The southern resident killer whales that frequent the Salish Sea off the coast of BC and Washington State may be the straw that will break Kinder Morgan’s Transmountain Pipeline plans. I recently attended a presentation by Raincoast Conservation Foundation on the process to apply to comment on the proposed Transmountain Pipeline Expansion Project. Attention has been focussed so much on the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal over the past year that I hadn’t thought much about what was happening in my own back yard. If Kinder Morgan gets approval for the Transmountain project to pipe diluted bitumen to Burnaby from the Alberta tar sands, and then ship it to Asia in tankers, a projected 408 tankers per year, loaded with toxic diluted bitumen, will travel out of Vancouver Harbour, through the Salish Sea and the Gulf Islands (proposed as a national marine conservation area), past Victoria and up the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the open Pacific. An equal number of ‘empty’ tankers will travel back along the same route to Burnaby. That’s more than 2 tankers a day, every day of the year. Kinder Morgan’s own risk analysis has identified these very waters at high risk of an oil spill.
The southern resident killer whales figured large during the Raincoast presentation. Killer whales are very sensitive to oil spills. After the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, killer whales were seen surfacing through the oil, breathing in and ingesting the hydrocarbons. All the females in one transient killer whale pod died as a result of the spill, and because killer whale pods are matriarchal, the pod was rendered unable to reproduce and therefore functionally extinct. A second resident pod lost 22 of its 38 members, many females. Killer whales are also sensitive to the acoustic noise produced by tankers and will leave areas of high underwater noise pollution. Because the southern resident killer whales are endangered in both Canada and the US, both federal governments have a legal obligation to protect these whales and their critical physical and acoustic habitat.
I have sent off my application to comment. If I’m accepted, I’ll be able to write a longer letter of comment describing why I think the pipeline and the tanker traffic are both really bad ideas. Many believe the decision has already been made and that there is no point in commenting. I share this cynicism, but as the speakers from the Rainforest Conservation Foundation made clear, the comments can be used as evidence in law suits. If the Transmountain project is approved, you can be sure the Foundation and other organizations will sue the National Energy Board and the federal government for failing to protect the habitat of the endangered whales. So I encourage anyone who walks the beaches, kayaks, sails, fishes, watches marine birds or mammals, or has waterfront property to apply to comment because you will be directly affected by an oil spill. You can fill out the online application on the NEB website http://www.neb-one.gc.ca/clf-nsi/rthnb/pplctnsbfrthnb/trnsmntnxpnsn/trnsmntnxpnsn-eng.html (note, you have to get a GCKey [government of Canada key] to sign in, which can be done through the NEB application process.) Raincoast Conservation Foundation has information on how to apply http://www.raincoast.org/trans-mountain-action/ The deadline is February 12.