve heard from the Haisla who live there is they don’t agree with the terminal being in Kitimat.” Is it possible to get First Nations approval if there is no support at the planned terminus site? “It’s pretty tough,” the Premier said.
Prince Rupert has a thriving local fishing industry that employs hundreds of people and is critically important to the local First Nations. He is convinced the community would not be willing to put that at risk.
“Overwhelmingly people in my community are much more comfortable with liquefied natural gas, with wood pellets, with coal, than any oil product,” he said.
The Prince Rupert Port Authority also rejected the idea
A spokesman for the Prince Rupert Port Authority said Wednesday there is currently no room for Enbridge to build at the port even if it wanted to. “We are fully subscribed,” Michael Gurney said. There are two large vacant lots within the port authority’s jurisdiction, but both are locked by other energy companies, earmarked for LNG projects.
So not only is there no room on the road to Prince Rupert, there is no room in Prince Rupert.
Let’s just consider for a moment that if Prince Rupert was the ideal location for the Northern Gateway terminal (which it is not), what would be needed to get the project going today.
The Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel would have be reconstituted or a new JRP created by the National Energy Board. That’s because the bitumen comes from Bruderheim, Alberta, crossing provincial boundaries and thus it’s in federal jurisdiction.
Even under the fast track rules imposed on the NEB by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, new environmental and social impact studies would be required, starting from scratch. So add another five years of paperwork before a single shovel goes into the ground.
The pipeline would have to cross the traditional territory of First Nations that, so far, have not been part of the negotiations, mostly the Tsimshian First Nation as well as the Nisga’a First Nation which has a treaty establishing local rule over their territory.
In February 2012, the largest anti-Enbridge demonstration outside of the Lower Mainland took place in Prince Rupert, with the elders of the Tsimshian First Nation welcoming the elders and members of the Gitga’at First Nation, at Hartley Bay, which had organized the protest.
When I say there isn’t room for a pipeline along the Skeena, it also means that there isn’t any room for the pipeline corridor right-of-way. Enbridge, in its submissions to the Joint Review Panel, said it requires a 25 metre wide right of way for the pipeline corridor. (For the record that’s just over 82 feet).
Along that highway, as you will see, there’s barely enough room for the CN mainline and Highway 16 (also known as the Yellowhead Highway) and on a lot of places both the highway and the railway roadbed are built on fill along the side of a cliff.
Albertans’ desperate desire to see the Northern Gateway go to anywhere to what they call “tide water” keeps coming up like the proverbial bad penny. The latest came when Jim Prentice speculated about a new route for the Northern Gateway.
I knew I had an appointment coming up in Prince Rupert on Monday, September 29. So I decided that only way to prove to people sitting in Calgary, Edmonton and Fort McMurray playing with Google Maps that the pipeline to Prince Rupert was a really dumb idea was to shoot photographs to show just why the Northern Gateway will never go to Prince Rupert—at least along the Skeena.
As you drive out of Terrace, you pass two large swing gates (also called by some “Checkpoint Charlie” gates after the Cold War era crossing in Berlin.) At the first rest stop west of Terrace, there are another set of gates at the Exstew. There’s a third set of gates just outside Prince Rupert.
The swing gates are avalanche gates and, in the winter, Highway 16 can be shut down if an avalanche closes the highway or the danger from avalanche is too great to allow motorists to proceed. When you drive the highway from Terrace to Prince Rupert in the winter (the signs were covered up when I drove Monday) you are warned “Avalanche danger Next 13 kilometres. No stopping.”
The drive along the Skeena from just west of Exchamsiks River Provincial Park all the way to Tyee where the highway turns inland to reach northwest to Prince Rupert on Kaien Island is one of the most spectacular drives on this planet. The highway snakes along a narrow strip of land with steep mountain cliffs on one side and the vast river on the other.
The problem is that apart from locals and tourists, none of the “experts” whether journalist, think tanker, bureaucrat or politician have, apparently ever driven from Prince Rupert to Terrace.
When both Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau were in the northwest earlier this summer to “engage” with the local people, apart from short boat trips down Douglas Channel, they flew everywhere. Scheduling you know. Stephen Harper has never visited northwest BC and probably never intends to. His cabinet members fly in for photo ops and then are on the next plane out of town.
Of all the visiting journalists who have come to the northwest only a couple have bothered to drive around the region. Most fly-in fly-out. These days, most often budget-strapped reporters never leave their offices, interviewing the same usual suspects by phone on every story.
On Monday, I took most of the photographs on my way back from Prince Rupert to Terrace after my appointment, so the sequence is from west to east. There are also very few places along the river where you can safely stop. There are concrete barricades on both sides of the highway to prevent vehicles either going into the river or onto the narrow CN right-of-way.
There are, however, two rest stops and a number of small turnoffs on the highway, the turnoffs mainly intended for use by BC Highways, but which are also used by tourists, fishers and photographers.
The first image was taken at one of those highway turnoffs just east of Aberdeen Creek. This is what the highway and rail corridor are like all along the Skeena, the highway, bounded by concrete barricades, the CN rail line and then the towering mountains. Note where the telegraph and telephone lines are—further up the cliffside.
A closer view of the highway and rail corridor just east of Aberdeen Creek.
Here is the view of the Skeena River from the Aberdeen Creek turnoff. You can see to the east, a mountain and the narrow strip of fill land that supports the highway and the rail line.
You see the broad width of the mighty Skeena, the Misty River, as it is called by the Tsimshian First Nation and by everyone else who lives in the northwest and on the right side of the image, the highway and rail corridor built on fill.
Any room for a pipeline?
There’s another turnoff on the other side of the headland east of Aberdeen Creek, looking back the way we came.
The final small turnoff is just by the Kylex River. Again you can see how narrow the highway and rail corridor are.
A few kilometres further along—as I said the highway snakes and curves its way along the riverbank– you come to the Basalt Creek rest area. So this telephoto image shows a logging truck heading west, taken from Basalt Creek, looking back at the highway.
Again you can see both the highway and CN line are built on fill. Is there any room for a pipeline?
Any room for a 25 metre pipeline right-of-way?
Between Basalt Creek and Telegraph Point, a few kilometres to the east, again the highway and rail line hug the narrow strip between the river and mountains.
This shot, taken from Telegraph Point, in October 2013, shows a CN intermodal container train heading to Prince Rupert. The container trains and the coal trains usually have between 150 and 180 cars. If a winter avalanche took out a train, there would be environmental damage, but that damage would be insignificant from coal or containers compared to a train of railbit tankers carrying diluted bitumen.
At Telegraph Point, the second of the three rest stops between Prince Rupert and Terrace, again there is just a narrow strip between the mountain, the highway and the river.
Across the highway from the rest stop, you can again see the narrow corridor, the first shot looking west the rail line close to the cliff face, the second, east, with the waterfall, which you don’t see during the rest of the year, fed by the fall monsoon.
Two shots from the same location, Telegraph Point, taken in March, 2013, of a CN locomotive hauling empty coal cars back to the fields around Tumbler Ridge. (No waterfall in March)
Everyone has assumed that if Northern Gateway changed its route, the most likely choice given the configuration of the pipeline at the moment is to follow the Skeena.
If Enbridge wanted to try a northern route, similar to the one TransCanada contemplates for Petronas, Northern Gateway would again run into trouble.
It would require reopening or creating a new Joint Review Panel, many more years of environmental and social impact studies of the route, even under Stephen Harper’s fast track system. The TransCanada/Petronas pipeline would also cross the traditional territory of the Gitxsan First Nation and if Enbridge tried that the company would have to deal with the fact that it signed a controversial agreement with Elmer Derrick that was immediately repudiated by most members of the Gitxsan First Nation and eventually dropped by Enbridge.
So why does this idea of a pipeline to Prince Rupert keep coming up?
In most cases, the idea of the pipeline to Prince Rupert is always proposed by Albertans, not from any credible source in British Columbia, or the suggestions come from desk bound analysts in Toronto and Ottawa both in think tanks and in the newsrooms of dying newspapers who have never seen the Skeena River apart from a tiny handful who have looked at Google Street View
(Yes you can Google Street View Highway 16 along the Skeena, I recommend it if you can’t do the drive)
Perhaps the worst example of this failure of both analysis and journalism came in the Edmonton Journal on July 7,2014, when it published a piece by Bob Russell, entitled Opinion: Make Prince Rupert the terminus, which went over the same old inaccurate arguments.
The overland route currently proposed by Enbridge is fraught with environmental issues because it goes over coastal mountains and streams before entering Kitimat’s port. This port will also be the base of perhaps as many as four liquefied natural gas terminals, which will result in the channel always busy with LNG ships outbound and returning from many Asian ports.
There are existing rights of way for the major highway, the Yellowhead, and CN Rail line from Edmonton to the Port of Prince Rupert, so this eliminates the issue of transgressing First Nations lands. The technical issues of narrow passages can be overcome with engineering. In fact, the pipeline can be buried in the roadway at some restricted locations if absolutely necessary, but two different engineers have assured me that for the most part, the right of way should be able to handle the pipeline. A vital factor, of course, is to reduce the impact by eliminating the need for two pipelines.
The clue is how the Edmonton Journal describes Russell;
Bob Russell has an extensive background in planning and was a member of the Edmonton Metro Regional Planning Commission. He has flown the Douglas Channel, visited Kitimat and toured the Port of Prince Rupert.
This is so typical of the Albertan attitude toward northwest British Columbia, people fly in for a couple of days, make a quick observation, and fly out again and present themselves as experts on the region. (Some “experts” on Kitimat, very active on Twitter have apparently never left Calgary).
It obvious that the “two engineers” who assured him “the right-of-way could handle of pipeline” have no idea what they’re talking about. As the photos show there is barely enough room for a highway and a rail line much less a 25 metre wide pipeline corridor.
