State waters might see more oil-tanker traffic

The Seattle Times

Originally published Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 8:00 PM

State waters might see more oil-tanker traffic

Oil-tanker traffic is expected to increase in Washington waters under an expansion proposal by a Canadian pipeline company.

By Lynda V. Mapes Seattle Times staff reporter

Oil-tanker traffic in Washington waters is set to increase under a proposal floated by Canadian energy giant Kinder Morgan.

The company earlier this month announced that so much interest was expressed by potential customers in long-term purchase contracts for Canadian tar-sands oil that it is bumping up the proposed expansion of its Trans Mountain Pipeline announced last year.

The company said this month it wants to increase its pipeline capacity from 750,000 barrels per day announced last April to 890,000 barrels per day.

That translates to a big jump from its current capacity of 300,000 barrels per day, and an increase in tankers transiting the Salish Sea from five a month to up to 34 a month, if the expansion is approved, said Michael Davies, director of marine development for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.

The preponderance of the tanker traffic would travel through the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the northern border of the Olympic Peninsula, proceed between the San Juan and Gulf islands, and enter Vancouver Harbor.

The company will be developing its expansion proposal to Canada’s National Energy Board over the coming months, with an eye to beginning operations by 2017, Davies said. The expansion will require twinning the company’s existing pipeline, and adding two more berths at its Vancouver-area Westridge Marine Terminal.

The increased tanker traffic would come on top of 450 to 480 more cargo ships per year traveling to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal near Bellingham, if a proposed bulk coal-shipping terminal is built.

Some see a need for caution, particularly if oil-tanker traffic escalates.

“This is one of those moments in history that will significantly increase the risk exposure of a catastrophic oil spill in Puget Sound, within a core area of the killer whale’s critical habitat,” said Fred Felleman, a Seattle resident who serves as an alternate on a steering committee engaged in a vessel- traffic risk-assessment analysis.

“You can’t just squeeze more traffic through the same waterway and expect everything to remain the same.”

The goal of the steering committee is to work with shipping interests and others to craft a common understanding of risks posed by vessel traffic and how to manage them, said Todd Hass, of the Puget Sound Partnership.

“Puget Sound has enjoyed a couple of decades without a major spill taking place, but we need to stay vigilant,” Hass said. “This is our best opportunity to look forward, anticipate changes before they are upon us, and make adjustments accordingly so that we reduce the chance that we will have a major catastrophic spill for the foreseeable future.”

Under the expansion, the number of tankers plying the Strait of Juan de Fuca would increase by more than 50 percent, to more than 1,000 a year, including 408 tankers shipping Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline tar-sands oil, Davies said.

Chip Boothe, prevention section manager for the Washington Department of Ecology’s spill- prevention preparedness and response program, noted that while tanker traffic is scheduled to increase, it still would be a small portion of the approximately 5,000 to 6,000 transits a year of large commercial vessels coming into the region.

“We are not minimizing the potential for it to have an impact, but I am appreciating that we have a pretty robust marine-navigation safety system in this region,” Boothe said.

“Yes, there is a potential for increased traffic. Is that increase adequately managed in the system we already have in place, or does it need to be modified to assure we don’t increase risk? That is what we will be looking at.”

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., in the 2012-13 appropriations bill for the U.S. Coast Guard, required a 180-day study to assess whether spill responses in place in the state would be adequate to address increased tanker traffic and tar-sands oil, which is different from Alaskan crude.

Davies said his company has never had a spill from a tanker at its dock since the Westridge terminal began operations in the 1950s.

Under the expansion, the company would be shipping the same types of oil it has since the mid-1980s, Davies said, in the same size ships.

“This is really nothing new to the pipeline, or the marine environment,” Davies said.

No million-barrel tankers in plan: Kinder Morgan

Jennifer Moreau

Kinder Morgan is not expecting giant Suezmax tankers in the Burrard Inlet, should the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion go through, contrary to the company’s original pitch to investors in 2010.

Greg Toth, project director for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, said there’s a lot of misinformation about the pipeline, and the company is hoping to clear up misconceptions at two public information sessions in Burnaby this Saturday and Monday.

“The common ones are everything from the size of tankers – that we’re going to be moving super tankers, and our business case for expansion is really predicated on the same size of tankers we use today, the Afromax class tankers,” Toth said. “That’s the maximum size of ship we load today.”

Afromax is a class of tankers that can carry 650,000 barrels of oil if fully loaded. (Kinder Morgan’s customers load their Afromax tankers to 90 per cent capacity, according to Toth.)

“There will be smaller tankers that we also load,” Toth said. “It’s really the shippers of the oil that make the arrangement of the oil for transportation. It may be a mix

of Afromax tankers and the smaller Panamax tankers and some barges.”

Suezmax tankers have a maximum capacity of 1 million barrels when fully loaded, and according to an earlier presentation to investors from Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson, Suezmax tankers were definitely in the picture.

The 2010 presentation outlines the expansion plans for the Westridge Marine Terminal and lists Suezmax tankers in the future and expanded dock capacity with two berths.

According to the presentation, Port Metro Vancouver was supportive of the expansion.

Kinder Morgan’s $4 billion expansion plan will more than double the line’s capacity from 300,000 barrels a day to 750,000. The Trans Mountain pipeline is the only line that runs oil prod-

ucts from Alberta to the West Coast.

Burnaby-Douglas MP Kennedy Stewart has been following the pipeline issue since he was elected in spring 2011, and he was given a copy of the presentation when he met with Anderson.

“They were quite clear from the beginning (that) their expansion included

dredging under the Second Narrows Bridge and bringing in a larger class tanker, but I suspect there’s been some pushback from the public on this and they’ve dropped it from their proposal,” Stewart said. “If you ask the investors who have signed these long-term contracts with Kinder Morgan, I’m sure they are counting on this as part of the plan.

“I think it’s ecome an inconve-ient truth for the ompany,” he said. They’ve done their olling, I’m sure, nd they know this s a major sticking oint, and so they

are going to deny that this will ever happen in the future, that this is not connected.”

According to Kinder Morgan spokesperson Ali Hounsell, Anderson’s 2010 presentation was old information from before the company’s “open season.” (The open season was a call out to shippers, to see whether they would sign up for long-term contracts should the pipeline expansion go through.)

“It’s not being considered anymore,” Hounsell said. “Really, Trans Mountain, Kinder Morgan is indifferent to the size. We just thought in 2010 that was one of the ideas the customers might be interested in, that they might want or need the commitment to larger ships to support the expansion, but that wasn’t the case.

“In the end, the shippers are committed to the expansion based on the existing regulations, including the limitations in the Port Metro Vancouver harbour operations manual that restricts the size of the vessels.

“So, it was not, in the end, needed. All that was before the open season process,” she said.

Kinder Morgan has yet to apply to the National Energy Board for project approval.

The company’s two open house information sessions will be on Saturday, Nov. 24 at Stoney Creek Community School, 2740 Beaverbrook Cres., drop in from 1 to 4 p.m.; and Monday, Nov. 26 at Eagle Creek Restaurant at Burnaby Mountain Golf Course, 7600 Halifax St., drop in from 5 to 8 p.m.

staff reporter
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