Conservation groups launch ‘drift card’ study to measure oil spill impact

If a tanker runs aground in southern B.C.’s coastal waters, where will the oil end up? That’s the question conservation groups are trying to answer with a research project launched yesterday.

High school students from the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, along with several reporters, were invited aboard the Raincoast Conservation Foundation’s research boat Achiever in Vancouver’s English Bay Thursday afternoon for the release of the first batch of 1,000 yellow plywood ‘drift cards’ that will be dropped along tankers’ route to the open ocean.

Key locations between English Bay and Victoria’s Race Rocks were chosen based on what Raincoast and the Georgia Strait Alliance — the two groups behind the initiative — say are danger zones for tankers carrying oil.

The cards are marked with information about the project, and an individual number and letter to indicate its starting point. Members of the public who find these cards on shore are asked to report back to the organizations, giving researchers an idea of how oil would be dispersed in the case of a spill.

The drift card method is one employed by the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration to simulate the trajectory of oil and other pollutants.

The impetus for this initiative is a Kinder Morgan proposal to increase capacity of its Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries Alberta crude to terminals in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet, where tankers fill up and head west. Kinder Morgran wants to twin this pipeline to move an additional quarter-million barrels a day — and more product means more tankers.

However, this isn’t conventional oil; it’s diluted bitumen. This unrefined tar is treated with chemicals to make it possible to move via pipeline, and when it hits water — as evidenced by a devastating recent spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan — it behaves in an entirely different way. The bitumen — the heavy tar — sinks, while the lighter chemicals used to dilute the tar off-gas into the atmosphere.

It’s a problem that Raincoast biologist Ross Dixon is well aware of. Even in the case of a diluted bitumen spill, where some of the substance will sink, it’s important to know how the wind, ocean and surface currents are moving.

“What will a spill trajectory look like?” he said. “With this, we hope to outline a number of different scenarios.”

More important, he said, is getting this information into the hands of the public.

Raincoast is offering a prize — the coffee table book Canada’s Raincoast at Risk’ — to whomever finds the first drift card. Anyone who finds a drift card is asked to report it at, where they can find more information about the project.

Colleen Kimmett is an editor at The Tyee.

New environmental review rules anger oilsands critics

Many oilsands projects will not have their potential environmental impacts reviewed by the federal government under updated rules announced today, environmentalists warn.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency released lists Friday outlining changes to the types of resource development and infrastructure projects that will routinely require a federal environmental assessment. The federal review is intended to look at possible environmental impacts under federal jurisdiction, such as impacts on waterways or greenhouse gas emissions.

One concern that environmentalists have with the new rules is they won’t require environmental reviews for a growing type of oilsands development.

In-situ oilsands developments — projects where the oil is melted directly out of the ground rather than being mined and then processed later — were not specifically addressed in the previous list of projects requiring federal environmental assessments, said Keith Stewart, climate and energy campaign coordinator and energy policy analyst for the environmental group Greenpeace. And now, they are not included in the new list of projects requiring them.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s announcement lists the types of projects that once required a federal environmental assessment that no longer do, including:

Groundwater extraction facilities.

Heavy oil and oilsands processing facilities, pipelines (other than offshore pipelines) and electrical transmission lines that are not regulated by the National Energy Board.
Potash mines and other industrial mineral mines (salt, graphite, gypsum, magnesite, limestone, clay, asbestos).
Industrial facilities (pulp mills, pulp and paper mills, steel mills, metal smelters, leather tanneries, textile mills and facilities for the manufacture of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, pressure-treated wood, particle board, plywood, chemical explosives, lead-acid batteries and respirable mineral fibres).
The government also released a list of projects that did not specifically require a federal environmental assessment before but now do, including:

Diamond mines.
Apatite mines.
Railway yards; international and interprovincial bridges and tunnels.
Bridges that cross the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Offshore exploratory wells.
Oil sands mine expansions.
Focus on ‘major projects’

The government said the changes were made so that the agency’s work is focused on “major projects” that have the “greatest potential” to generate negative environmental impacts under federal jurisdiction, such as impacts on waterways, and other projects would not be “unduly burdened” with extra work.

A leak at the Primrose Lake oilsands project had released an estimated 1.5 million litres of bitumen into the environment as of the end of September. (Reuters)

The federal government heard from a wide range of stakeholders, including industry and environmental groups, before deciding what would be covered under the new rules.

Stewart said that while the government acknowledged environmental groups’ concerns, it did not make changes based on those concerns.

