WASHINGTON – Highlighting the ongoing threats from shipping diluted bitumen—or tar sands oil—a coalition of environmental and conservation organizations today welcomed a move by the premier of British Columbia to propose resolving safety and spill response concerns before a risky new Kinder Morgan pipeline can carry tar sands oil through the province.
In a letter to BC Premier John Horgan, the groups note there’s a “surprising lack” of scientific knowledge about the impacts on fresh water and salt water from possible tar sands oil spills from pipelines or oil tankers.
Not much is known outside of the challenging and harmful experiences caused by tar sands oil spills into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River—which resulted in a more than $1 billion cleanup effort—and into the community of Mayflower, Arkansas –which prompted another costly clean up and evacuation of homes.
Horgan’s government recently announced it is seeking to limit increases in the transport of diluted bitumen through British Columbia until an independent panel can analyze scientific gaps and safety concerns as well as determine strategies for dealing with a possible spill. The move could result in delaying a planned “twinning” of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries tar sands oil to Vancouver, BC as well as northern Washington (via the Puget Sound pipeline).
“In the face of an environmental threat our first responders are unprepared for, we commend you and your government for taking a cautious, science-based approach to preparing for the possible construction of the Kinder Morgan project,” says the letter signed by 350.org, Bold Alliance, Greenpeace USA, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oil Change International, Power Shift Network, Rainforest Action Network, and Sierra Club. “Be assured that we have heard similar concerns from elected representatives in your sister West Coast states, all of whom are considering measures that they can take to increase knowledge and preparedness for the environmental threat posed by a significant increase in oil tankers carrying diluted bitumen, or tar sands oil, on West Coast waters.”
The government of Alberta, long-time supporters of expanded tar sands production in the province, retaliated against Horgan’s move by banning wine shipped from British Columbia to Alberta. That prompted Horgan to respond that he won’t be swayed by “retaliatory” action.
The text of the groups’ letter follows:
March 8, 2018
The undersigned organizations, representing several million members living in both Canada and the United States, write to express our strong support for the common-sense announcement your government made on January 30 regarding increased shipments of diluted bitumen, also known as tar sands oil, through British Columbia.
Along the entire West Coast of the United States, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion project has caused alarm in coastal communities. The addition of nearly 350 new oil tankers to the busy waters shared by Canada and the United States in the Salish Sea and along the Pacific coastlines of Washington, Oregon, and California represents a level of environmental threat rarely witnessed in recent years.
This is because of the surprising lack of scientific attention paid to the ways in which diluted bitumen behaves when spilled into water, especially salt water. Instead, we have been left only with the experiences of spills that ended up in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan and the streets and yards of residents of Mayflower, Arkansas. In both situations, clean-up proved challenging, expensive, and in the case of the Kalamazoo River, required extensive dredging to try and remove the large quantities of oil that sunk below the river’s surface and ended up mixed with sediments on the bottom.
In the years since those spills, the work of the Royal Society of Canada and the National Academy of Sciences in the United States has served to highlight the lack of scientific and technical knowledge that we have about diluted bitumen and how to clean it up. To quote the National Academy: “In cases where traditional removal or containment techniques are not immediately successful, the possibility of submerged and sunken oil increases. This situation is highly problematic for spill response because (1) there are few effective techniques for detection, containment, and recovery of oil that is submerged in the water column, and (2) available techniques for responding to oil that has sunk to the bottom have variable effectiveness depending on the spill conditions. [...] Broadly, [U.S.] regulations and agency practices do not take the unique properties of diluted bitumen into account, nor do they encourage effective planning for spills of diluted bitumen.”
In the face of an environmental threat our first responders are unprepared for, we commend you and your government for taking a cautious, science-based approach to preparing for the possible construction of the Kinder Morgan project. Be assured that we have heard similar concerns from elected representatives in your sister West Coast states, all of whom are considering measures that they can take to increase knowledge and preparedness for the environmental threat posed by a significant increase in oil tankers carrying diluted bitumen, or tar sands oil, on West Coast waters.
In the coming weeks and months, we hope to see the governors, state lawmakers, and federal lawmakers in Washington, Oregon, and California express their support for British Columbia’s approach and pledge to work with your government to ensure the entire West Coast and its coastal communities and economies are protected from harm.
Natural Resources Defense Council
Oil Change International
Power Shift Network
Rainforest Action Network