If the pipeline was to be built as Russell proposed, the only highway between Prince Rupert and the rest of Canada would have to be closed for years, there are no detours. All so a pipeline can be buried under the asphalt not in solid ground, but in the fill on the side of a riverbank in an avalanche zone?
Of course, closing a highway up here won’t inconvenience anyone in Edmonton or Calgary, will it?
Would CN be happy with years of disruption of their lucrative traffic to Prince Rupert with grain and coal outbound to Asia and all those containers coming in to feed Chinese products to the North American market? (you can be sure Walmart wouldn’t be happy about that, not to mention prairie farmers including those from Alberta)
There are existing rights of way for the major highway, the Yellowhead, and CN Rail line from Edmonton to the Port of Prince Rupert, so this eliminates the issue of transgressing First Nations lands.
Is also inaccurate.
I was told by First Nations leaders during the Idle No More demonstrations in the winter of 2013, that, a century ago, when the Grand Trunk built the railway along the Skeena , they did just that, built it without consulting the First Nations along the route, sometime digging up native cemeteries and sacred spots.
While apparently CN has worked in recent years to improve relations with the First Nations along the rail line, according to those leaders some issues of right-of-way remain to be resolved.
If there were any plans to build a diluted bitumen pipeline along that route, that would likely mean another court battle adding to those already before the Federal Court, a court battle that would cost Enbridge, CN, the federal government, environmental NGOs and the First Nations more millions in lawyers’ fees.
It’s doubtful if in the long gone (and perhaps mythical) days of “get it right” journalism that the Russell opinion piece would have passed the scrutiny of an old fashioned copy editor and fact checker.
In 2012, the Edmonton Journal (in a story no longer available on their website) also cited former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed and former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge, as also favouring Prince Rupert.
Dodge, who was in Edmonton Tuesday to deliver a speech on the global economic outlook at MacEwan University, said Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat looks like even more of a long shot.
“I think the project to Kitimat looks, objectively, more risky. So why hasn’t much greater effort gone into looking at Prince Rupert and taking (bitumen) out that way? My guess is, the easiest place to get B.C. to buy into the project would be to go to Rupert.”
Dodge’s views echo those of former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed, who also favours looking at an alternate pipeline route to Prince Rupert, where ocean-going supertankers can navigate more easily.
Back in 2012, I finished my piece for the Huffington Post by saying:
So why do people insist, despite the evidence, that the Northern Gateway go to Prince Rupert? It’s no longer an pipeline; it’s emotion and ideology. Ideology in that opposition to the Northern Gateway is seen by conservatives as heretical opposition to free enterprise itself. Emotion among those who see promoting the oil patch as an issue of “Alberta pride” and even Canadian patriotism.
For the promoters of the pipeline to Prince Rupert, ignoring the science of geology and the study of geography across all of northwestern B.C. is no different than repeatedly knocking your head against the Paleozoic metamorphic greenstone of the mountain cliffs along the Skeena. It only gives you a headache.
Things haven’t gotten much better in the past two years. In fact they’re getting worse as opposition to pipelines mounts.
It seems that in 2014 the Alberta and the federal government policy in promoting pipelines Northern Gateway, KinderMorgan’s TransMountain, Keystone XL, Line 9 Reversal and Energy East (slick PR and smiling representatives at open houses, politicians at strictly controlled photo ops) is to ignore facts on the ground and to refuse to deal with the concerns of local people from coast to coast.
There could, perhaps, be a more inclusive and truly science-based pipeline planning process that could see pipelines go on optimum routes but that isn’t happening.
The policy for the oil patch and its politician supporters when it comes to pipelines is facts and geology don’t really matter. So they put on ruby slippers, knock their heels together three times and send pipelines down a yellow brick road to an Emerald City (while telling the locals to ignore the man behind the curtain)
It comes down to the idea that Harper will approve Gateway “in the national interest,” count on a vote split between the NDP and Liberals in British Columbia to avoid any consequences to the Conservative majority and then leave it up to Enbridge to actually get the job of building the pipeline and terminal project done.
Mason quotes “ a senior member of Mr. Harper’s government,” and while Mason doesn’t say what part of Canada the source is from, (unlikely in my view the source is from BC) what the member told Mason reveals that the Harper government is still mired in it the Matrix-world that has always governed its policy on Northern Gateway.
The first step, apparently coming in the next few days, is that the Harper government “rigorous” new tanker protocols for traffic along the west coast.
Even if the protocols are new, just who is going to enforce those policies?
Even if Gateway and the Kinder Morgan expansion went ahead, he argued, B.C. would still only see about 60 per cent of the annual oil tanker traffic the neighbouring state of Washington deals with. And yet Washington has an exceptionally clean record when it comes to the safe transport of oil in and out of its harbours – this, he noted, while operating under marine safety regulations that are not as rigorous as the ones Ottawa intends to put in place for the shipment of oil along the West Coast.
There are a lot big problems with that statement.
First, there’s an organization that the Mason’s source may have heard of known as the United States Coast Guard. The United States rigorously enforces its “weak” regulations, while Canada’s Coast Guard is plagued by staff shortages and budget cuts.
Second, the State of Washington also rigorously enforces its environmental regulations, not only on the coast but across the state. I have been told by retired British Columbia forestry and environmental officials (not to mention Fisheries and Oceans) that there are often more state environmental watch dogs in most Washington State counties than in all of northern British Columbia where the Northern Gateway is supposed to be going.
The September 2013, report by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration on the export of Canadian bitumen sands through the US shows that the Washington Department of Ecology is working on strengthening regulations for both pipelines and (where it’s in state jurisdiction) tanker traffic. The same report says the state of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is updating its plans and possible regulations in anticipation that bitumen filled tanker traffic from Kitimat would come close to the coast en route to Asia.
Third, the coast of northern British Columbia is more rugged and stormy than the waters off Washington.
The one factor that the urban media seems to ignore, is the big question.
Who pays to enforce the 209 conditions that the Joint Review Panel imposed on the Northern Gateway project?
If the Harper government announces new tanker regulations in the coming days, who pays to enforce those regulations?
There were no provisions in the February budget for enforcing the 209 conditions. Rather there were continuing budget cuts to the very departments that the JRP ruled must be involved in the studying, planning, implementation and enforcement of the 209 conditions, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans and Transport Canada.
So while Mason says “The federal government will play its part in meeting the five conditions laid out by the B.C. government for support of the project,” the response must be “Show me the money!”
During the recent plebiscite campaign, Northern Gateway finally revealed its plans for the “super tugs” that will escort tankers along the coast and up Douglas Channel. Owen McHugh, a Northern Gateway emergency manager said, “Adding these four or five tugs to the north coast provides a rescue capability that doesn’t exist in this format. So for any large commercial vessel that is traveling on our coast, this capacity to protect the waters of the north coast.” Those tugs and Northern Gateway’s plans to station teams at small bases along the coast means that the company is, in effect, creating a parallel, private, coast guard on the BC Coast.
What about the Coast Guard itself? The Harper government has been gutting Coast Guard resources along the coast even before it had its majority. It closed and dismantled the Kitsilano Coast Guard station in Vancouver. There is more dependence on the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue volunteers, who have to raise money locally for modern rescue boats which cost up to $750,000. The money that government was “generously” giving to RCMSAR had to be split up to 70 stations in 42 communities along the coast as well as its administrative and training staff.
Does anyone notice what is missing from that list? What’s missing are better Coast Guard vessels just to police all the expected tanker traffic on the west coast (whether LNG or bitumen) and no mention of dedicated spill response vessels, which under the “polluter pay” policy will likely be left to private contractors (and hope that the ships are available at the time of a spill)
How will we know?
Then there is the question of how will people even know if the 209 conditions are being enforced; whether or not the reports demanded by the Joint Review Panel are going be sitting on the National Energy Board server and ignored.
There is every indication, given the government’s obsession with secrecy that until there is a disaster the Canadian public will never know what’s going on. Harper’s muzzling doesn’t just cover government scientists, it covers the lowest level of bureaucrats, as District of Kitimat Council found out when low level DFO bureaucrats refused to appear publicly before council to discuss the risk to the Kitimat River.
So the scenario is, according to Mason’s source
“I think once this decision is made, Enbridge could have shovels in the ground the next day,” the member said. “They are ready to go. This means the First Nations could start realizing profits from this right away, as opposed to the promised profits from LNG, which may never materialize. I think they need to think about that.”
While the LNG market is volatile, the “member” forgets that most of the First Nations of British Columbia have opposed the Northern Gateway since Enbridge first floated the idea in 2001. The current LNG rush didn’t start until after Japan shut down its nuclear power plants after the March 2011 earthquake, The first major anti-Enbridge rally, “The Solidarity Gathering of Nations” was held at Kitamaat Village in May 2010.
Writing off BC
It appears that Conservatives, in their election strategy have already written off Gateway opponents:
Still, there is a raw political calculus that needs to be taken into account. Polls measuring support for the pr.oject in B.C. vary, but generally have shown that anywhere from 55 to 60 per cent of the province opposes Gateway and 40 to 45 per cent support it. Isn’t that enough to scare off a government that needs critical votes in B.C. to win another majority?
“Let’s say 60 per cent are against it,” he said. “And that vote splits between the Liberals and the NDP come the next election. Who are the 40 per cent going to vote for?”
Mason also speculates that Harper will approve Gateway to stick it to Barack Obama and the delays on Keystone XL. As he points out that’s a political, not an economic decision.
There are civil disobedience classes being held across northwestern BC this month. Access to Information requests by the Vancouver Observer revealed increased RCMP surveillance of the anti-Gateway movement. There has always been talk of a “war in the woods” if the pipeline project is forced on an unwilling population.
So it comes down to a question that Mason and the Conservatives are avoiding. Mason’s source says Northern Gateway is crucial to the national interest:
“At the end of the day, you have to do what’s right, not what’s politically expedient,” he said. “You have to ask: What’s in the best interests of all Canadians?”
