TERMPOL report on Enbridge marine operations sees “no regulatory concerns,” tankers could be “unassisted” by tugs

A report from TERMPOL for the the Joint Review Panel on Enbridge’s proposed marine operations for the Northern Gateway pipeline project, finds

While there will always be residual risk in any project, after reviewing the proponent’s studies and taking into account the proponent’s commitments, no regulatory concerns have been identified for the vessels, vessel operations, the proposed routes, navigability, other waterway users and the marine terminal  operations associated with vessels supporting the Northern Gateway Project. Commitments by the proponent will help ensure safety is maintained at a level beyond the regulatory requirements.

Even though Enbridge has promised that tankers would have escort tugs, the report goes to so far as to suggest that super tankers could come and go along Douglas Channel “unassisted.”

TERMPOL has taken all the assurances from Enbridge at face value, including the use of escort tankers, and takes into consideration the company’s proposed  “environmental limits (weather and sea conditions) on oil tanker navigation,” and “commitment to use industry best practices and standards.”

The report says:

The overall increase in marine traffic levels is not considered to be an issue for the shared safe use of the  project’s preferred shipping routes. The proponent has also committed to including safe speeds for oil tankers and tugs in its terminal rules and requirements. It will also include safety limits for environmental and marine conditions for both vessels and terminal operations.

With the increase in shipping activity, there may be an increased threat to the well-being of marine  mammal populations along the shipping route. To address this risk, the proponent has proposed measures to avoid contact with mammals. The proponent is encouraged to develop appropriate procedures to help minimize harmful effects on marine mammals.


Read the report: Transport Canada Process Report on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project (PDF)

In a news release, Enbridge welcomed the findings,  quoting Janet Holder, Enbridge’s Executive Vice-President of Western Access and the senior executive with responsibility for Northern Gateway, as saying: “It is important for the public, particularly BC residents, to know that we’ve done our homework and that our marine plan has been thoroughly reviewed. I think the TERMPOL review underlines that what we are proposing is well planned and safe – and indeed would enhance safety for all shipping on BC’s north coast.”

The release says “Northern Gateway is encouraged by the positive conclusions of this technical review of the marine components of the project – including the safe operation of the Kitimat terminal and safe passage of tankers to and from the facility through Canadian waters.”

Related Tanker traffic could mean safety restrictions for recreational boating and fishing on Douglas Channel

TERMPOL  is an intergovernmental agency made up of officials from Transport Canada, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, Canadian Coast Guard and the Pacific Pilotage Authority. It can make recommendations and compliance with the recommendations is “voluntary.” So far companies contemplating tanker operations along the northwest coast have agreed to follow the TERMPOL recommendations.

Marine safety simulator
A marine safety simulator (Enbridge Northern Gateway)

All of the conclusions depend on Enbridge’s commitment to implement and monitor practices for safer shipping for the Northern Gateway Project. “Tankers and shipping operations, like any other vessel operations, will have to comply fully with national and international regulatory frameworks. Through the proponent’s oil tanker vetting and acceptance process, ship operators will have to follow the proponent’s additional safety enhancements, which are designed to reduce the risks during operations.”

Termpol did note that with up “to 250 additional tankers per year  arriving in Kitimat, there will be an impact on Transport Canada’s compliance monitoring programs.” This comes at a time the government of Stephen Harper is already drastically cutting the resources for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard on the west coast and is making across the board cutbacks at Environment Canada.

The simulations show that the largest proposed oil tankers are capable of safely navigating the entire proposed shipping route, unassisted. The route includes an S-curve where the channel widths are between 3,500 and 5,000 metres. Navigation simulations carried out by the proponent have demonstrated that a typical 320,000 tonne crude oil tanker loaded, or in ballast, can safely negotiate this area.
TERMPOL report

Based on reviews by the Canadian Coast Guard and computer simulations of bridge operations, the teports says the waterways comply with all Canadian and international regulations and says:

The proposed routes provide the required clearances for good vessel manoeuvrability and allowances for very large crude oil tankers to safely navigate…

The simulations showed that tankers of the largest design are capable of navigating the entire route un-assisted. This is also consistent with opinions of Pacific Pilotage Authority Canada and the British Columbia Coast Pilots. The British Columbia Coast Pilots identified some narrow sections of the waterways as warranting caution for two-way traffic. The Canadian Coast Guard identified that the Lewis Passage-Wright Sound area warrants caution as a result of multi-directional traffic. In practice, the British Columbia Coast Pilots, supported by information from Marine Communications and Traffic Services, would adjust a vessel’s speed to avoid meeting other vessels in these areas. Transit speeds may also have to be adjusted to take into account traffic in the Wright Sound area.

TERMPOL says the “proposed shipping routes are appropriate for the oil tankers that will be used at the proposed terminal,” largely because Douglas Channel is so deep.

The next sentence says “there are no charted obstructions that would pose a safety hazard to fully loaded oil tankers,” which was pretty well known by people who sail Douglas Channel.

Testimony at the Joint Review hearings in Kitimat, presentations to District of Kitimat council and the history of the region, as related by both aboriginal and non-aboriginal sailors, show that there are concerns about dangerous storms, general heavy weather, tricky winds off the mountains and currents from the rivers meeting the ocean.