Most notably, he said Greenpeace is concerned about the lack of routine environmental assessments of in-situ oilsands developments. He noted that this type of project is the source of a huge bitumen leak Northern Alberta. As of the end of September, the leak near Cold Lake had already released 1.5 million litres of bitumen – a mixture of oilsands, heavy crude and water into the environment. The Alberta government has ordered the project operator, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., to drain two-thirds of a lake in an effort to stop the leak.

Stewart said 80 per cent of known oilsands deposits are so deep that they are only accessible with in-situ technology.

“Yesterday, Environment Canada released report which projected that by 2020, this type of oilsands development will be generating more greenhouse gas emissions than all of the Maritime provinces put together today,” he added.

“They’re exempting themselves from environmental oversight over what’s going to be the biggest source of new pollution in the country in coming decades.”

The group that represents oilsands producers said developments will still face provincial environmental reviews.

“The province still has a mandate to do an assessment, so this eliminates two layers of doing the same thing — the provincial government will still do its review and it will be equally as comprehensive,” said Geraldine Anderson from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

While acknowledging that provincial environmental assessments will still be required for some projects, Stewart calls the permitting process for in-situ oilsands development in Alberta “a rubber stamp.”

In 2012, the federal government announced a major overhaul of the federal environmental assessment program, introducing fixed timelines for major projects and reducing the number of departments and agencies that can do environmental reviews from 40 to just three.

Quebec pulls out of NEB hearings on Enbridge pipeline

Environmental activists are puzzled by the Quebec government’s last-minute decision to pull out of National Energy Board (NEB) hearings over Enbridge’s plan to reverse the flow of a pipeline between Sarnia, Ont. and Montreal.

Radio-Canada, CBC’s French-language service, has learned that the decision to pull out came after four separate Quebec ministries produced reports to share the government’s concerns over the safety, environmental and economic risks of the proposed plan.

Citizens and environmental groups across eastern Canada have sounded the alarm over Enbridge’s proposal to reverse the flow of a portion of its Line 9 pipeline toward Montreal.

They are worried about issues such as the possible contamination of agricultural land and drinking water in the event of an oil spill.


Line 9 pipeline hearing postponed after protests
Protesters arrested at anti-Enbridge pipeline rally in Montreal

The Parti Québécois government, which has stated that a pipeline reversal would bring economic benefits to Quebec, said it would prefer to discuss the project at its own consultation instead of before the NEB.

Even though Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet declined to speak before the NEB, other ministers did file requests last spring to participate.

However, Radio-Canada says just before the hearings this fall, Quebec pulled out.
BAPE hearings may be postponed

The last-minute about-face has left environmental activists surprised and puzzled.

The co-founder and executive director of Équiterre, Sidney Ribaux, told Radio-Canada in his view, it was the government’s duty to intervene.

He said while Quebec might raise its objections in the future, the federal government might later say that Quebec had its chance to intervene at the NEB hearings and failed to.

Blanchet said provincial hearings before the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) are planned.

However, with rumours of a provincial election looming later this fall, a date for those consultations is now uncertain.

Westridge residents complain of intense fumes

Westridge residents are sounding the alarm after noticing intense fumes coming from Kinder Morgan’s nearby marine terminal on Burrard Inlet in the last couple months.

Laura Dean has lived in the North Burnaby neighbourhood for 25 years and was disturbed back in August to come across a strong nausea-inducing smell while out for a run along the Drummond bike path.

It was so strong she had to close up all her windows and doors at home. Living next to a facility that loads crude oil and petroleum products onto tanker ships, Dean is used to certain odours once in a while.

But this wasn’t the usual. “After 25 years you have some idea of what’s normal,” she said. “It’s invisible. What are we breathing when it’s not detected until it gets to that level?”

The problem is only evident when there are tankers at the terminal, lately about once a week, she noted.

That also happens to be when her dog, Lacy, a seven-year-old, border collie-labrador cross has been experiencing diarrhea, lethargy and a reluctance to go outside, issues that only started when Dean first noticed the fumes.

Dean said she and other neighbours have become less apt to complain to the pipeline company because past efforts have resulted in no response or action.

“With the expansion and all of that, now we’re thinking this is getting ridiculous. If this is what it is with only 30 tankers [annually], we don’t even want to think of what it’s going to be when it’s 300 to 400 tankers.”