So given all that will the Harper government leave Enbridge to tough it out on its own?
But will the Harper government, with its bean counting obsession on balancing the budget be willing to pay for all that is needed?
There’s lots of marine clay along the pipeline route, laid down by ancient oceans. That brings to mind just one word. Quagmire, not just the wet, sticky BC mud but a political quagmire.
The future of tankers sailing along the British Columbia coast, and the export of crude through BC could change drastically by the end of 2014.
By some time in 2014, the planned expansion of the Panama Canal will be complete, allowing more large ships, including tankers, to pass through the Canal and ply up and down the west coast.
It is also possible that British Columbia coastal ports could not only be used for export of bitumen from the Alberta oil sands and liquified natural gas from northeast BC, but also for oil shale crude found in the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota and Montana, possibly later shale oil from Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
The Keystone EIS surprisingly contains a number of scenarios in British Columbia, even though BC is thousands of kilometres from the proposed TransCanada pipeline from the bitumen sands to the refineries on the US Gulf Coast.
The State Department report had to give President Barack Obama all possible options and that it why the EIS report included what it calls “no action alternatives” –what would happen to the bitumen and oil if Obama rejects the Keystone pipeline. Assuming that the oil, whether bitumen or Bakken oil shale has to get to the Gulf refineries by other means, the EIS takes a close look at one case, via CN rail to Prince Rupert, from Prince Rupert by tanker down to the expanded Panama Canal, then through the Panama Canal to the oil ports of Texas and Louisiana.
Another possibility, although less detailed in the EIS, also considers scenarios where bitumen from the Alberta oilsands or shale crude from the Bakken formation was shipped to Vancouver via the Kinder Morgan pipeline system, to Kitimat via the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
The State Department rejected the Kinder Morgan and Northern Gateway options for detailed analysis because of the controversy over both projects.
The Keystone EIS was released by the State Department on Friday, March 1, 2013, and is seen as generally favouring TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project. Despite the EIS report conclusions that the Keystone project would have little adverse impact, the final decision by President Obama will be largely political.
The Prince Rupert scenario
The State Department “Supplementary Enviromental Impact Statement” on the Prince Rupert and several other scenarios were undertaken
In developing alternative transport scenarios, efforts were made to focus on scenarios that would be practical (e.g., economically competitive), take advantage of existing infrastructure to the extent possible, used proven technologies, and are similar to transport options currently being utilized.
The State Department studied a scenario that would
Use of approximately 1,100 miles (1,770 kilometres) of existing rail lines from the proposed Lloydminster rail terminal complex to a new approximately 3,500-acre (1,400 hectare) rail terminal complex where the oil would be offloaded from the rail cars, with a short pipeline connection to the port at Prince Rupert.
That possible replacement for Keystone scenario calls for adding approximately 13 trains with 100 tanker car per day on the CN and Canadian Pacific rail lines between Lloydminster and Prince Rupert. (There is also a separate scenario for a rail route from Alberta to the US Gulf Coast. That scenario is not examined in this report)
That, of course, would be in addition to the already heavy rail traffic to Prince Rupert with grain and coal trains outbound and container trains inbound, as well as the VIA Skeena passenger train.
(David Black who is planning a possible refinery at Onion Flats, north of Kitimat, has said that if the Northern Gateway pipeline is stopped, the Kitimat refinery could be serviced by six trains per day, 120 cars in each direction.)
The railway to Prince Rupert is evaluated using the same criterion under US law that was used to evaluate the Keystone project, including affects on surface water, wetlands, the coast, wildlife, threatened and endangered species, fisheries, landuse, construction, green house gases and even sea level rise.
The EIS for Prince Rupert, however, dodges one of the key questions that is plaguing the Northern Gateway Joint Review panel. While it points out the possible dangers of an oil spill, the report does not go into any great detail,
The overall EIS view of the impact of a Prince Rupert project would likely bring protests from those who already oppose the Northern Gateway pipeline project.
the transport of the crude oil via tankers from Prince Rupert to the Gulf Coast area
refineries would not have any effects on geology, soils, groundwater, wetlands, vegetation, land use, socioeconomics, noise, or cultural resources, other than in the event of a spill.
The State Department scenario says there would be
one to two additional Suezmax tanker vessels per day (430 tankers per year) would travel between Prince Rupert and the Gulf Coast area refinery ports via the Panama Canal.
That, of course, could be in addition to any tankers from the Northern Gateway project, if it is approved, as well as tankers from the liquified natural gas projects at both Kitimat and Prince Rupert.
Expanded Panama Canal
The concept of the Suezmax tankers is critical to the west coast, even if none of the scenarios eventually happen.
The State Department report notes that the Panama Canal is now being expanded, and that beginning sometime in 2014, larger ships, including tankers, can go through the canal. The current size is Panamax (maximum size for the current Panama Canal) to Suezmax (the maximum size for the Suez Canal).
According to the State Department that means even if the even bigger Very Large Crude Carriers are not calling at west coast ports to take petroleum products to Asia, the Suezmax tankers might likely be calling in Vancouver at the terminal for the existing (and possibly expanded) Kinder Morgan pipeline.
Both Kinder Morgan and Port Metro Vancouver have said that the ships that call at the Kinder Morgan Westridge Terminal are Aframax tankers, and even they are not loaded to capacity, because of the relatively short draft in the Burnaby area of Vancouver harbour. Both Kinder Morgan and Port Metro Vancouver say that there are no current plans for larger tankers to call at Westridge.
So one question would be is the State Department report pure speculation or is there, perhaps, somewhere in the energy industry, a hope that one of Vancouver’s deeper draft ports could be the terminal for a pipeline?
Rails to Rupert
The Keystone EIS for the first time outlines the railway to Rupert senario, which has long been touted by some supporters as an alternative to the Northern Gateway project, but without the detailed analysis provided for Northern Gateway by both Enbridge and those opposed to the project. Although based largely on published documents and in some ways somewhat superficial (the State Department can’t find any cultural resources in Prince Rupert), the EIS largely parallels the concerns that are being debated by in Prince Rupert this month by the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel.
So that’s why the EIS took a couple of looks at Kitimat, with two possibilities for replacing the Keystone XL with a Kitimat terminal.
• Rail to Vancouver or Kitimat, British Columbia and tanker to the Gulf Coast area refineries
• The proposed Nothern Gateway Pipeline project.
The study doesn’t just include various forms of diluted bitumen from the Alberta bitumen sands, but petroleum products from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) and crude oil from the Bakken shale shipped to the refineries on the US Gulf Coast which would be served by the Keystone XL pipeline if it was not approved.
The EIS examined the Northern Gateway project and rejected the Enbridge pipeline as a possibility for Alberta bitumen and crude because of the continuing controversy.
However, a reading of the report shows that there could be pressure in the future for a bitumen or crude export terminal at Kitimat that would be served by the existing CN rail line (even though the State Department report prefers Prince Rupert as the best choice as an alternative to Keystone).
Enbridge is proposing to construct the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would transport up to 525,000 bpd of crude oil 1,177 km from Bruderheim, Alberta, to the Port of Kitimat, British Columbia. The port would be improved with two dedicated ship berths and 14 storage tanks for crude oil and condensate. Enbridge intends for the pipeline to be operational around 2017. A regulatory application was submitted in 2010, which is undergoing an independent review process led by the Canadian National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. The pipeline would traverse First Nation traditional lands and important salmon habitat. The project has been controversial and has encountered opposition from some
First Nation bands and other organizations. Opposition to the project remains strong as evidenced by media reports of the January 2013 public hearings in Vancouver on the permit application. It remains uncertain at this time if the project would receive permits and be constructed, and therefore the option of moving additional crude to Kitimat was eliminated from detailed analysis.
The report goes on to say that Enbridge is moving the target for the Northern Gateway due the controversy and the longer than expected Joint Review Panel hearings
Enbridge is now stating in investor presentations that the Northern Gateway pipeline
(525,000 bpd expandable to 800,000 bpd) may be operational by “2017+”
However the State Department report does seriously consider transportation of WCSB crude by rail to Vancouver, Kitimat and Prince Rupert. The report takes an in-depth look at the railway to Prince Rupert option.
One reason is that even if it is transported by rail, the market in Asia is still more attractive to the energy industry than using Kitimat or Prince Rupert as a possible terminal for export to the US Gulf.
The transportation costs of shipping to Asia via the Canadian or U.S. West Coasts
would be significantly cheaper than trying to export it via the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The total per barrel cost of export to Asia via pipeline to the Canadian West Coast and onward on a tanker is less than just the estimated pipeline tariff to the U.S. Gulf Coast for the proposed Project, and is less than half the cost of the Gulf Coast route to Asia. If pipelines to the Canadian West coast are not expanded or approved, even incurring the additional cost of rail transport to the West Coast ports (Vancouver, Kitimat, or Prince Rupert), estimated at $6 per barrel, results in a total transport cost to Asia that is still 40 percent cheaper than going via the Gulf Coast Absent a complete block on crude oil exports from the Canadian West Coast, there would be little economic incentive to use the proposed project as a pass through. The high costs of onward transport to other potential destinations tend to mitigate against WCSB heavy/oil sands crudes being exported in volume from the Gulf Coast.
The EnSys 2011 study found that the rail systems of the United States and Canada were not at that time running at capacity, that there is significant scope to expand capacity on existing tracks through such measures as advanced signaling, and that adequate cross-border Canada/U.S. capacity exists to accommodate growth in rail traffic that would be associated with movements at the level of 100,000 bpd cross-border increase per year or appreciably higher. In addition, rail lines exist to ports on the British Columbia coasts (notably Prince Rupert, Kitimat, and Vancouver), which could be used for export of Western Canadian crudes.