The report also says the Canadian Hydrographic Service is in the process of updating several charts of the area to ensure the most accurate information is available for safe navigation.

The report does acknowledge that there could be a tanker collision in certain areas of the British Columbia coast, saying: “The narrower passages along the North and South routes, each with charted depths of 36 m (20 fathoms) or more are all wide enough for two-way navigation by the largest design vessel,” but adds that while “the proposed channels meet the specified requirements for two-way marine traffic, the BC pilots “may choose to ensure that passing and overtaking situations do not occur in the narrowest sections, by good traffic management.”

It says that in certain areas  “that the meeting of two large ships …. should, in general, be avoided, particularly during severe (wind 30 knots or above) weather  conditions. The reason for this restriction is that the margins for safe navigation are limited in case of an emergency situation where the engine is lost or the rudder is locked at an angle different from ‘mid ship’.”

According to the pilots, the meeting of ships at these locations can easily be avoided through   oroper planning and pilot to pilot communication and available navigation and ship tracking data.

It adds, as Enbridge has proposed, “In order to mitigate risk, all laden tankers will have a tethered escort tug throughout the Confined Channel sections (from Browning Entrance or Caamaño Sound to the Kitimat Terminal).

The report adds:

It is important to keep in mind that the emergency situations described rarely occur, but that it is necessary for the Pilots and Tug Masters to rehearse these situations on a regular basis in order to be  prepared in case an incident actually occurs.



Activists ramp up scrutiny of Enbridge Northern Gateway plans. I Western approaches

Energy Environment

596-Wagner1.jpgDieter Wagner, of Douglas Channel Watch, briefs District of Kitimat Council on the perils of Wright Sound, Oct. 17, 2011. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Activists in northwestern British Columbia are ramping up their scrutiny of  Enbridge’s plans for the Northern Gateway pipeline, including the company’s contingency plans in case something goes wrong.

There is also growing controversy over one part of the pipeline process that is separate from the Joint Review Panel, the TERMPOL process that is supposed to ensure the safety of shipping on the west coast.  TERMPOL, which is run by the Canadian Coast Guard on behalf of Transport Canada, has two major flaws, opponents say, first, that unlike the Joint Review Panel, TERMPOL’s proceedings are secret and, second, participation in the process for shipping companies and others is voluntary.

At the regular bi-weekly meeting of the District of Kitimat Council on Monday, Oct.  17, 2011 Dieter Wagner, of the group Douglas Channel Watch gave a detailed analysis of what his group says are the dangers involved in shipping supertankers along the west coast of British Columbia and up the Douglas Channel to Kitimat.

Wagner told the Council that the TERMPOL documents on Northern Gateway shipping are confusing, contradictory and often difficult for the layperson, even those with years of experience in the waters of  northwestern British Columbia to follow.

Wagner said that many areas of the coast approaching Douglas Channel are tricky to navigate with shallow water, rocks and shoals and thousands of crab traps, all very close to the proposed tanker routes.  Wagner said the TERMPOL study shows that in some of the areas approaching the Channel, the charts show 10 fathoms, (60 feet or 18.28 metres) while the supertankers draw 70 feet.

Wagner said that on some parts of the coast, sailors can see kelp, often growing on gravel beds, and since growing kelp is less than 70 feet high, it is another area that could be damaged if a tanker runs aground.

That means, Wagner said, the smallest mistake would mean that tankers would run aground. He also pointed out the plans for the pilots to board the tankers once the ships are already in shallow water.  He cautioned the plans say that under some circumstances, boarding by the pilot could be delayed, probably by bad weather and he doubted whether the companies involved would want to delay their tankers by two or three or more days, as BC Ferries are sometimes delayed in really rough weather.

The most dangerous area, Wagner said, is Wright Sound at the entrance to Douglas Channel, where the tankers would have to make a tight turn to enter the Channel.  Ferries and other ships heading south also have to make a turn and it was in Wright Sound that the ferry Queen of the North went off course, struck Gill Island and sunk. Wagner told the District Council what the Gitga’ata  First Nation said at last year’s Enbridge rally, the Queen of the North is still leaking oil.

(Other people in the Kitimat region, including the aboriginal people who have sailed the area for thousands of years, also express concern about Wright Sound, not only due to congestion from all the traffic using the Inside Passage but because of tricky winds and currents, especially in bad weather).

Wagner also said he doubted the extra navigational aides that Enbridge has promised to install along the route would stop human error accidents any more than traffic lights do.

He also said the up to 225 supertankers that would be used for the Northern Gateway project, crossing the Pacific to China or going down to California would greatly add to the green house gases going into the atmosphere from what he said was half a billion tons a fuel a year burned by the ships.  Tugs, liquified natural gas tankers and other ships would also to the emissions.

He concluded by saying that there are no Canadian regulations governing the use of the escort tugs contemplated by Enbridge’s plans.  Wagner also said that everything in the documents from Enbridge are just promises and there is no way at the moment to ensure that the promises are kept.

At the conclusion of the presentation, Councillor Randy Halyk, who is also a candidate for mayor, told his colleagues that one of the biggest problems with the review of the Northern Gateway is the secrecy of the TERMPOL process.