PICA’s submission to the National Energy Board
Graham Boffey 
PICA’s President/Stewardship Committee Chair


The Pender Islands Conservancy Association (PICA) is a not-for-profit society incorporated under the British Columbia Society Act in 1993. The purposes of the Society include promoting awareness of technological changes which may have an impact on the Pender Islands, to provide leadership in responding to such changes and to provide education in responsible use of resources.

The proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project and associated increase in tanker traffic has the potential to impose far-reaching negative effects upon the North and South Pender Islands and the surrounding Salish Sea. It is unaceptable that such a project to transport diluted bitumen by pipeline and tanker be proposed by Kinder Morgan without adequate scientific data on of the chemical properties and possible environmental biological and human health effects of the bitumen and diluents.

The Pender Islands Conservancy Association requests the non-approval of the project by the National Energy Board for the following reasons;

Rendering bitumen suitable for pipeline transportation is achieved by dilution with volatile organic solvents such as natural gas condensate which contains both linear and cyclic hydrocarbons, including benzene a known carcinogen. The resulting “dilbit” has low enough viscosity for pipeline transportation. In the event of a spill into the marine environment this solvent component confers the potential ability of the otherwise denser than water bitumen to float until the solvents have evaporated to the point where the residual bitumen sinks. 

This flotation property permits the bitumen to be carried away from the initial location of the spill and distributed into the marine environment. Some of the adverse effects of bitumen on marine life and on the shore habitat have been recorded [1] but little is known about the acute and chronic toxicity of this complex chemical mixture. In addition bitumen that becomes deposited on beaches and upon marine life has physical effects such as covering benthic marine organisms (e.g. marine plant life, clams, scallops, mussels, prawns and crabs) thereby depriving them of sunlight for photosynthesis, oxygen for respiration and access to food organisms. These factors can have a profound effect upon the trophic behaviour of the food web for marine life from plankton to large mammals. The volatile components of the diluent may have acute toxic effects upon marine organisms which are evidenced by narcosis [2]. As stated above little is known about the toxicity of bitumen in seawater but based on the limited information on its chemical and physical characteristics in freshwater some components of the complex chemical mixture which comprises bitumen may be soluble in salt water and as such be susceptible to transformation into toxic substances by photolysis and oxidation [3]. Oxidation products of hydrocarbons are more water soluble and can result in the formation of compounds with surfactant properties. 

These properties would confer additional transfer through cell membranes in addition to the native lipophilic activity of soluble and emulsified hydrocarbons. Conversion of absorbed compounds in organisms ranging from bacteria to mammals by the cytochrome P450 detoxification pathway may produce metabolites of equal or greater toxicity rather than lower of toxicity than the original absorbed substances. Bioadsorption of asphaltenes and other polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) may be increased by adsorption on sediments which are then ingested by marine organisms [4]. This bioconcentration process could then increase any potential toxic effects of these compounds. The toxicity of weathered bitumen is currently unknown and research is ongoing. Creosote, a coal tar distillate containing various PAH's has been used for decades for the protection of wood pilings exposed to seawater from the activities of burrowing marine borers such as the mollusc Bankia setacea and the crustacean Limnoria lignorum. However recent studies have demonstrated that the constituents of this particular distillate causes a low survival rate in the eggs of the Pacific Herring (Clupea pallasii) and larvae that do hatch are often deformed [5]. By analogy, many of the PAH's in coal tar creosote are among those found so far in bitumen and it is reasonable to anticipate that similar toxic actions on fish and other marine life may occur.

The Pender Islands have predominantly fractured rock and gravel beaches. Sand and shingle beaches occur less frequently. In the event of a dilbit spill the residual bitumen would be exceedingly difficult to remove from the foreshore because of the nature of the substrata.