And later in the report:
both of these proposed pipeline projects to Canada’s West Coast face significant
resistance and uncertainty, but there are strong cost advantages when compared with moving WCSB crude to the Gulf Coast even if rail were used to access the Canadian West Coast In fact, using rail and tanker to ship crude oil from the WCSB via the West Coast to China is comparable to the pipeline rate to reach the U.S. Gulf Coast. An increase in the transport costs to the Gulf Coast (utilizing alternative transport options such as rail) would have a tendency to increase the
economic incentive to utilize any West Coast export options, if they are available.
The report also notes the change in Canadian laws in the omnibus bills pushed through by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government:
Also not examined above, are more speculative political impacts that might occur as a result of a decision on the permit application for the proposed Project. In 2012, the Canadian government enacted new laws changing the way some major infrastructure projects, such as pipelines, are reviewed. Among the changes made were limits on the amount of time for such reviews. A declared intent was to promote alternative routes for the export of WCSB crude oils, especially
ones that would reduce reliance on the United States as, essentially, the sole market option.
In other words, even if Northern Gateway is stopped, there could be considerable pressure to export bitumen and crude oil from Alberta not only through Prince Rupert, the site preferred by the State Department EIS, but though Kitimat as well.
That might just open the door for David Black’s proposed $16 billion refinery at Onion Flats near Kitimat. As noted elsewhere on the site Black has possible investors for construction of a new oil refinery approximately 25 kilometers to the north of Kitimat BC on a 3,000 hectare site.
Black’s Kitimat Clean website says the refinery would process 550,000 barrels per day (87,445 cubic meters per day) of diluted bitumen from the oilsands region of Alberta delivered to the site by pipeline or by rail. The diluent will be extracted at the refinery and returned to Alberta if needed there. If not, it would be processed into gasoline. The bitumen will be converted into fuel products, primarily for export.
Black’s plans call for connecting the Northern Gateway bitumen Pipeline to the site. From the refinery six dedicated product pipelines will run to a marine terminal on the Douglas Channel. The Douglas Channel is a wide and deep fjord. VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier) tankers will transport the refined fuels to markets around the Pacific Rim.
If the Northern Gateway is stopped, Black’s plans call for 12 additional 120 car trains running through every day. (Six in each direction) Northwest Coast Energy News Special report links
The US State Department report on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project also looks at the Kinder Morgan Transmountain pipeline (both the existing line and the proposed second line) and, in at least one part of the report, seems to speculate that, once expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in 2014, there could be larger tankers in Vancouver harbour, something that up until now, both Kinder Morgan and Port Metro Vancouver have denied. However, the State Department report does not say how the port of Vancouver could handle larger tankers.
The State Department EIS says if larger tankers were loaded at Vancouver, it could be economic for crude from the Kinder Morgan Transmountain pipeline to be moved to the US Gulf Coast.
Using heavy crude as a basis, a present day movement via Trans Mountain to Vancouver and thence on a Panamax tanker via the Panama Canal to Houston would have a total freight cost (pipeline tariff plus tanker freight and Panama toll) of around $8.50-9.50/barrel (bbl).
Recognizing that Kinder Morgan plans to enable future shipment in larger Suezmax tankers, and that the Panama Canal Authority is expanding the Canal to take tankers of that size, the rate using a Suezmax would be approximately $1/bbl lower. These rates compare to approximately $8/bbl to move heavy crude via pipeline from Hardisty to Houston. Thus, while in normal markets, a tanker movement from Western Canada would be somewhat more costly than via pipeline, in a scenario where ability to move WCSB crudes by pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast were constrained, refiners in the U.S. Gulf Coast could opt for tanker transport.
According to the progress report the current Panama Canal has the capacity for ships that are 32.3 metres wide by 304.6 metres long, This will increase to 49 metres wide by 366 metres long.
Later in the report the State Department goes on to say that bitumen and crude could, as an alternative to Keystone, go to Vancouver:
Under this option, WCSB [Western Canada Sedminetary Basin] would be shipped by existing railways or new pipelines from the Hardisty region to Vancouver or Kitimat, British Columbia for shipment by marine transport through the expanded Panama Canal and delivery to Gulf Coast area refiners. This option considers moving up to 730,000 bpd of heavy crude to the Port of Vancouver and then to the marine docks at the Westridge marine terminal in Vancouver or the port in Kitimat. Under this option, crude oil could move either via rail or by a new pipeline from the Hardisty region.
Currently, Kinder Morgan is planning an expansion of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline originating at Edmonton, increasing its capacity from 300,000 bpd (current) to up to 890,000 bpd(planned for operations in 2017).
The Trans Mountain pipeline runs into Vancouver via the existing Burnaby terminal over to the Westridge dock for loading heavy crude onto vessels. The pipeline has sufficient commitment from shippers to proceed with engineering and permitting processes. Kinder Morgan indicates that the project would significantly increase tanker traffic from about 5 to 34 cargoes per month, or up to about 400 cargoes per year . The increased marine traffic is due to increased volume to be shipped, and lack of sufficient channel draft to load larger vessels.
The proposed expansion at Westridge Terminal is based on the loading of Aframax tankers, the same tankers currently being loaded at Westridge. Larger tankers are not permitted in the Vancouver harbour, and are not under consideration for the expansion. Proposed changes at the dock include new loading facilities, fire protection, vapour recovery, secondary containment, and emergency response equipment.
To connect the Burnaby Terminal with the Westridge Terminal, the proposed expansion includes two new, four-kilometre pipelines each with a diameter of 762 millimeters (30 inches). These two new delivery lines would provide product deliveries to tankers at two new dock berths, and provide the scheduling flexibility required for a marine operation.
The role of Port Metro Vancouver is to conduct a rigorous project review to ensure the safe movement of goods through the Port. Kinder Morgan has yet to submit a formal project proposal to Canada’s National Energy Board. If they do, and should approval be granted, the project would then undergo several other permitting processes, one of which is a Port Metro Vancouver Project Permit Review. Vancouver is a very low volume tanker port. Currently, there are about 100 crude oil and chemical tankers calling the port each year. If the Kinder Morgan project receives approval, that number could increase to approximately 400 tankers a year. Other well-run ports such as the Port of Rotterdam handles 8,206 tankers a year, while Singapore handle 22,280 tankers a year.
Will larger tankers be calling at Port Metro Vancouver as a result of the Kinder Morgan Proposal?
There are no plans to exceed the current maximum size of tankers calling at Port Metro Vancouver. Due to depth restrictions in the Burrard Inlet, the largest dimension of tanker that can be handled is the Aframax, a medium-sized tanker with a maximum capacity of 120,000 tonnes. Even then, these vessels can load to only around 80% of capacity due to draft restrictions.
The State Department EIS was cautious about the Kinder Morgan project and did not do the same deailed analysis as it did for Prince Rupert.
The substantial increase in tanker traffic from the proposed Kinder Morgan expansion has raised safety and environmental concerns. Moving additional volumes of crude oil from the proposed Project into the Vancouver market by either a new pipeline or rail would result in 400 or more additional vessels loading at Vancouver each year and would require considerably more storage to be built than the current Kinder Morgan operations. The expansion of storage capacity, potential rail off-loading facilities and logistics, and increased marine traffic may make this option logistically challenging in a relatively compressed and populated geographical area.
Moreover, even if a separate pipeline from Hardisty could be planned, mapped, engineered, designed, and permitted starting today, it would likely not be available as an option until well after the proposed [Keytsone] Project’s planned start date. As a result of the logistical challenges in increasing the amounts of heavy Canadian grades of crude oil coming into the Vancouver/Burnaby region over and above the volumes from the Kinder Morgan expansion, this option was deemed to be less viable than movements from Kitimat and Prince Rupert and was eliminated from detailed analysis.
It’s not clear from the Keystone EIS, if the State Department was simply speculating on larger tankers in Vancouver harbour or if it was made of aware of possible hopes for a deep water tanker port elsewhere in the Vancouver harbour area.
The State Department EIS goes on to note:
While no new additional pipeline capacity has been added from Canada into the United States or to the Canadian West Coast since the Final EIS in 2011, a number of projects are proposed, including this proposed Project. The 300,000 bpd Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline that runs from Edmonton to the British Columbia coast at Vancouver, with a spur to Washington State refineries, has been over-subscribed for some time. A successful open season led the Kinder Morgan to announce and file for expansion to 750,000 bpd by potentially 2017. After a
second open season, Kinder Morgan has increased the expansion to 890,000 bpd. The bulk of the incremental crude moved on the line would potentially be destined for Asia. The review process for this project is continuing, but there is significant opposition based on concerns over environmental impacts associated with the oil sands and with additional tanker movements in the Port Vancouver harbor.
As noted above, both of these proposed pipeline projects to Canada’s West Coast face significant resistance and uncertainty, but there are strong cost advantages when compared with moving WCSB crude to the Gulf Coast even if rail were used to access the Canadian West Coast... In fact, using rail and tanker to ship crude oil from the WCSB via the West Coast to China is comparable to the pipeline rate to reach the U.S. Gulf Coast. An increase in the transport costs to the Gulf Coast (utilizing alternative transport options such as rail) would have a tendency to increase the economic incentive to utilize any West Coast export options, if they are available.
There have always been commentators who believe that if the Northern Gateway Pipeline is rejected by the Joint Review Panel or stopped by other means, that the bitumen from Alberta should be carried by rail to Prince Rupert.
A pipeline to Prince Rupert has already been rejected by Enbridge as impractical given the mountainous terrain and the narrow footprint along the Skeena River from Terrace to Prince Rupert.
That means taking bitumen by rail to Prince Rupert has not been seriously studied—until now.
That’s because under its mandate the State Department had to consider alternatives to Keystone. The detailed look at carrying crude to the west coast is contained in the “No Action Alternatives” section of the Keystone report (that is telling President Barack Obama what might happen if he takes no action on Keystone)
The EIS took a brief look at the possibilities of rail to Kitmat, but concentrates mostly on Prince Rupert.
