B.C. Premier John Horgan and Environment Minister George Heyman defended their opposition to the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion Wednesday, as opposition critics pointed to evidence that Alaska oil tankers, B.C. Ferries and other shipping are a bigger risk to resident killer whales than one extra tanker a day from B.C.
B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson referred to a recent study in the journal Nature that describes risks affecting southern resident killer whales. That study concluded that “acoustic and physical disturbances” from shipping are a threat, as the Salish Sea sees increasing shipping of all kinds.
“The expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline would result in 29 extra sailings per month, about one per day,” Wilkinson told the legislature. “The environment minister recently defended the addition of 2,700 sailings per year by B.C. Ferries, on top of the existing 117,000 sailings by B.C. Ferries.”
Heyman referred repeatedly to a “seven-fold increase” in tanker traffic that the Trans Mountain expansion would generate, as oil shipments from Trans Mountain’s Burnaby terminal are expected to increase from one a week to one per day. The pipeline twinning was recommended to proceed by the National Energy Board for a second time Feb. 22, with a proposal to reduce impact from all shipping in the region to mitigate the additional tankers.
B.C. Liberal environment critic Peter Milobar said energy shipments represent only one per cent of the noise pollution affecting resident killer whales, and in the Salish Sea the majority of tanker traffic is from Alaska to Washington state refineries.
Heyman responded that U.S. tankers are outside B.C.’s jurisdiction. The NDP government is continuing a court case in an effort to define provincial jurisdiction in oil transportation, which is federally regulated because it begins in Alberta and terminates in B.C. and Washington, where it has supplied refineries and tankers since 1954.
The southern resident killer whale population has been intensively studied by Canadian and U.S. researchers. Its population has fluctuated between 70 and 99 orcas since 1976, and as of 2017 it numbered 76 members. With a range from Alaska to California, the resident group is currently listed as endangered by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.