Neighbour Hartwig Boecking, 70, noticed the same fumes on Aug. 1 and complained, first to Kinder Morgan and then, when he got no response, to Metro Vancouver which regulates air quality in the region.

Only then, he said, did he learn the problem was a result of an equipment problem.

For 26 years, Boecking has lived in his Westridge home facing the inlet which is one of four that could be directly affected by a proposed routing option for the proposed expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline.

He’s particularly concerned about the recent odour problem after learning that the oil sands crude being exported overseas from the pipeline to the tanker ships is diluted to allow it to flow freely. The chemicals used to dilute it include arsenic and benzene.

“This is really serious stuff, especially for children,” he said. “We have my granddaughter living with us, there are many children in the neighbourhood.”

Boecking understands that accidents can happen, and odour control equipment can malfunction.

Still, “on such an important matter, don’t you have warning system?”

Last week’s protest by Greenpeace Canada at the terminal only added to his worries.

“If Greenpeace can enter the compound in five minutes, what kind of safety [system is there]?”

Burnaby-Douglas New Democrat MP Kennedy Stewart has experienced the fumes first hand.

While walking through the area’s trails with his wife over the summer, “we noticed one day we could hardly keep our eyes open, the fumes were so strong,” Stewart said.

“I can’t imagine a massive expansion is going to make it any better.”

He plans to apply for intervenor status at the National Energy Board hearings once Kinder Morgan makes its official expansion application and will be lobbying in an attempt to ensure Burnaby residents are allowed to have input into the project.

Lexa Hobenshield, manager of external relations for Kinder Morgan Canada, said the company has received four odour complaints since Aug. 1.

“Of the four concerns raised, three were determined to be attributable to our operations. In one instance, a device on our odour control equipment was not functioning as it should and was replaced the next day,” Hobenshield said by email. “The other two complaints occurred during normal operations. In one instance we were loading a vessel, and in the other case, routine tank activity was underway at the time.”

She said all complaints are taken very seriously. In the recent cases, “All instances were thoroughly investigated and although we regret any inconvenience to our neighbours, no concern for public health and safety were found as a result of KMC’s investigations, supported by Metro Vancouver air quality data,” she said.

Its investigations of odour complaints “involves system checks at our central control centre and an in person investigation at the facility or location of the complaint.

“We consistently review all aspects of our operations and encourage the public to report odour complaints to us. Odour complaints can be reported to 1-888-876-6711.”

Defend our Climate, Defend our Communities

Mark your calendars! November 16th: big national day of action to show the growing number of communities across this country taking action to stop reckless tar sands expansion and runaway climate change.

Kennedy Stewart To Attend First National Energy Board Information Session on Proposed New Kinder Morgan Pipeline

Media Release
For Immediate Release
October 20, 2013

Kennedy Stewart Will Attend First National Energy Board Information Session on Proposed New Kinder Morgan Pipeline

(Burnaby) On Monday, October 21, Member of Parliament Kennedy Stewart (Burnaby-Douglas) will travel to Edmonton to attend the National Energy Board’s first public information session regarding Kinder Morgan’s plans to build a new pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands to Burnaby.

“I plan to find get more information about how Burnaby and BC residents can participate in deciding whether or not to approve one of the biggest private infrastructure projects in the history of the province. I will also be asking the NEB for a guarantee that they will hold hearings in Burnaby concerning the proposed route for this new export only, bitumen-based crude oil pipeline.” said Stewart.

Kinder Morgan has said it will file a final proposal with the National Energy Board in December for permission to build a new pipeline to carry 590,000 barrels per day of bitumen-based crude oil from the Alberta Tar Sands to Burnaby for export to other countries.
Stewart continues, “This new pipeline proposal is deeply unpopular with my constituents who are concerned about how the project will affect their property values and the local economy. Some people have told me they are already finding it impossible to sell their homes and some are worried their properties may be expropriated using the National Energy Board’s Right of Entry powers. They want their voices to be heard and I’m going to help them get heard.”

“I think BC residents should decide our future not politicians in Ottawa or foreign-owned energy companies,“ Stewart concluded.

Stewart will apply for intervenor status to represent the views of his constituents. Anyone interested in more information can contact his office at


Right of Entry:
Court Case:
National Energy Board:

Helesia Luke
(778) 858-0553 |

Train Accidents In Canada In The Last Six Months

Oct. 19, 2013 — Thirteen CN tanker cars — four laden with petroleum crude oil and nine carrying liquefied petroleum gas — came off the rails just after midnight in the hamlet of Gainford, about 80 kms west of Edmonton. At least two explosions and a massive fire followed, but there were no early reports of injuries.

