First, it was oil pipelines.
Then, coal expansion.
And now, jet fuel.
And as usual, it involves tankers.
This time its on the Fraser River.
A consortium of airlines the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation wants to ship offshore jet fuel to a storage terminal it hopes to build in Richmond. It would be just upstream from the George Massey Tunnel.
The jet fuel would then be pumped by underground pipeline to the airport. The 15-kilometre-long pipeline would go through Richmond. In all, it will cost $93 million.
Why do the airlines want this?
At present, Vancouver International Airport gets 60 per cent of its jet fuel from the ARCO refinery at Cherry Point, Wash. by truck or barge and the remaining 40 per cent by the Kinder Morgan pipeline from the Chevron refinery in Burnaby.
The consortium claims the ARCO and Chevron sources are outdated and unreliable sources for the future.
Critics say bull, its because offshore jet fuel will be cheaper.
Whatever the reason, that offshore fuel will arrive by barge or Panamax tanker, which will then sail up the main channel of the Fraser, dock and off-load into six enormous tanks with a total capacity of 80 million litres. Never before have such tankers carrying such a cargo been up the Fraser.
As much as the airlines assure everyone that the proposal is safe, and that jet fuel is much harder to ignite than gasoline and oil, critics beg to differ. Tank farm fires have occurred in the past, and to spectacular effect, including a fire at the Miami International Airport in 2011. (The Miami airport fire chief said the fire, which was massive, came within minutes of being truly catastrophic when one 700,000-gallon tank was almost breached.)
The immediate neighbours downstream of the tanks will be a public park, a 180-unit condominium development and the Riverport cinema and sports complex. Theyre about 400 metres away.
Those tanks will also be just upstream from the Fraser River estuary that great incubator of salmon, the feeding ground to millions of birds and home to people living on its banks in Richmond and Delta. If there was a spill, or a tanker ran aground, or the tanks caught fire, the estuary will suffer incalculable damage. Environmentally, jet fuel is extremely toxic.
Salmon and birds dont vote, however. And Richmond has an international airport that needs fuel. And as the jobs-before-environment wits would have it, Cry me a river.
Critics of the proposal believe there is a safer alternative. One citizens group, VAPOR, or Vancouver Airport Project Opposition Richmond, proposed a pipeline be built from the ARCO refinery directly to YVR. The airline consortium rejected that proposal, however, because of what it said were time and bureaucratic constraints on both sides of the border.
This time, more than just citizens groups are critics. Richmond city councils reaction to the plan has been apoplectic. It has expressed its anger to the provincial Environmental Assessment Office, which is the Ministry of Environment wing that, in tandem with Port Metro Vancouver, is jointly reviewing the proposal.
Richmond council is not only upset with the nuts and bolts of the plan, but with the fact that it has absolutely no say in the matter. Nor did the citys mood improve when it discovered that safety measures it had suggested were ignored. Council was so angry that earlier this month it demanded a meeting with Environment Minister Terry Lake and Energy Minister Rich Coleman to air its concerns.
Critics of the EAO also include B.C. Auditor General John Doyle, who released a report in July 2011 slamming it for failing to properly assess projects that were potentially harmful to the environment. Doyle criticized the EAO for relying on proponents own reports for ensuring compliance and for the obvious conflict of interest therein.
And in 2011, the federal office of Environment Canada wrote the EAO that the (jet fuel) project would present a new and unacceptable risk to the estuary and that there was limited ability to control a spill. It suggested the EAO and the consortium go back to the drawing board.
They have. The consortium proposed an alternative, less obtrusive pipeline route through Richmond, and the EAO reconsidered the new information.
So what began in 2009 as a 180-day review has yet to see the finish line. The government was to hand down its decision on the proposal Jan. 25, but Lake extended the deadline yet again last week. The new deadline is Feb. 25. Either this is a case of a government exercising extreme caution or of having no idea what it is doing. Ill emulate the government and reserve judgment.
When the decision does come, critics say it will be made with very limited public input. There were calls for written submissions and a few public information meetings, but speakers were allowed only two minutes apiece and restricted to addressing only technical aspects of the proposal.
A familiar complaint lately. And a familiar scenario.
Depending on what side you fall on, the B.C. coast all of a sudden, and in alarmingly concentrated sequence has been either blessed with new industrial developments or beset by them.
And that will be the defining question of this province:
Which view will prevail?
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