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Pipeline eco assessment roundly criticized in new study

The author of a new report on a proposed pipeline and expansion has released a scathing critique of the proponent’s ecological risk assessment (ERA) of its own project.

Dr. Jeffery Short, an international expert on the fate and the effect of oil spills, roundly criticized Kinder Morgan Canada’s ecological risk assessment for the proposed pipeline project.

In a study released on May 18th, Short wrote that the company’s risk assessment contains “at least four fundamental deficiencies” and therefore should not be used to assess the pipeline’s ecological risk.

Titled The Fate and Effect of Oil Spills from the Trans Mountain Expansion Project in the Burrard Inlet and the Fraser River Estuary, the study will be introduced as evidence against the $5.4 billion pipeline and expansion in forthcoming National Energy Board hearings.

The City of Vancouver, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and the Living Ocean Society commissioned Short’s study.

Much is at stake with the ERA. Short presents some devastating scenarios from a potential oil spill in his report.

“An oil spill from the Project or its associated marine shipping activities in Burrard Inlet or the Fraser River Estuary could lead to a major ecological catastrophe,” Short declares.

He writes that a worst-case oil spill could impact up to 500,000 shore and sea birds, disrupting the eco-system from functioning for years or even permanently. Short also predicts that a spill would result in high mortalities of killer whales, porpoises, dolphins, and seals.

Even small to medium-sized spills in Canada and Alaska have the potential to contaminate tens of kilometres of shorelines for decades, Short notes.

In early May, Morgan Kinder said in a news release that it appreciates the need for a healthy Salish Sea and is committed to safe and environmentally responsible operations.

“Pipelines are the safest and most environmentally sound way to transport petroleum products, and Kinder Morgan’s safety and environmental performance is significantly better than the pipeline industry average,” the company stated.

Among Short’s criticisms are that the Trans Mountain ERA largely excludes the most serious consequences that could occur from an oil spill from consideration; and that the ERA disregarded a National Energy Board directive that it properly select representative locations along shipping routes which present a probable risk of an oil spill with subsequent consequences.

Short writes that the company’s ERA “fails to integrate oil exposure risk based on multiple locations within ecologically distinct sub-regions along the marine shipping routes, including at or near ecologically sensitive areas.”

Nor does the ERA assess the possibility of organisms being submerged in oil, and it fails to consider all the ways oil can harm organisms, according to Short.

The report points out that the company assessed oil exposure risk based on four assumed oil spill locations, one for each ecologically distinct sub-region along the route.

In one instance, a single point of oil spill along the initial segment of the oil tanker route from the Westridge Marine Terminal to the islands in the southwestern Strait of Georgia was chosen as “typical.”

The spill location was chosen as the most likely site for a collision between ferries moving between Vancouver and Vancouver Island and oil tankers.

However, Short noted that the Trans Mountain ERA “implicitly assumes that the only accidents that would ever occur would involve collisions between ferry and oil tanker vessels.”

Short says rather that oil spill accidents usually involve combinations of events that appear highly unlikely in retrospect and which is why such events are rare and difficult to anticipate.

“Arbitrarily dismissing all other possibilities for accidents, including any that may occur within Burrard Inlet (apart from the Westridge Marine Terminal) or elsewhere along the tanker route amounts to unreasonably eliminating much or even most of the risk of a spill occurring,” Short writes.

Short opines that the oil exposure assessment should have been based on trajectory modeling results from several points along the tanker route rather than relying on a single point of origin.

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