Oct 17, 2013: Residents in the northwestern Alberta town of Sexsmith were forced from their homes after four CN rail cars carrying anhydrous ammonia left the rails. The cars remained upright and there were no leaks.

Oct. 7, 2013: Four empty tanker cars that had been used to carry jet fuel went off the track in Brampton, Ont. A CN employee suffered minor injuries and the derailment caused commuter delays for GO Train travellers.

Sept. 25, 2013: Seventeen CN rail cars, some carrying flammable petroleum, ethanol and chemicals, came off the tracks near the village of Landis, in western Saskatchewan, in the middle of the night. A nearby school was closed as hazardous material crews cleaned up spilled oil. No one was injured.

Sept. 18, 2013: Crossing lights, bells and gates were all reported to have been activated when an Ottawa city bus collided with a Via Rail passenger train west of the capital. Six people on the bus were killed, including the driver, and more than 30 passengers were injured. No one on the train was hurt.

Sep 11, 2013: Eight cars of a Canadian Pacific Railway train carrying a diluting agent used in oil pipelines derailed at a rail yard in southeast Calgary. There were no injuries and no leaks from the cars, which were left lying on their sides. More than 140 homes were evacuated briefly.

July 27, 2013: A CPR locomotive and seven tanker cars carrying oil left the tracks in Lloydminister, which straddles the Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary. Some diesel spilled from the locomotive and was contained. RCMP said nothing spilled from the cars, no one was injured and no evacuations were necessary.

Jul 8, 2013: An ammonia leak from a train caused the evacuation of roughly one-quarter of the population of the small northern Ontario town of Gogoma. No one was injured.

July 6, 2013: A runaway train of 72 tank cars loaded with a volatile crude oil crashed and exploded in the centre of Lac-Megantic, Que., killing 47 people and destroying half the downtown area. The train, owned by Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, was unmanned at the time.

June 27, 2013: Seven cars derailed as a bridge over the flood-swollen Bow River in Calgary collapsed as a CPR train tried to cross it. Five cars carried petroleum products, one was filled with ethylene glycol and one was empty. No spills or injuries were reported but Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi demanded answers.

June 2, 2013: Eleven CPR rail cars derailed on a trestle bridge near Wanup, east of Sudbury, Ont. There were no injuries, but the cars were carrying containers of consumer goods and about half of them entered a nearby river, prompting a drinking-water advisory.

May 23, 2013: Police in the southern Alberta community of Okotoks had to respond to an unusual call when a runaway train car rumbled through town. They said the wayward train car was empty and eventually stopped when it bounced off the tracks. No one was injured and CPR attributed the incident to vandalism.

May 21, 2013: Five cars on a CPR train derailed near the village of Jansen in southeastern Saskatchewan and one of them spilled more than 91,000 litres of oil. There were no injuries.

Final day of Enbridge Line 9 pipeline hearings cancelled over security concerns

But that didn’t deter dozens of protesters who rallied outside the site of the scrapped hearing to oppose Enbridge’s plan to reverse its Line 9 and increase its capacity to carry crude oil.

“They try to make it seem like we’re not going to have a spill. And it’s very likely that a spill will happen somewhere along this line,” said protester Nigel Barriffe, who lives near Line 9 in northwest Toronto.

Enbridge was to make its closing submissions to the National Energy Board on its plan to reverse the line and increase the pipeline’s capacity to move crude oil.

But the National Energy Board announced late Friday that Saturday’s hearings were off, saying the way the previous day’s hearings ended raised concerns about the security of participants. Protesters were out in force for Friday’s panel hearing, but there was no violence during that demonstration or Saturday’s rally.

The NEB didn’t provide a date for when Enbridge will present its closing arguments.

Protest organizer Amanda Lickers said the NEB should have found a way to let Enbridge make its case in support of the reversal.

“I think that if they were really concerned about security they could have still done it over the web… there could have been ways to make the presentation happen.”

The panel heard this week from interveners stating the reversal would put First Nations communities at risk, threaten water supplies and could endanger vulnerable species in ecologically sensitive areas.

Jan Morrissey of a Toronto residents’ group showed up early Saturday morning for the hearing, only to learn it was cancelled.

Morrissey said she’s disappointed she won’t get to hear Enbridge’s final reply to arguments made to the board by critics of the reversal.