The importance of protecting the foreshore of the Pender Islands cannot be over emphasised because of its major significance as a breeding area for forage fish. Pender Islands Conservancy Association is currently participating in restoration of Hope Bay Creek as a Chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) spawning stream, a survey of forage fish breeding locations and in a program of planting eel grass (Zostera sp.). Eel grass provides food, shelter and protection from predators for juvenile fish. On North Pender Island there are 4.7 kms. and on South Pender Island 3.1 kms of foreshore suitable for forage fish spawning. The forage fish species identified as spawning on the beaches of the Pender Islands are the Pacific Sand Lance (Ammodytes hexapterus) and the Surf Smelt (Hypomesus pretiosus) [6]. Forage fish are critical food sources for many marine predators including Chinook and Coho salmon. They also provide food for numerous seabirds and mammals. A clean habitat is required for forage fish to breed succesfully and a sub-tidal habitat containing kelp for rearing the young fish. Other forage fish breed in the waters around Pender Island including the Pacific Herring (Clupea pallasii) whose gelatinous egg masses are to be found on rocks along the shoreline and on seaweeds including kelp. This species is likewise very sensitive to marine pollution by petroleum products.

The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion proposal calls for Aframax tankers of 800,000 barrels capacity to transport diluted bitumen from the Port of Vancouver Authority Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby to the Pacific Ocean through the Salish Sea and some of the most sensitive marine ecology in the world. This route passes around Turn Point on Stuart Island this is recognized by the United States Coast Guard and the Canadian Coast Guard as a location of high navigational risk. In recognition of this hazard a "Standard of Care" was established by the US and Canada to set the navigational requirements for the Special Operating Area at Turn Point which requires that inbound vessels yield to outbound vessels until any outbound vessel completes the turn. There have been occasions when non-compliance with this requirement have been observed. An oil spill in this vicinity would have major negative impacts on the San Juan Islands and the Southern Gulf Islands including the extremely ecologically sensitive Brooks Point Regional Park on South Pender Island.

The Canada Shipping Act (CSA) requires that a clean-up response capability of 10,000 tonnes (70,000 barrels) is available in the event of a petroleum product spill. The organization responsible for this clean-up is the Western Canadian Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) of which Kinder Morgan is the major owner. WCMRC has the responsibility for spill response for the whole province of British Columbia and claims to have twice the clean-up capacity as required under legislation. In a worst case situation, a spill from an Aframax tanker could exceed this capacity by at least 650%. To further complicate the clean-up process the equipment and resources of WCMRC are distributed in different centres in the Province. Inadequacy of response time and containment procedures have been illustrated recently when a relatively small fuel oil spill of an estimated 2,800 litres from the bulk carrier M/V Marathassa occurred in English Bay in April 2015 [7]. The National Energy Board is requested to reverse its decision which protects Kinder Morgan from disclosing its spill response plans and require the company to provide full disclosure to the public record for open review. Reinstating the Canadian Coast Guard station at Kitsilano should also be considered in order to restore the marine protection services in English Bay and the Fraser River to their previous levels.

It is well documented that the use of chemical dispersants can have an adverse effect on marine life by breaking the petroleum product into smaller particles that make toxic degradation products more readily absorbable by marine organisms. It has been found that this activity in the case of crude oil renders the dispersed oil more toxic than the untreated product. Dispersed petroleum products have been shown in laboratory studies to be toxic to all life stages of fish [8]. Birds may become more susceptible to potentially fatal hypothermia when exposed to chemical dispersants. This is a consequence of the destruction of the insulating properties of their plumage resulting from the loss of water repelling natural oils [9]. Some chemical dispersants can have profound health effects on humans following exposure to 2-butoxyethanol which is present in some of these products [10]. The clean-up of bitumen that sinks is technically extrmemly difficult, if not impossible, as has been demonstrated in the Kalamazoo River spill and this problem would be compounded in the significantly greater depths of the Salish Sea.

