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Endangered orcas swim along Kinder Morgan's oil tanker route

Initially it all sounds amusing: those pesky killer whales are getting in the way of oil tanker shipping routes. But the gravity of Kinder Morgan’s arrogance becomes chilling when we look below the surface.

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More than just sensory disruptions, ship strikes and propeller cuts are constant threats wounding and even killing whales. Kinder Morgan’s take? Whales just aren’t being careful enough. The “probability of a strike… depends in part on the success or failure of any avoidance measure by either the marine mammal or vessel.”

Once a species is endangered, the federal government is supposed to protect the speciescritical habitat. The Government of Canada has been slow to get with the program. Orcas were identified as endangered when the Species at Risk Act came into force in June 2004. It wasnt until March 2008 that the Department of Fisheries finally tabled a Recovery Strategy and identified the Orcas critical habitat as, pretty much, the Salish Sea. Ways and means to protect Orcas and bring about the speciesrecovery were to have been set in motion.

Then, the backtracking began. DFO tried to make protection a matter of Ministerial discretion—read: optional and responsive to commercial interests. Ecojustice, on behalf of a number of environmental groups, took the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Minister of the Environment to court. In 2010, Ecojustice won; DFO appealed. In 2012, Ecojustice won again. The Minister was ordered to stop breaking the law and start getting those Orcas protected under the Species at Risk Act. So we should be seeing less marine vessel traffic, but all signs point to more.

Kinder Morgan behaves like a bully. After acknowledging their project has a “high magnitude, high probability and significant adverse effect” on Orcas, the company justifies its right to contribute to their extinction because everyone else is doing it. Kinder Morgan says: “With or without the Project, the southern resident killer whale population continues to be adversely affected by sensory disturbance caused by all types of marine vessel traffic.”

Kinder Morgan assures us that “Port Metro Vancouver is developing a collaborative multi-stakeholder program to look at the current levels of underwater noise in the Strait of Georgia and surrounding waters and to consider options for reducing potential cumulative environmental effects of noise from marine vessel traffic on marine mammals. Trans Mountain is strongly supportive…and will continue discussions with Port Metro Vancouver to establish how to best participate in current and future initiatives on this topic aimed at reducing the existing effects on southern resident killer whales.”

This is the same Port Metro Vancouver that is not only in favour of Kinder Morgans expansion, but is in favour of dredging Burrard Inlet so even larger Suezmax supertankers capable of carrying 1 million barrels a day of oil sands heavy crude can call at Westridge.

If Kinder Morgan is strongly supportive of reducing potential cumulative environmental effects from marine vessel traffic on marine mammals, youd never know it. Theyve done nothing since 2008 when DFO tabled their original recovery strategy. That report is clear that the migratory paths of killer whales is adversely affected from the ongoing volume of marine vessels including oil tankers calling at Westridge.

It seems benign when words, phrases and names like “biophysical”, “sensory disturbance” and “southern resident killer whales” are used. What Kinder Morgan means—and should have the guts to say—is that the oil tankers needed for Trans Mountain’s expansion will significantly contribute to the extinction of Orcas in the Salish Sea.

Robyn Allan is an Intervenor in the public interest at the National Energy Board review of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. Her first round of questions to Kinder Morgan can be viewed here.

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