“It’s sort of like reading a book and not getting to see the last chapter,” she said.

The reversal would increase the line’s capacity to 300,000 barrels of crude oil per day, up from the current 240,000 barrels.

Enbridge has also asked for permission to move different types of oil, including a heavier form of crude from the Alberta oilsands.

Opponents claim the crude Enbridge wants to transport is more corrosive and will stress the aging infrastructure and increase the chance of a leak.

But Enbridge has said what will flow through the line will not be a raw oilsands product — although there will be a mix of light crude and processed bitumen.

Line 9 originally shuttled oil from Sarnia, Ont., to Montreal but was reversed in the late 90s in response to market conditions to pump imported crude westward.

Enbridge is now proposing to flow oil back eastward to service refineries in Ontario and Quebec.

From International Former Mikisew chief lobbies for dirty oil label in Europe

George Poitras was in the Netherlands, France and the UK earlier this month testifying to European policymakers and elected officials about the impacts of the oilsands on downstream First Nations and pushing the governments to sign on to the EU’s fuel quality directive (FQD), despite an onslaught of lobbying from the Canadian government urging them to do otherwise.

Poitras’ visit coincided with that of two Albertan ministers meant to undermine the FQD in Europe. International Relations Minister Cal Dallas visited Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Lithuania and Latvia, while Environment and Sustainable Resources Development Minister Diana McQueen traveled to France, Austria, Croatia, Greece and Sweden in late September.

“Tar sands oil is a dirty oil; it’s an unconventional oil. Don’t matter how Canada, Alberta or tar sands oil companies frame it, it’s dirty and its carbon intensity is undesirable for a world that is struggling with global climate change induced by industrial development like the tar sands,” Poitras told The Journal last week.

Member states of the EU will vote on the directive in mid-December. The FQD would require EU refiners and shippers to reduce the carbon content of their fuels based on a labelling system, which ranks oilsands crude as more carbon-intensive, emitting 22 per cent more greenhouse gases per volume than conventional oil.

“The FQD in Europe is not only good for communities who are directly impacted, being downstream from all tar sands activities, a community that has the most at stake, but for the world. The environmental footprint after 40 years of tar sands development, and only less than five per cent of the total tar sands deposit being mined, is unfathomable,” Poitras said.

“The faster the daily production of tar sands grows with little to no mitigation of existing environmental concerns, or allowing the science to catch up to the unprecedented pace of development, will only continue to exacerbate our own environmental challenges with water quality, water quantity, exponential growth of toxic tailings ponds and proven reclamation of wetlands that are daily being destroyed. Not to mention the constitutionally protected treaty rights that are repeatedly being infringed upon by Alberta, Canada and domestic and foreign-owned oil companies,” he added.

Both the Alberta and federal governments dispute the EU’s scientific data stating oilsands crude is a larger emitter.

While Alberta does not export its oil to Europe, meaning oilsands producers would not lose a valuable market, Canadian officials have been greatly concerned the FQD would set a dangerous precedent for targeting oilsands crude in other markets, such as the US, and promotes a negative image of the resource the government has been marketing as an “ethical” alternative to oil from the Middle East.

The amount of Canadian exports to the EU are expected to increase, as well, if major pipelines like TransCanada’s proposed Energy East and the Keystone XL are approved, and as refineries in Wales prepare to import the fuel.

At a public address in London alongside MP Simon Hughes, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, Poitras spoke about concerns people in Fort Chipewyan have about water quality, the health of wildlife and cancer.

“We currently have little to no influence on how the Canadian government is going ahead with its expansion plans,” Poitras told the crowd. “Right now, foreign policies like the Fuel Quality Directive will have a significant impact on the fate of our people. Our people can’t wait for further deliberations. We’re at a crossroads in our history as to whether we survive.”

Besides speaking publicly as part of a panel, Poitras also met with Transport Minister Norman Baker, and officials from the department of Energy and Climate Change and the Prime Minister’s office while in London.

He also met with officials from the office of Sustainable Development and Energy and the ministry of Foreign Affairs in France and parliamentarians in The Hague, Netherlands to lend support to the FQD.

“My message was the truth about what we as local indigenous communities have and continue to observe after 40 years of tar sands development – a point of view that is not told by our Albertan or Canadian politicians who have spent millions of dollars lobbying the same offices I met with,” Poitras said.

“Their response to my presentations was very much appreciated and often was the first time they had ever heard from anyone other than Canadian politicians or lobbyists from oil companies.”