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More oil tankers may fuel Fraser Valley smog

Lower Mainland regional districts are worried that emissions from oil tankers and operations at the Westridge Marine Terminal could increase ground-level ozone. - Kinder Morgan Canada
Lower Mainland regional districts are worried that emissions from oil tankers and operations at the Westridge Marine Terminal could increase ground-level ozone.
— image credit: Kinder Morgan Canada

The huge increase in oil tankers that would come with a twinned Trans Mountain oil pipeline could significantly worsen air pollution, particularly in the Fraser Valley.

That's one key concern raised by both Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley regional districts in their information requests to pipeline proponent Kinder Morgan.

Metro cites an expected increase of 1,518 tonnes per year of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from idling tankers and terminal operations, a number that dwarfs the current annual VOC emissions of 116 tonnes from Burnaby's Chevron oil refinery.

"The projected increase in VOC emissions in the Lower Fraser Valley due to the project at Westridge Marine Terminal is equivalent to adding 13 new refineries the size of the Chevron Burnaby refinery to the airshed," said Metro's information request filed with the National Energy Board.

An increase in VOC emissions will likely trigger worse ground-level ozone, according to Metro.

The FVRD noted the expanded Westridge Terminal alone would add the equivalent of an extra one per cent to the total VOC emissions in the airshed, and questioned how that wouldn't further increase the frequency of ozone level exceedances that already sometimes happen in Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Hope.

Kinder Morgan responded that VOC emissions should be much lower than previously estimated because technology to scrub vapours from docked ships has turned out to be more efficient than first estimated.

The proposed second pipeline to carry oil sands bitumen to the Pacific would increase Trans Mountain's capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day and draw an estimated 400 tankers per year to the Burnaby terminal – eight times the number that loaded there in each of the past two years.

Metro has previously flagged emissions from ships as one of the main sources of local air pollution.

The two regional districts wanted Kinder Morgan to revise the air quality model it used in reaching its air pollution conclusions, but the company said it won't do that because both Metro and the provincial environment ministry signed off on the model that was used.

The regional district also questioned Kinder Morgan's rationale for considering 20-kilometre visibility acceptable for air quality targets.

"Impacts on visual air quality are known to occur even when the visual range is much greater than this," Metro stated.

Metro has also raised concern that the route would run through the decommissioned Coquitlam landfill, potentially interfering with leachate or landfill gas collection.

Another Metro-raised concern is that dredging a deeper channel in the Second Narrows to accommodate larger tankers could jeopardize buried Metro water lines that deliver drinking water to most of the region.

Trans Mountain officials responded that channel dredging isn't required for the new pipeline.

The pipeline corridor would also crisscross various Metro sewer lines.

Another significant threat flagged by Metro is the risk of full-bore spill into the Fraser River where the pipeline crosses near the Port Mann Bridge.

It says the assumed uncontrolled release of 1,250 cubic metres of bitumen from a rupture there could be much more severe than a spill at the Westridge Marine Terminal and pose human health risks to residents, in addition to fouling farmland, ground water and food fisheries.

Metro also lodged concerns about the potential burning of spilled oil as a clean-up tactic, which Kinder Morgan said would not be used in urban areas.

The company also pledged not to burn slash in the region during pipeline construction in response to another FVRD query.

Read the full requests from Metro Vancouver and the FVRD, along with Kinder Morgan's responses.

Related story: Province demands better answers from pipeline firm

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