As for sending bitumen to the Gulf,via rail and tanker, the Keystone report concludes, as have most analysts that even if bitumen was shipped by rail to Prince Rupert, it would be cheaper to send it to markets in Asia than through the Panama Canal to the US Gulf Coast.
If pipelines to the Canadian West coast are not expanded or approved, even incurring the additional cost of rail transport to the West Coast ports (Vancouver, Kitimat, or Prince Rupert), estimated at $6 per barrel, results in a total transport cost to Asia that is still 40 percent cheaper than going via the Gulf Coast.
Absent a complete block on crude oil exports from the Canadian West Coast, there would belittle economic incentive to use the proposed project as a pass through. The high costs of onward transport to other potential destinations tend to mitigate against WCSB [Western Canada Sedimentary Basin] heavy/oil sands crudes being exported in volume from the Gulf Coast.
As an alternative to Keystone, the State Department examined a scenario where bitumen and possibly Bakken shale crude oil would be:
• Loaded onto rail in Lloydminster and transported to Prince Rupert, British Columbia;
• Transferred to a new/expanded marine terminal at Prince Rupert; and
• Shipped via Suezmax vessels to the Gulf Coast area (Houston/Port Arthur) through the Panama Canal.
If the tanker cars are hauling bitumen, they would be actually loading “railbit” which the report says is “similar to dilbit but with less diluent added” (Dilbit is the standard diluted bitumen in pipelines) There is also, according to the EIS, a possibility that the tank cars would carry raw bitumen without dilutent (although this requires insulated rail cars with steam coils)
New facilities in Prince Rupert would consist of a large rail terminal complex, most likely on themainland, where off-loaded crude oil would be stored until it could be loaded onto tankers, and an expanded port. The entire facility would cover 4,700 acres (1,900 hectares), including 3,500 acres (1,400 hectares) for storage and off-loading/on-loading facilities at the rail terminal and approximately 1,200 acres (487 hectares) of land at the expanded port.
The new tank terminal construction would consist of the following:
• Fourteen petroleum storage tanks (11 oil and three condensate);
• A security fence to encompass the tank terminal;
• A 180-foot-wide (55 metre) firebreak area around the outside perimeter of the terminal;
• Electrical supply and distribution (this terminal would be serviced by the Texada Island
Reactor substation); and
• Buildings (control center and civil infrastructure including roads).
The scenario calls for adding approximately 13 trains with 100 tanker cars per day on the 1,100 miles (1,770 kilometres) of CN and Canadian Pacific rail lines between Lloydminster and Prince Rupert.
(On the other hand, media mogul David Black who has proposed a refinery at Onion Flats half way between Kitimat and Terrace is considering a rail link to Kitimat if the Northern Gateway pipeline is stopped. Black estimates there would be six trains per day, 120 cars in each direction. While there is usually only one train a day to Kitimat or less, that idea would increase traffic along the Skeena and in his news release Black says
If BC remains set against a pipeline the oil will come to the refinery by rail. CN and the oil companies are keen on this. A great deal of crude in North America is being moved by rail now. The costs are not that different in this case and no permits are required. Rail tankering is, however, not as safe and it is more disruptive. Small towns along the route with level crossings would rue having 12 more trains running through every day.
The State Department scenario says that if the Prince Rupert option actually happened there would be “one to two additional Suezmax tanker vessels per day (430 tankers per year) would travel between Prince Rupert and the Gulf Coast area refinery ports via the Panama Canal.”
The concept of the Suezmax tankers is critical to the west coast, even if none of the scenarios eventually happen, because the State Department report notes that the Panama Canal is now being expanded, so that larger ships, including tankers, can go through the canal after 2014.
The current size is Panamax (maximum size for the current Panama Canal) to Suezmax (the maximum size for the Suez Canal), and, according to the State Department that means even if the even bigger Very Large Crude Carriers are not calling at west coast ports, the newer, larger Suezmax tankers may be.
It should be noted, however, that if WCSB crude oil reaches a Pacific port, regardless of whether by rail or by pipeline, the economics for movement via tanker would favor shipping the oil to Asia rather than the Gulf Coast area. The cost of transporting crude oil via tanker from Prince Rupert to Houston and Port Arthur is estimated to be approximately $4.70/bbl, whereas the transport cost via tanker from Prince Rupert to refinery ports in Asia (e.g., Ulsan, South Korea and Dalian, China), is estimated to be only approximately $1.70 and $2.00/bbl, respectively. The lower transport cost to Asia versus the Gulf Coast area is attributable to shorter trip duration (30 to 37 days to Asia versus about 45 days to the Gulf Coast area), avoiding the Panama Canal toll(about $0.70/bbl), and being able to use a larger tanker because it would not be constrained by the Panama Canal (a VLCC tanker to China would have a capacity of almost 2 million bbl versus a Suezmax tanker to the Gulf Coast area with a capacity of about 884,000 bbl).
So what would happen if there was a scheme to truck bitumen and crude to Prince Rupert and ship via the Panama Canal to the Gulf?
The State Department EIS says:
the transport of the crude oil via tankers from Prince Rupert to the Gulf Coast area refineries would not have any effects on geology, soils, groundwater, wetlands, vegetation, land use, socioeconomics, noise, or cultural resources, other than in the event of a spill.
It goes on to note:
The Gulf Coast area refineries already receive crude oil shipments via tankers from Mexico, Venezuela, and other locations; the Rail/Tanker Scenario is expected to simply displace these sources of crude oil with WCSB crude oil. Therefore, no new construction or new operational impacts are expected to occur as a result of this scenario at the Gulf Coast area refineries or surrounding habitats or communities.
In its study of a possible expanded Prince Rupert terminal that would welcome tankers, the State Department says:
The proposed Northern Gateway terminal at Kitimat, British Columbia was used as a surrogateto estimate the marine facilities needed at Prince Rupert. The Northern Gateway facility isdesigned to handle about 525,000 bpd of crude delivered by pipeline for loading on vessels to theWest Coast and Asia. In addition, it is designed to receive about 193,000 bpd of diluent (a verylight oil obtained from natural gas production) from cargoes arriving by water and discharging into storage at the terminal and moving back to Alberta via a parallel pipeline. The total volumeof about 718,000 bpd approximates the volume of WCSB heavy crude oil that would be loaded at Prince Rupert.
More Details: Northwest Coast Energy News Special report links
Here are edited portions of the EIS assessment for a major oil terminal at Prince Rupert
The EIS says “the local surface geology at the Prince Rupert site consists of bedrock (granitic rocks) overlain by glacial outwash and a thin soil cover.” and goes on to note that “Prince Rupert is located along the coastal region of Canada, which is seismically active.”
At Prince Rupert, depth to bedrock is expected to be relatively shallow, so rock ripping and some blasting could be necessary. The impacts of rock ripping and blasting are limited to the immediate area and would not result in any significant impacts to the underlying or nearby geology. Excavation activities, erosion of fossil beds exposed due to grading, and unauthorized collection can damage or destroy paleontological resources during construction.
(The report notes that The potential for finding paleontological resources in the areas that would be disturbed is unknown. But the area of the coast has been heavily metamorphisized and most fossils, so far, have been found further inland, largely along the Copper River near Terrace)
In terms of geologic hazards, the Prince Rupert terminals would be located along the coastal region of Canada, which is seismically active. In addition, the presence of steep slopes increases the risk of landslides and the port’s coastal location increases the risk of flooding…. The Prince Rupert rail terminals and port facilities would be designed to withstand potential seismic hazards and flooding…
Construction of the proposed terminals and port expansion in Prince Rupert would result in the disturbance of approximately 3,500 acres (1,400 hectares) of land for the construction of the rail terminal complex and approximately 1,200 acres (487 hectares) for the expansion of the port. Potential impacts to the soils resources of the area could result from vegetation clearance, landscape grading, and recontouring to ensure proper drainage, the installation of storm water drainage systems, construction of the required infrastructure, and other construction activities.
One of the primary concerns during construction activities is soil erosion and sedimentation.
Potential impacts to soils from erosion are expected to occur in areas where the slopes are greater than 20 per cent and where the erosion potential due to their nature is high. Based on available landscape and soils information, the soils found in the area are not highly erodible and the required infrastructure would be located in areas that are relatively flat. Therefore, the impact of the proposed terminal complex and port construction activities on soil erosion would be minor.
Groundwater Environmental Setting
The Prince Rupert Terminals and port expansion would occur in British Columbia on Kaien Island, which receives about 102 inches of rainfall per year. The terminals would be located on an inlet that is part of the eastern Pacific Ocean on the Venn Passage near the much larger Inland Passage, which extends from Washington State to Alaska along the islands and mainland of British Columbia, Canada. Venn and Inland Passages are marine (salt water) waterbodies. The islands consist of bedrock (granitic rocks) overlain by glacial outwash and a thin soil cover.
Groundwater is shallow, poor quality, and unused. Drinking water is derived from lakes on the mainland. Water quality in the terminal complex area is seawater and inland brackish.
During construction of the facilities at Prince Rupert, the primary potential impacts to groundwater would be spills or leaks from construction equipment. Mitigation for these impacts includes having in place appropriate plans in place and appropriate cleanup materials available.
During operations of the facilities at Prince Rupert, the primary potential impacts to groundwater would again most likely be spills or leaks from operation equipment or associated with crude oil unloading of railcars. Although the initial impacts of potential releases or spills may be contained or limited to soil, potential impacts to groundwater may occur depending on the depth to groundwater, soil characteristics (e.g., porosity, permeability), spill volume and extent, and whether the spill reaches surface water bodies, some of which are interconnected to groundwater.
