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rashid sumaila

UBC study: a major spill in Burrard Inlet could cost the Vancouver economy $1.2 billion


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As the National Energy Board process gets further along for the Trans Mountain Expansion review, conversations are growing and research is building about the risks of the project. Since CRED first published the report ‘Assessing the risks of Kinder Morgan’s proposed new Trans Mountain Pipeline’ in 2013, more and more research has come to light about risks associated with this project. Reports around environmental, health, economic and reputational impacts have all shone a light on risks that weren’t immediately clear.

One of the latest reports comes from UBC Fisheries and Oceans and was led by CRED Advisor, Rashid Sumaila. The report ‘Potential economic impact of a tanker spill on ocean-dependent activities in Vancouver, British Columbia’ found that a major spill in Burrard Inlet could cost the Vancouver economy $1.2 billion. This estimate is alarming, and doesn’t include the cost of clean-up, response, or recovery. The report looked at the potential impact of an oil spill in Burrard Inlet on five key industries:

  1. Commercial fishing
  2. Port activities (shipping and cruises)
  3. Inner harbour transportation
  4. Tourism (on-water recreation, ocean-based and waterfront events, visiting beaches and seawall)
  5. Local use of the waterfront

Through the analyses of three potential spill scenarios: no spill, a spill in May and a spill in October, the study found that a 16,000 m3 oil spill in October would cost Vancouver’s economy just over $1 billion. If that same spill happened in May (when there is more ocean-dependent economic activity occuring) the economic cost goes up to over $1.2 billion.

The report concluded that an oil spill would result in closures of commercial fishing, floatplane activity and closure of the Vancouver port, and it could continue to impact ocean-dependent tourism for 8 years. Those are just some examples of the impact a spill would have on businesses and jobs dependent on a healthy marine environment. We’ve already seen that it doesn’t take much to close industries down. Crab and prawn fishing were shut down by the department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Musqueam Band in April after an oil spill leaked from a grain carrier in Burrard Inlet, and that was a minor spill in comparison to the potential scenario that this study is based on.

Kinder Morgan Canada’s spokesperson Ali Hounsell is quick to remind the public that “the Trans Mountain pipeline and oil tankers have been safely operating in this community and through this harbour for the past 60 years”. Even if this is the case, will this hold true when the number of tankers have increased fourfold?

This UBC study focuses on impacts to ocean-dependent economic activities within the City of Vancouver; however, several other communities such as the Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam and Squamish First Nations peoples, who depend on the Burrard Inlet for food as well as social and ceremonial purposes would also be impacted. Those impacts need consideration, as do the other issues such as stranded assets, spills on land, and the impact on BC’s brand.


image courtesy of Jan Zescheky

CRED reacts: must see real economic assessment before federal “pipeline push”


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On September 12th the federal government announced a new strategy to garner support in BC for the development of new oil pipelines.

In response, CRED is calling on the federal government to do a full assessment into the economic risks of new oil pipelines before pushing for their approval.

If the government is serious about protecting the long-term prosperity of Canadians, there needs to be a real consideration of whether new oil pipelines could hurt more jobs than they create. Over 80% of British Columbians work in the service sector – they need to know that their jobs aren’t at risk of similar impacts as seen after oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere across North America.

Meeru Dhalwala, co-owner of celebrated local restaurants Vij’s, Rangoli and Shanik and CRED advisor, says:

Tourism is a key source of income for our BC economy, particularly in Vancouver. I’ve read much on both sides of the argument and I am not at all convinced that the relatively few permanent jobs created by new oil pipelines are worth the massive risks–the most important risk being a major and expensive oil spill that would devastate our waters, wildlife and economy.”

UBC economist and CRED advisor Dr Rashid Sumaila echoes the need for a robust, independent cost-benefit analysis:

Any decision about whether to approve a new pipeline in BC needs to weigh economic costs against the benefits, especially for those of us who live and work along the pipeline and tanker routes.

How might a new pipeline impact the brand of Vancouver? How would it affect the price of gas in the lower mainland? If a significant spill were to occur, how many jobs would be lost? How much would an oil spill cost to clean up and who would pay? All of these questions need to be carefully considered before sending delegates to BC to campaign for approval.