OP-ED: Pipeline risks are too great for Vancouver

April 24, 2012 | Jobs and the Economy

By Gregor Robertson  |  Vancouver Sun - April 23, 2012

Around lunchtime on July 24, 2007, a construction crew working near the Barnet Highway in Burnaby accidentally punctured an oil pipeline operated by Kinder Morgan.

A geyser of thick crude oil shot into the air spraying houses, trees, cars and people – and sending 70,000 litres of oil spilling through the storm sewers into the waters of Burrard Inlet. That oil affected 17 kilometres of shoreline; animals from migratory birds to sea stars and barnacles were heavily fouled.

As oil spills go, that’s considered minor.

Today, Kinder Morgan wants to nearly triple its pipeline’s capacity. Its $5-billion proposal will see a tanker passing in and out of Burrard Inlet almost every day – a four-to-fivefold increase in oil-tanker traffic through Vancouver’s narrow harbour.

For Kinder Morgan, the benefits are obvious: a dramatic increase in the amount of oil they can move to market from the Alberta oilsands project.

But for Vancouver, it’s hard to find any upside. And in a city where our reputation as a beautiful, clean destination is a huge competitive advantage, it’s far too easy to find enormous danger.

A single accident with one oil tanker could cause irreversible devastation — to our ecosystem, to our economy and to our international reputation.

Our city is bounded on many sides – and in many ways defined – by shoreline: from the working harbour, to Stanley Park and our world-famous beaches, to the world’s largest salmon-bearing river — the Fraser.

That helps to make our city beautiful for its residents, and irresistible to tourists. It’s part of what brands us around the world as a green and livable city. And our shoreline supports a rich web of life. Now drop 10,000 deadweight tons of oil — a modest-sized tanker’s cargo — into that web.

Critics might call this fearmongering — but given what’s at stake with even a minor spill, it’s irresponsible to not consider this scenario.

Think of images beamed worldwide, showing oil-fouled seals, herons and Canada geese on the crude-blackened sand at English Bay and Kits Beach. The damage to Vancouver tourism and our destination brand would be exceeded only by the toll on our local marine habitat.

As Vancouver’s mayor, how could I ever support allowing a single, polluting industry — especially one with nearly no jobs in this city — to put Vancouver’s thriving economy and global reputation at such serious risk?

I can’t imagine doing that — creating enormous risk to tens of thousands of local jobs in tourism, hospitality, development and clean technology, and undermining our success in the world’s fastest-growing industries in the green economy.

Yes we already have oil tankers, but they are focused on local markets. Unfortunately that oil is shipped to California to be refined, and then shipped back to B.C. — minus the jobs our local refineries once had. This activity wiped out B.C. refinery jobs and continues to put our environment at risk with every oil tanker.

But Kinder Morgan is proposing massive crude oil exports that bypass local refineries, magnify the risk to our economy and environment, and ignore Canada’s long-term domestic oil needs.

This is all happening against the backdrop of an abrupt weakening of the federal environmental review process. Which means Kinder Morgan’s proposal will face far less scrutiny, and our communities will have much less time to give it the hard looking-over it deserves.

That’s why we’ve been advocating a broad, intense consultation by the National Energy Board. And it’s why we’ve called on Ottawa to bring local governments to the table, along with firm guarantees that industry must bear 100 per cent of the risks and costs of a spill.

We’ve seen what oil disasters look like, at a small scale in Burnaby and a large scale with the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.

If we don’t want to see history repeated on Vancouver’s shores, we need to speak out now.

  Gregor Robertson is the mayor of Vancouver. Published in the Vancouver Sun: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Pipeline+risks+high+Vancouver/6505889/story.html