The National Energy Board is holding a Reconsideration hearing on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project and will consider any necessary changes or additions to its May 2016 Recommendation Report, in light of the inclusion of Project-related marine shipping between the Westridge Marine Terminal and the 12-nautical-mile territorial sea limit in the “designated project” under Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012).

Those involved in the hearing are expected to limit their evidence to only new and updated information on a narrow set of issues. As evidence already on the record won’t be re-filed and re-tested, here are some highlights of what has already been presented to the NEB.

Environmental effects of Project-related marine shipping

To understand the potential effects of the Project-related increase on marine traffic, Trans Mountain undertook an Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment (ESA), as well as a quantitative marine risk assessment of the potential for oil spills in the marine environment. The results of these activities are incorporated in Volume 8A and Volume 8B of our Application to the NEB.

Additionally, Trans Mountain initiated the Technical Review Process of Marine Terminal Systems and Transshipment Sites (TERMPOL) under Transport Canada’s jurisdiction. TERMPOL is a federal review process focusing on safety and marine transportation components of a project. Trans Mountain conducted a prescribed set of studies and submitted these to the TERMPOL Review Committee (TRC), which is chaired by Transport Canada and includes representatives of other federal agencies including the Canadian Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada. These studies can be found in Volume 8C of our Application to the NEB.

After reviewing Trans Mountain’s studies and taking into account Trans Mountain’s commitments, the TRC did not identify regulatory concerns for the tankers, tanker operations, the proposed route, navigability, other waterway users or  the marine terminal operations associated with tankers supporting the Project.

In its reports the TRC noted it did not consider the overall increase in marine traffic levels to be an issue; however, it does support the precautionary risk control measures Trans Mountain  proposed that will further mitigate risk due to increased tanker traffic. These measures, some of which are already implemented and do not depend on the Project, include:

  • Existing tug escort of outbound laden tankers will be expanded to cover the entire tanker shipping route through the Strait of Georgia and between Race Rocks and the Juliet Buoy at the western entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait
  • Pilot disembarkation will be extended to take place near Race Rocks instead of Victoria (pilots have been trained to disembark by helicopter)
  • Enhanced Situational Awareness techniques will be applied that will require:
    • Safety calls by pilots and masters of laden tankers
    • Notices to industry issued by Pacific Pilotage Authority
    • Tactical use of escort tug along shipping route
    • Boating safety engagement and awareness program led by Pacific Pilotage Authority

Measures to mitigate any significant adverse environmental effects of Project-related marine shipping

A comprehensive marine and navigation risk study conducted for the Project provides evidence that a major oil spill is a low likelihood event in the region. Although a marine spill is unlikely, we are proposing marine emergency response enhancements, based on risk assessment results, product testing, oil spill modelling and engagement, that would create an increased response area for the Salish Sea and Strait of Juan de Fuca. The Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) will implement the enhancements and will double WCMRC’s existing response capacity while cutting in half the delivery time of existing planning standards.

  • More than $150 million investment in WCMRC
  • Creation of more than 100 new jobs
  • Establishing six new response bases and adding new vessels at strategic locations along BC’s southern shipping lane. Two of the bases call for 24/7 operations, including a new Vancouver Harbour base
  • The new bases and response resources will ensure:
    • Response capacity resident in Salish Sea will be 20,000 tonnes –  twice what is currently required
    • Initial response within:
      • Two-hour response to spill notification in the Port of Vancouver
      • Six hour response to spill notification outside the Port at any location between the Port of Vancouver and the western entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait    

These proposed marine safety enhancements, along with new information about risk and mitigation of oil behaviour, will benefit Trans Mountain, and all marine waterway users.

Measures to avoid or lessen the adverse effects of Project-related marine shipping on SARA-listed wildlife species.

In assessing the potential environmental effects of Project-related shipping activities, Trans  Mountain conducted an assessment of the potential impacts on marine mammals. In particular, it assessed the impacts on the southern resident killer whale (SRKW) as one of the indicator species. Due to the current Endangered status of the SRKW population, coupled with the fact the entire population spends much of its time in the marine regional study area, the environmental assessment concluded that any residual effect, however small, beyond current levels was undesirable, and, for that reason, determined that underwater noise effects on SRKWs may be significant.

Vessels calling at the Westridge Marine Terminal will continue to represent a comparatively small proportion of total marine transportation activity in the Salish Sea. It is forecasted that Project tankers in the future will comprise only about 6.6 per cent of all large commercial vessels trading in the Project area. As such, rather than Project-specific efforts, industry wide efforts are necessary to mitigate the effects of maritime commerce and other activities on marine mammals in the region.

Trans Mountain has committed to developing a Marine Mammal Protection Program (MMPP) to support SRKW recovery. The program will focus on strategies that will be implemented during the operations will focus on supporting three of the recovery strategies identified by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) in their southern resident killer whale Action Plan.

The first recovery strategy identified in DFO’s southern resident killer whale Action Plan is to ensure that resident killer whales have an adequate and accessible food supply to allow recovery of the species. To assist in achieving this goal, Trans Mountain will work with stakeholders, Indigenous communities and regulatory authorities, such as DFO and the NEB, to protect, preserve and, where possible, enhance the freshwater habitat of Fraser River salmon stocks. The primary way Trans Mountain will contribute is by implementing the various comprehensive measures proposed in our Application to mitigate environmental effects during construction of the Project, including for the salmon-bearing crossings within the BC portion of the pipeline corridor.

The second recovery strategy Trans Mountain will support aims to ensure that chemical and biological pollutants do not prevent the recovery of SRKW populations. This strategy will dovetail with Trans Mountain’s enhancements to marine safety with a goal of reducing the risk that chemical releases will be introduced into SRKW habitat from existing and future shipping activity.

The third recovery strategy Trans Mountain will incorporate into its MMPP aims to ensure that disturbance from human activities does not prevent the recovery of SRKWs. This strategy is designed to deal directly with the issue of ship-associated underwater noise.

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority has established the “Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation Program” (ECHO Program), which seeks to better understand and manage potential effects on cetaceans (i.e., whales, porpoises and dolphins) resulting from commercial vessel activities throughout the southern coast of B.C. Along with other stakeholders, Trans Mountain is actively supporting the ECHO Program and its initiatives to undertake research and explore solutions to offset the effects of underwater noise from marine vessel traffic on the SRKW population and associated Indigenous traditional uses. The ECHO Program is also investigating technological solutions, such as real time whale detection technologies that that may provide means to reduce ship strikes while simultaneously allowing maritime commerce and other activities to proceed.