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

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