Surface Water Environmental Setting
The upland character surrounding the potential Prince Rupert terminal area is dominated by bog forest uplands and the flowing surface water bodies are predominantly precipitation- and shallow groundwater-fed intermittent streams. Some open waterbodies are present in the southeast portion of Kaien Island. Tidal shore zones are of a rugged and rocky nature and receive wave energy generated by naturally occurring fetch and large wakes from marine traffic. Winter winds are strong and from the southeast to southwest, with surface currents predominantly northward from the Hecate Strait. Lighter summer winds have less influence on currents and allow freshwater runoff from land and deep water tidal effects to exert more control and provide variation in summer current patterns. Significant wind and tidal mixing tend to occur where waters are shallow and around islands and rocky points of land. The coastal landscape is predominantly fjords carved into the granitic Coast Mountains, created by the last of several glacial periods approximately 12,000 years ago. Shores tend to be rocky and steep with beaches restricted to sheltered areas adjacent to estuaries and the navigable straits and channels provide a wide variety of exposures and habitats.
Construction of the facilities at Prince Rupert would disturb approximately 4,700 acres. The primary potential impacts to surface waters include erosion and sedimentation and spills/leaks of hazardous materials. Mitigation for these impacts includes having in place appropriate SPCC plans in place and appropriate cleanup materials available.
During operations, the primary potential impacts to surface waters include storm water runoff, spills, or leaks from operation equipment or associated with crude oil unloading of railcars.
Provision of storm water management measures would mitigate the impacts of stormwater runoff.
Terrestrial Vegetation Environmental Setting
The Prince Rupert terminals and port facilities would be located in the Coastal Gap Level III Ecoregion. The vegetation immediately adjacent to the Pacific Ocean includes stunted, opengrowing western red cedar, yellow cedar, and western hemlock with some stunted shore pine and Sitka spruce . There are also open areas present within the affected areas. It is unclear if biologically unique landscapes or vegetation communities of concern exist within the proposed Prince Rupert terminal complex boundary.
The proposed rail terminal complex and port facilities at Prince Rupert would require the clearing of up to 4,700 acres of natural vegetation, most of which is forested based on aerial photo interpretation. There does not appear to be any biologically unique landscapes or communities of conservation concern within the terminal complex boundary. Nearly all of these impacts would be permanent as natural habitats are converted for use as rail terminals and port facilities.
Wildlife Environmental Setting
Many wildlife species use this coastal area for hunting, foraging, roosting, breeding, and nesting (Tourism Prince Rupert 2012). Wildlife characteristic of this ecoregion include grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis), black bear (Ursus americanus), mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus), black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus
columbianus), wolf (Canis lupus), moose (Alces alces), mink (Mustela sp.), bald eagle
(Haliaeetus leucocephalus), seabirds, shorebirds, waterfowl, and grouse (Tetraoninae)
The Prince Rupert terminal complex would be located in the Northern Pacific Rainforest(Region 5) bird conservation region, which is an ecologically distinct region in North America…
The coast of the Northern Pacific Rainforest is characterized by river deltas
and pockets of estuarine and freshwater wetlands set within steep, rocky shorelines. These wetlands provide critical nesting, wintering, and migration habitat for internationally significant populations of waterfowl and other wetland-dependent species. The area includes major stopover sites for migrating shorebirds, especially western sandpipers (Calidris mauri) and dunlins (Calidris alpina). Black oystercatchers (Haematopus bachmani), rock sandpipers (Calidris
ptilocnemis), black turnstones (Arenaria melanocephala), and surfbirds (Aphriza virgata) are common wintering species. Nearshore marine areas support many nesting and wintering sea ducks. Many seabirds breed on offshore islands, including important populations of ancient murrelet (Synthliboramphus antiquus), rhinoceros auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata), tufted puffin (Fratercula cirrhata), common murre (Uria aalge), western gull (Larus occidentalis), glaucouswinged gull (Larus glaucescens), and Leach’s storm-petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa). Pelagic
waters provide habitat for large numbers of shearwaters (Calonectris spp. and Puffinus spp.), storm-petrels (Hydrobatidae), and black-footed albatross (Phoebastria nigripes)
Direct impacts could occur due to vegetation removal or conversion, obstructions to movement patterns, or the removal of native habitats that may be used for foraging, nesting, roosting, or other wildlife uses (Barber et al. 2010). Indirect impacts to wildlife are difficult to quantify and are dependent on the sensitivity of the species, individual, type and timing of activity, physical parameters (e.g., cover, climate, and topography), and seasonal use patterns of the species (Berger 2004). Most of these impacts would be essentially permanent.
Fisheries Environmental Setting
Prince Rupert is an important deepwater port and transportation hub of the northern coast of British Columbia. It is located on the northwest shore of Kaien Island, which is connected to the mainland by a short bridge. The town of Prince Rupert is just north of the mouth of the Skeena River, a major salmon-producing river. Key commercial fisheries include Pacific salmon, halibut, herring, and groundfish, which are processed from Prince Rupert.
Prince Rupert area supports a high density of streams and rivers that host an array of valuable recreational fisheries for salmon, steelhead (anadromous rainbow trout), rainbow trout, lake trout, cutthroat trout, char, Arctic grayling, and northern pike .
New impacts to commercial and recreational fisheries’ habitats from the construction and operation of the facilities in Prince Rupert could include marine intertidal zones as well as fish spawning zones (e.g., herring), if present. There would likely be short-term impacts to the benthic (bottom dwelling) community during construction of the berths and mooring facilities. Bottom-dwelling
fish (i.e., halibut, flounder, and rockfish) and marine invertebrates (i.e., clams, mussels, crabs, and other bivalves and crustaceans) could potentially be impacted during construction as well, but these affects are expected to be minor and temporary or short-term in duration.
Additional shipping traffic would increase underwater sound because large vessels, including tankers, put out relatively high noise levels. Fish and other aquatic organisms (including invertebrates and marine mammals) use sound as a means of communication and detection within the marine acoustic environment. Increased shipping traffic could mask natural sounds by increasing the ambient noise environment from Prince Rupert Harbor and along the marine route to the Gulf Coast area. Long-lasting sounds, such as those caused by continuous ship operation, can cause a general increase in background noise and there is a risk that such sounds, while not causing immediate injury, could mask biologically important sounds, cause hearing loss in affected organisms, and/or have an impact on stress levels and on the immune systems of aquatic species.
Exotic and invasive species are sometimes transferred in the ballast water of tanker ships.
Monitoring and controls would need to be implemented to treat ballast water discharged into Prince Rupert Harbor such that invasive or exotic species would not be released into the marine environment.
Threatened and Endangered Species
This section focuses on animal and plant species present in the Prince Rupert area that are Canada SARA protected. As a coastal area along the Pacific Migratory Bird Route, and an area that receives a lot of precipitation and is heavily forested, many wildlife species inhabit the area, as discussed in Section 18.104.22.168, Wildlife. According to the British Columbia (B.C.) Conservation Data Centre (2012), only one SARA threatened/endangered species is known to occur in Prince Rupert—the green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris), a Pacific Ocean inhabitant. In addition, several SARA special concern species occur in Prince Rupert, including western toad (Anaxyrus boreas), coastal tailed frog (Ascaphus truei), North American racer (Coluber constrictor), grey whale (Eschrichtius robustus), and Stellar sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus)
The green sturgeon is typically found along nearshore marine waters, but is also commonly observed in bays and estuaries. The expansion of the proposed port facility could have minor adverse effects on the green sturgeon, but the sturgeon could readily avoid the port area.
Increased shipping traffic at Prince Rupert and as the vessels transit to the Gulf Coast area refineries may affect the feeding success of marine mammals (including threatened and endangered species) through disturbance, because the noise generated by tankers could reduce the effectiveness of echolocation used by marine mammals to forage for food. Whales use underwater vocalizations to communicate between individuals while hunting and while engaged in other behaviors. Increased underwater noise from additional shipping traffic could disrupt these vocalizations and alter the behavior of pods of whales. Moreover, additional boat and
tanker traffic could also increase the potential for collisions between marine mammals and shipping vessels. These effects would be additive in nature and could potentially add to existing disturbance effects and collision risks caused by the current level of shipping traffic, commercial and recreational fishing, and cruise ship passage.
Land Use, Recreation, and Visual Resources Environmental Setting
Land use, recreation, and visual resources for the Prince Rupert area where the new terminals and expanded port facilities would be built differ sharply from the other terminal sites. Prince Rupert is located on an inlet of the Pacific Ocean in a heavily forested area of British Columbia.
Urban land use is generally limited to the communities in and around the city of Prince Rupert, with some small outlying communities and villages in the area. Given Prince Rupert’s role as a terminus of the Alaska Ferry System, many people see the port and surrounding areas in a recreational context. The area is largely undeveloped and would be sensitive to changes in the visual landscape.
If constructed on previously undeveloped land, the new facilities would primarily impact mixed forest… The construction and operational impacts on land use, recreation, and visual resources at the Lloydminster, Epping, and Stroud terminal complex sites and along the Cushing pipeline route would be the same as for the Rail/Pipeline Scenario.
Socioeconomics Environmental Setting
Construction and operations activities are not expected to have a significant effect on population and housing for this scenario. Because construction and operations job estimates have not yet been determined for this scenario, worker requirements for Prince Rupert, Lloydminster, and Epping are assumed to be minor..additional temporary housing could be needed in Prince Rupert… Prince Rupert only has about 740 hotel/motel rooms
Local Economic Activity
Tanker infrastructure and operations would be affected as ships transport crude oil from Prince Rupert through the Panama Canal to Texas ports near Houston.