In addition to the possible direct toxic adverse effects of diluted bitumen on marine life there are other negative factors. Tanker traffic to the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby as proposed in the project would increase from the current situation of approximately 4 to 5 per month to approximately 34 to 40 per month. This increase in tanker traffic increases the risk of incidents such as spills of diluted bitumen cargo, discharge of contaminated bilge water, collisions between vessels (and consequent possible spills), noise and air pollution. In addition greater demands on moorage by tankers awaiting access to Westridge Marine Terminal would increase the frequency of tankers mooring in Plumper Sound with the assocated increased risks described above. During recent years there have been at least two incidents when freighters moored in Plumper Sound have dragged their anchors during storms and could have been driven ashore with serious fuel oil spill consequences.

The effect of acoustic disturbance of marine mammals by increased boat traffic is well documented [11], The proposed route for the increase in tanker traffic through the Salish Sea as a result of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion coincides with the critical habitat of the endangered Southern Resident Orca population. This critical habitat is essential for the survival and recovery of this population of killer whales which is identified as endangered in both the U.S.A. and Canada. This threat is increased by the existing decreased population of Chinook salmon, the major prey of the Southern Resident Orcas which along with the killer whales are extremely sensitive to pollution in the event of a bitumen or fuel oil spill. The disastrous effects of oil spills on birds in the marine environment have been observed in many parts of the world.

The economic effects of a serious petroleum product spill would be diasterous for the shellfish industry, fishing and the essential tourist economies of the Gulf Islands. The Pender Island economy is extremely fragile and a further downturn in tourist and part-time resident visits would have a major negative impact on local business.


References

  1. Federal Government Technical Report. “Properties, Composition and Marine Spill Behaviour, Fate and Transport of Two Diluted Bitumen Products from the Canadian Oil Sands. Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Cnada and Natural Rewsources Canada. November 30, 2013.
  2. Proceedings of the National Peer Review Workshop on Identifying Research Requirements for the Biological Effects of Oil and Gas-Related Contaminants on Aquatic Systems. Canadian Science Secretariat (CSAS). Proceedings Series 2015/002. March 2014.
  3. Dupuis, A. and Ucan-Marin, F. A literature review of the Aquatic Toxicology of Petroleum Oil. An Overview of Oil Properties and Effects to Aquatic Biota. Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) Research Document 2015/007. National Capital Region.
  4. Payne, J. and Driskel, W. 2003. The importance of distinguishing dissolved versus oil droplet phases in assessing the Fate, Transport, and Toxic Effects of Marine Oil Pollution. Proceedings of the International Oil Spill Conference, Washington, DC. pp. 1993-2000.
  5. Vines, C.A., Robbins, T., Griffin, F.J. and Cherr, G.N. (2000). The effects of diffusible Creosote-Derived Compounds on development in Pacific Herring (Clupea pallasi). Aquatic Toxicology 51, pp 225-230.
  6. de Graaf, R.C. (2013). North and South Pender Islands Beach Spawning Forage Fish Habitat Assessment Report to Islands Trust Fund. Emerald Sea Biological.
  7. Canadian Coast Guard Commisioner's Statement – Marathassa Oil Spill. Fisheries and Oceans Canada. April 12, 2015.
  8. Ramachandran, S.D., Hodson, P.V., Khan, C.W. And Lee, K. (2004). Oil Dispersant increases PAH uptake by fish exposed to Crude Oil. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 59, 300-308.
  9. Jenssen B.M. (1994). Review Article: Effects of oil pollution, chemically treated oil, and cleaning on thermal balance in birds. Environmental Pollution 86, (2) 207-215.
  10. Johanson, G.and Boman, A. (1991). Percutaneous absorption of 2-butoxyethanol vapour in Human Subjects. British Journal of Industrial Medicine 48, 788-792.
  11. Holt, M.M., Noran, D.P., Veirs, V., Emmons, C.K. and Veirs, S. (2009). Speaking up: Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) increase their call amplitude in response to vessel noise. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America January 125(1), 27-32.