Feds Cite Whales Vs. Tankers

A federal report warns industry proposals to ship oil from British Columbia fail to address critical issues affecting whale populations. The Department of Fisheries analysis expressed concern with claims by Kinder Morgan Canada over the impact of oil tanker traffic off the B.C. coast.

“There are deficiencies in both the assessment of potential effects resulting from ship strikes and exposure to underwater noise,” wrote a department secretariat; “Ship strike is a threat of conservation concern, particularly for baleen whales.”

Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion proposes to pipe oil 1,150-kilometres from Strathcona County, Alta. to Burnaby, B.C. for loading aboard tankers. Cabinet in 2014 amended the classification of Pacific humpback whales under its Species At Risk Act to permit unrestricted tanker traffic.

West Coast tanker traffic is projected to increase from some 600 shipments a year to 2,400 with increased oil exports, according to the Commissioner of the Environment. “It’s a big issue,” said MP Nathan Cullen.

“It’s a global concern, particularly in an area where we have had recovery of whale species,” said Cullen, MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley, B.C.; “The process that is being used by the government so far is flawed, and the public has lost faith. It doesn’t provide certainty and creates avenues for conflict.” Cullen has sponsored Bill C-628 An Act To Amend The Canada Shipping Act to ban international oil tankers off the B.C. coast.

The fisheries analysis of Kinder Morgan’s proposal now before the National Energy Board cited “insufficient information and analysis” regarding the threat to whales, and concluded the company used unreliable data in calculating odds of ship strikes.

Cabinet in an order last April 19 downgraded the Pacific humpback whale from “threatened” status under the Species At Risk Act to a lesser rating of “species of concern”. In a notice, Environment Canada acknowledged even routine shipping posed a “variety of threats, notably vessel strikes, entanglements in fishing gear, and disturbance or displacement due to underwater noise.”

Ecology groups earlier sued the Department of the Environment for failing to finalize a recovery strategy for the whales after they were identified as a threatened species in 2005. Pacific humpback whales were hunted commercially till 1966. The population has since recovered from a few hundred to some 18,000.

The whale analysis followed a report by the Council of Canadians cautioning of major ecological damage from a bitumen spill in the St. Lawrence River. A tanker or pipeline breach would result in some $1.4 billion in damage, the council estimated.

“We can certainly use the model anywhere that oil is being transported,” said the Council’s Mark Calzavara. “It can apply equally to pipeline spills and spills from vessels.”

By Kaven Baker-Voakes

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