Direct construction expenditures for facilities at Prince Rupert would be approximately $700 million, with approximately 1,400 annual construction jobs, based on the cost estimates of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway marine terminal in Kitimat
Despite the large population of First Nations people in the Prince Rupert area, Canada does not have a similar definition to minorities as the Keystone report applied under US law and so it notes “Impacts to minority and low-income populations during construction and would be similar to those described for the proposed [Keystone] Project and could possibly result in increased competition for medical or health services in underserved populations. Canada does not define HPSA and MUA/P, so it is unknown whether or not the minority populations in Prince Rupert or Lloydminster exist in a medically underserved area.
Tax Revenues and Property Values
It says construction of a new terminal Prince Rupert would generate provincial sales taxes, goods and services taxes, and hotel taxes. Construction of the tank and marine terminals at Prince Rupert…would involve large numbers of road trips by heavy trucks to transport construction materials and equipment to and from the sites. Construction in Prince Rupert could also potentially involve vessel deliveries of material. This traffic could cause congestion on major roadways, and would likely require temporary traffic management solutions such as police escorts for oversize vehicles.
Despite the rich heritage of First Nations in the Prince Rupert area, the Keystone alternative study reported;
No cultural resources studies have been conducted for the Prince Rupert area. Review of aerial photographs shows that a small portion of the area that could potentially be developed has already been disturbed by development, including port facilities, structures, and roads. This preliminary review shows that most of the area appears undeveloped and would have the potential for intact buried cultural resources.
The report notes that “Any ground disturbance, especially of previously undisturbed ground, could potentially directly impact cultural resources.”
It goes on to note that the potential to
include intact buried cultural resources would require evaluation through research and cultural resources surveys. If cultural resources were identified, follow-up studies could be required. In general terms, the archaeological potential of heavily disturbed areas, such as might be found in active rail yards or within developed transportation corridors, is normally lower than in undisturbed areas.
Archaeological potential is also contingent upon factors such as access to water, soil type, and topography, and would have to be evaluated for each area to be disturbed. Aboveground facilities have the potential to indirectly impact cultural resources from which they may be visible or audible. The potential for increased rail traffic to contribute to indirect impacts would require consideration.
Air and Noise
The report also summarizes the possible green house gas emissions for the rail and tanker project as whole from Prince Rupert to the Gulf Coast refineres and notes that overall
On an aggregate basis, criteria pollutant emissions, direct and indirect GHG emissions, and noise levels during the operation phase for this scenario would be significantly higher than that of the proposed [Keystone XL] Project mainly due to the increased regular operation of railcars, tankers, and new rail and marine terminals.
The rail cars and tankers transporting the crudes would consume large amounts of diesel fuel and fuel oil each day….The criteria pollutant emissions would
vary by transportation segment, particularly during marine-based transit. Oil tankers traveling from the Prince Rupert marine terminal through the Panama Canal to Houston/Port Arthur pass through several different operational zones, including reduced speed zones leading into and out of the ports, North American Emission Control Areas where the use of low-sulfur marine fuel is mandated, and offshore areas where the tankers travel at cruise speeds.
During the return trip, tankers are filled with seawater (ballast) to achieve buoyancy necessary for proper operation, which affects the transit speeds of the vessel. Furthermore, the tankers spend several days loading or unloading cargo at each marine terminal with auxiliary engines running (an activity called hoteling). The tanker emissions accounted for return trips (i.e., both loaded cargo going south and unloaded cargo going north).
In aggregate, the total operational emissions (tons) estimated over the life of the project (50 years) are several times greater than those associated with the combined construction and operation of the proposed Keyston XL Project
Direct emissions of GHGs would occur during the construction and operation of the Rail/Tanker Scenario. GHGs would be emitted during the construction phase from several sources or activities, such as clearing and open burning of vegetation during site preparation, operation of on-road vehicles transporting construction materials, and operation of construction equipment for the new pipeline, rail segments, multiple rail and marine terminals, and fuel storage tanks.
Due to limited activity data, GHG emissions from construction of the Rail/Tanker Scenario were not quantified; however, these emissions would occur over a short-term and temporary period, so construction GHG impacts are expected to be comparable to the proposed [Keystone XL] Project.
During operation of the railcars and tankers that comprise this scenario, GHGs would be emitted directly from the combustion of diesel fuel in railcars traveling over 4,800 miles (7,725 km) and fuel oil in marine tankers traveling over 13,600 miles (21,887 km) round-trip.
The Rail/Tanker Scenario would also result in indirect emissions of GHGs due to the operation of 16 new rail terminals, an expanded port, and potential pumping stations. The new rail terminal in Prince Rupert would be projected to require 5 MW of electric power to operate, possibly bring indirect GHG emissions
Noise would be generated during the construction and operation of the Rail/Tanker Scenario. Noise would be generated during the construction phase from the use of heavy construction equipment and vehicles for the new pipeline, rail segments, and multiple rail and marine terminals, and fuel storage tanks. Due to limited activity/design data, noise levels from the construction of this scenario were not quantified; however, this noise would occur over a short term and temporary period, so construction noise impacts are expected to be comparable to those
of the proposed Project. During operation of the railcars and tanker ships that comprise this scenario, noise would be generated from the locomotives, movement of freight cars and wheels making contact with the rails as the train passes, train horns, warning bells (crossing signals) at street crossings, and tanker engines during hoteling and maneuverings at the new rail and marine terminals in Prince Rupert.
(Noise from ocean going vessels which is a concern for coastal First Nations and environmental groups is covered later on impact on wildlife)
Climate Change Effects on the Scenario Environmental Setting
The Keystone study looks at the affects of climate change, but concentrates largely on the Gulf Coast beause the most of the Rail/Tanker Scenario was outside of the boundaries of the study, but it does note that the sea levels are projected to rise due to glacial melting and thermal expansion of the water. The rate, total increase, and likelihood of the rise is in part dependent on how rapid the ice sheets warm and is a source of ongoing scientific uncertainty.
The United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) estimates that sea level rise could be between 3 to 4 feet by the end of the century.
Increasing sea level projected due to climate changes as described above shifts the impact of mean high tide, storm surge, and saltwater intrusion to occur further inland and this would negatively affect reliable operation of the port infrastrucure for tanker traffic. Mitigation of these climate effects could be addressed by making engineering and operational changes at the port.
Potential Risk and Safety Environmental Setting
The Rail/Tanker Option would combine the risk inherent in both pipeline and oil tanker
transport. However, the risks and consequences for using oil tankers to transport the hazardous materials are potentially greater than the proposed Project. Overall, crude oil transportation via oil tankers has historically had a higher safety incident rate than pipelines for fire/explosion, injuries, and deaths.
Spills have been reported while the vessel is loading, unloading, bunkering, or engaged in other operations
The main causes of oil tanker spills are the following:
• Collisions: impact of the vessel with objects at sea, including other vessels (allision);
• Equipment failure: vessel system component fault or malfunction that originated the release of crude oil;
• Fires and explosions: combustion of the flammable cargo transported onboard;
• Groundings: running ashore of the vessel; and
• Hull failures: loss of mechanical integrity of the external shell of the vessel.
From 1970 to 2011, historical data shows that collisions and groundings were the maincauses of oil tanker spills worldwide.
Loading and unloading of the railcars at tank farms near seaports could allow spills to migrate and impact seawaters and shorelines.
However, the loading and unloading are generally carried out under supervision and would be addressed promptly by the operators, limiting the potential migration and impacts of the spill to the immediate area.
Once the tanker is loaded and at sea, the propagation and impacts of a spill could become significant. Oil tankers may carry up to 2,000,000 bbl of oil
A release of oil at sea would be influenced by wind, waves, and current. Depending on the volume of the release, the spreading of oil on the surface could impact many square miles of ocean and oil birds, fish, whales, and other mammals and could eventually impact shorelines. Oil would also mix with particulates in sea water and degrade. As this occurs some oil will begin to sink and either be retained in the water column (pelagic) or settle to the ocean floor (sessile).
Pelagic oil could be consumed by fish or oil fauna passing though the submerged oil. Sessile oil could mix with bottom sediment and potentially consumed by bottom feeding fauna. Spills in ports-of-call could affect receptors similar to an open ocean release but also could temporarily affect vessel traffic and close ports for cleanup activities.
The identification of key receptors along the rail route alternative was not available for this evaluation. Therefore a comparison to the proposed project was not completed.
The Lloydminster to Prince Rupert portion of this route would begin in the western plains at the Saskatchewan/British Columbia border and travel west through an area of high-relief mountains with large valleys, referred to as the Cordillera region. From a water resource perspective, the plains region of Canada is characterized by relatively large rivers with low gradients. The plains rivers drain the Rocky Mountains to the Arctic Ocean. The Cordillera region is largely composed of northwest-southwest trending mountain ranges that intercept large volumes of Pacific
moisture traveling from the west towards the east. River systems in this region are supplied by a combination of seasonal rainfall, permanent snowfields, and glaciers.
The following are larger rivers crossed by the existing rail lines between Lloydminster and Prince Rupert:
• North Saskatchewan River, Alberta
• Pembina River, Alberta
• McLeod River, Alberta
• Fraser River, British Columbia
• Nechako River, British Columbia
• Skeena River, British Columbia
Spills within wetlands would most likely be localized, unless they were to occur in open, flowing water conditions such as a river or in the ocean. A crude oil spill in a wetland could affect vegetation, soils, and hydrology. The magnitude of impact would depend on numerous factors including but not limited to the volume of spill, location of spill, wetland type (i.e., tidal versus wet meadow wetland), time of year, and spill response effectiveness. The construction of additional passing lanes to accommodate increased train traffic resulting from this scenario could
result in permanent impacts to wetlands if passing lanes were constructed where wetlands occur.
However, as there is some leeway regarding the exact location of the passing lanes, it is expected that wetlands would be avoided by design.
The Rail/Tanker Scenario railroad route would cross numerous major streams and rivers in Canada, many of which support anadromous fish species such as salmon.
