Kinder Morgan expansion approval means more tanker traffic in Salish Sea

A tug boat helps guide a tanker away from the docks at the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project in Burnaby, British Columbia, on June 4, 2015.
A tug boat helps guide a tanker away from the docks at the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project in Burnaby, British Columbia, on June 4, 2015. Canadian Press

More crude oil tanker traffic may traverse the Salish Sea off Whatcom County’s coast, as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday approval for the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

The project will nearly triple capacity along an existing 1953-built line from Edmonton, Alberta, to Burnaby, B.C., from about 300,000 barrels per day to about 890,000 barrels per day. That is more than the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have carried 830,000 barrels per day.

Trudeau announced the approval of the expansion in a news conference Tuesday afternoon, along with the approval of Enbridge’s Line 3 expansion, and the rejection of the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would have run crude oil from the Alberta tar sands to the north B.C. coast.

“Canadians know we must transition toward an economy that relies on clean energy,” Trudeau said. “But we also know this transition requires investment, and this will not happen overnight. To fund this change toward a carbon-free world, we have to build good jobs and generate economic growth.”

The pipeline will transport oil to Westridge Marine Terminals, about 30 miles north of Blaine, where it will be loaded onto tankers. Currently, the terminal gets five tankers per month, which is about 3 percent of the total marine traffic in Port Metro Vancouver, according to the Trans Mountain website.

Once the expansion is in place, the company plans to get about 34 tankers per month, which is about 14 percent of current marine traffic there. The tankers will pass by the San Juan Islands on their way to and from the terminal.

Had the proposal been rejected, Whatcom County might have found itself as the alternate route for expansion, which could follow existing pipeline to Cherry Point, which was suggested to Trudeau by former B.C. premier Mike Harcourt, the Vancouver Sun reported.

“There isn’t a country in the world that would find billions of barrels of oil and leave it in the ground while there is a market for it,” Trudeau said.

He emphasized that the project will create much-needed middle class jobs, and said the project would have to follow strict conditions set out by Canada’s National Energy Board to ensure protection of wildlife and offset greenhouse gas emissions during construction.

The prime minister said that if the pipeline were not approved, the increase in oil production would mean transporting more oil by rail instead, which is less safe.

“If I thought this project was unsafe for the B.C. coast, I would reject it,” Trudeau said. “We made this decision today because we are convinced it is in the best interest of Canadians.

First Nations, including the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, and environmental groups announced their disappointment.

“Canadian officials have just made a decision that threatens the environment and economy of Washington,” the coalition Stand Up to Oil announced in a statement. “A tar sands oil spill would devastate the Salish Sea, destroying tribal treaty-reserved fishing rights and commercial fisheries, fouling shorelines and beaches, and dooming the orca whales that call these waters home.”

The coalition includes Bellingham-based environmental groups RE Sources for Sustainable Communities and Stand.

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil

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