Anadromous species are those that spawn and rear in freshwater but migrate to the ocean at a certain size and age. Pacific salmon are large anadromous fish that support valuable commercial and recreational fisheries. Commercial fisheries for salmon occur in marine water and most recreational fishing for salmon occurs in freshwater. Salmon eggs are vulnerable to the effects of fine sediment deposition because female salmon deposit their eggs in stream bed gravels.
Despite this vulnerability, the overland railway route is not expected to present any new impacts to salmon unless there is a spill into its habitat, although the risk of spills does increase under this scenario due to the increase in the number of trains that would use the route.
Potential new impacts under the Rail/Tanker Scenario on commercially or recreationally significant fisheries along the route would be minor because the railroads that would be used are already built and in operation. However, the risk of an oil spill or release of oil or other materials still exists. The tanker portion of this route scenario is also subject to oil spill risk.
Threatened and Endangered Species
The rail route would cross over the Rocky Mountain region of western Alberta, which is inhabited by species such as the woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus) (a SARA threatened species) and grizzly bear (a SARA special concern species). This region of British Columbia is home to a number of SARA threatened/endangered species, including the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus anatum) (SARA threatened), salish sucker (Catostomus sp.) (SARA endangered), white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) (SARA endangered), caribou (southern mountain population) (SARA threatened), northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis laingi) (SARA threatened), and Haller’s apple moss (Bartramia halleriana) (SARA threatened).
A number of additional SARA special concern species inhabit the regions of Canada that would be traversed by the Rail/Tanker Scenario, including but not limited to those special concern species expected to occur in the Prince Rupert region, and discussed above (B.C. Conservation Centre 2012).
TransCanada plans a rugged over-mountain route for its proposed Coastal Gaslink pipeline to the Shell Canada liquified natural gas project in Kitimat, BC, company officials said Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, in two presentations, one to District of Kitimat Council and a second at a community town hall briefing.
Rick Gateman, President of Coastal GasLink Project, a wholly owned TransCanada subsidiary told council that the project is now at a “conceptual route” stage because TransCanada can’t proceed to actual planning until it has done more detailed survey work and community consultations.
At the same council meeting, documents from Shell Canada notified the District that it has formally applied to the National Energy Board for an export licence for the natural gas.
Gateman told council that since the pipeline itself will be completely within the province of British Columbia, it comes under the jurisdiction of the British Columbia Environmental Assessment process and the BC Oil and Gas Commission and that the NEB will not be involved in approving the pipeline itself.
At first, the Coastal Gas Link pipeline would be connected to the existing Nova Gas Transmission system now used (and being expanded) in northeastern British Columbia.
From Vanderhoof, BC to west of Burns Lake, the Coastal GasLink pipeline would be somewhat adjacent to existing pipelines and the route of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway bitumen pipeline and the proposed Pacific Trails natural gas pipeline.
Somewhat south of Houston, however, the pipeline takes a different route from the either the Northern Gateway or Pacific Trails Pipeline, going southwest, avoiding the controversial Mount Nimbus route.
Howard Backus, an engineering manager with TransCanada told council that the route changes so that Coastal GasLink can avoid “congestion” in the rugged mountain region.
Backus said that the Pacific Trails Pipeline for Apache and its partners in the Kitimat LNG project “is skirting” Nimbus while Enbridge plans to tunnel through the mountain. That tunnel is one of the most controversial aspects to the Northern Gateway project. The local environmental group Douglas Channel Watch has repeatedly warned of the dangers of avalanche and geological instability in the area where the Northern Gateway pipeline emerges from the tunnel. Enbridge has challenged Douglas Channel Watch’s conclusions in papers filed with the Northern Gateway Joint Review panel.
Under TransCanada’s conceptual route, the pipeline heads southwest and then climbs into the mountains, crossing what Backus calls “a saddle” (not a pass) near the headwaters of the Kitimat River. The pipeline then comes down paralleling Hircsh Creek, emerging close to town, crossing the Kitimat River and terminating at the old Methanex plant where Shell plans its liquified natural gas plant. (That means that if the conceptual plans go ahead, the TransCanada pipeline would climb into the mountains, while Pacific Trails finds a way around and Enbridge tunnels).
Backus told council that going north “created more issues,” but did not elaborate.
Backus assured people at the town hall that energy companies have a lot of experience in building pipelines in mountainous areas, including the Andes in South America.
Asked by a local businessman at the town hall if it was possible to build a road along the route of the pipeline, Backus said the mountain areas would be too steep. Any pipeline maintenance would have to be done by tracked vehicle, he said.
Gateman told council that the pipeline would be buried along its entire route. If Shell increases the capacity of its LNG facility in Kitimat, the Coastal Gaslink pipeline could increase to 3.4 billion cubic feet a day or perhaps even more. For the initial capacity, the company will have one compressor station at the eastern end of the line. If capacity increases or if the route requires it, there could be as many as five additional compressor stations. (TransCanada’s long term planning is based on the idea that Shell will soon be adding natural gas from the rich Horn River Formation also in northeastern BC to the Kitimat export terminal.)
TransCanada will begin its field work, including route and environmental planning and “community engagement” in 2013 and file for regulatory approval in 2014. Once the project is approved, construction would begin in 2015.
Gateman said that TransCanada is consulting landowners along the proposed right of way and “on a wide area on either side.” The company also is consulting 30 First Nations along the proposed route. Gateman told council, “We probably have the most experience of any number of companies in working directly with and engaging directly with First Nations because of our pipelines across Canada.”
(Despite Gateman’s statement, the TransCanada maps showed that the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline would cross Wet’suwet’en traditional territory and officials seemed to be unaware of the ongoing problems between Apache and the Pacific Trails Pipeline and some Wet’suwet’en Houses who oppose that pipeline).
Gateman told council that the pipeline would be designed to last at least 60 years. He said that in the final test stages, the pipeline would be pressured “beyond capacity” using water rather than natural gas to try and find if any leaks developed during construction.
He said that the company would restore land disrupted by the construction of the pipeline, but noted that it would only restore “low-level vegetation.” Trees are not permitted too close to the pipeline for safety reasons.
TransCanada made the usual promises the region has heard from other companies of jobs, opportunities for local business and wide consultations. (TransCanada may have learned lessons from the botched public relations by the Enbridge Northern Gateway. A number of Kitimat residents have told Northwest Coast Energy News that TransCanada was polling in the region in mid-summer, with callers asking many specific questions about environment and the spinoffs for communities).
Councillor Phil Germuth questioned Gateman about the differences between a natural gas pipeline and a petroleum pipeline. Gateman replied that the pipelines are pretty much the same with the exception that a natural gas pipeline uses compressor stations while a petroleum pipeline uses pumping stations. Gateman did note that the original part of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would carry bitumen through Alberta and US mountain states to Texas was a natural gas pipeline converted to carry the heavier hydrocarbons.
Although the natural gas projects have, so far, enjoyed wide support in northwestern British Columbia, environmental groups and First Nations have raised fears that sometime in the future, especially if there is overcapacity in natural gas lines, that some may converted to bitumen, whether or not Northern Gateway is approved and actually goes ahead.
Shell application to NEB
In a fax to District of Kitimat council, Shell Canada Senior Regulatory Specialist Scot MacKillop said that the Shell had applied to the National Energy Board on September 25, 2012 for a licence to export LNG via Kitimat for the next 25 years.
The Shell proposal, like the previous Kitimat LNG and BC LNG proposals, are export applications, unlike the Enbridge Northern Gateway which is a “facility application.”
In its letter to Shell’s lawyers, the NEB took pains to head off any objections to the project on environmental or other grounds by saying:
the Board will assess whether the LNG proposed to exported does not exceed the surplus reaming after due allowance has been made for the reasonably foreseeable requirements for use in Canada. The Board cannot consider comments that are unrelated…such as those relating to potential environmental effects of the proposed exportation and any social effects that would be directly related to those environmental effects.
What is it about the islands in Douglas Channel? First, Enbridge gets in to a lot of hot water, so to speak, for erasing the islands in Douglas Channel in an animation promoting the Northern Gateway Pipeline. See for example The Vancouver Sun on back on Aug. 16, 2012, when it picked up a story from the Times Colonist – Enbridge map sinks islands, angers critics. The controversial video segment showed Douglas Channel wide open for navigation, rather than marked with about one thousand square kilometres of mountainous islands. This map, created by the Leadnow.ca and Sumofus.org websites was widely used by the media to show the difference. Enbridge later amended its video with a disclaimer that it is “broadly representational.” A video by Shortt and Epic Productions “This is Not An Enbridge animation” showing the beauty of northwestern BC quickly went viral.
As this was happening, the United States government Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a map that shows Liquified Natural Gas import and export terminals across North America, a map that adds an island to the Channel–“Douglas Island.”
In fact, the map manages to get a lot about Canadian LNG projects wrong. It locates the BC LNG project on the non-existent Douglas Island. The company’s name Douglas Channel Energy Partnership actually gives the proper location this way
south of the Moon Bay Marina, within the District of Kitimat and the asserted traditional territory of the Haisla Nation. The site is approximately 10 km southwest of Kitimat and 7 km north of Bees Cove Indian Reserve 6 (Bish Cove)
The small cove where BCLNG will put its barges to create the LNG is often locally called North Cove.
It appears that in Oregon, the Coos Bay LNG project is becoming as controversial as the Northern Gateway project is in Canada.
The issues outlined by Templeton include the threat of expropriation (called “eminent domain” in the US and also a key issue in the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline on the plains). There are arguments on jobs versus the environment, especially the perceived threat to wild rivers and salmon spawning grounds. Finally one issue that is lower on the agenda in northwestern BC but a big worry in Oregon, the potential for a devastating earthquake along the Cascadia fault.
Unlike in Oregon, LNG projects are generally perceived positively in the northwest and all three are going ahead, although not as quickly as originally planned due to market volatility among prime potential customers in Asia.