One year after Vancouver Oil Spill – Burrard Inlet Not a Sacrifice Zone for Kinder Morgan’s Export Plans

By Ben

Today is the one year anniversary of the most recent oil spill in the Vancouver harbour. This relatively small spill from a grain ship, the Marathassa, was a stark reminder of just how unprepared for an oil spill we really are. Oil washed up on beaches throughout Burrard Inlet. We are still facing the threat of increased tanker traffic in Burrard inlet that could cause a much more serious spill.


Last week I was lucky enough to see a Humpback whale hanging out just off Jericho Beach not far from the site of the Marathassa spill. Burrard Inlet is not a sacrifice zone for big oil companies to put at risk with their plans to export bitumen.


If the Kinder Morgan pipeline is allowed to be built, it would result in an increase from sixty to eighty tankers a year to over four hundred  tankers a year each carrying much more oil than was spilled by the Exxon Valdez. To make things worse, a spill of diluted bitumen from the tar sands would be even more difficult to clean up and potentially even more dangerous. A recent report from the National Academy of Science (NAS) shows that bitumen would potentially sink if spilled. This is a fact Kinder Morgan has been denying for years. Unfortunately the National Energy Board has refused to consider the NAS study in their deliberations.

The NEB’s public consultation process for the Kinder Morgan pipeline has been called a “fraudulent process” by the former CEO of BC Hydro and his concerns have been echoed by mayors throughout the region. Participation in the process was severely limited and those who were given intervenor status were not even given the ability to cross examine the proponents representatives. The new federal government has acknowledged the flaws with the NEB process and is appointing a special representative to do further public consultation after the NEB issues its recommendations in May. It’s still not clear exactly what this new process will entail but the intent is to provide an opportunity for people to more fully weigh in on their views about the process. We will be keeping people informed about opportunities to get involved in this process. If you aren’t already on our mailing list you can sign up for action alerts on our website at

When it comes to preventing oil spills, no oil company can guarantee there will never be a spill. In fact last week TransCanada the company behind the proposed Energy East Pipeline had to shut down the existing Keystone pipeline after a spill in South Dakota. It’s still unclear what the source of the spill was. What is clear is that when it comes to the transport of oil by pipeline, rail or tanker it’s not a matter of if a spill will happen it’s a matter of when a spill will happen.  The only way to reduce the risk of a spill is to reduce our dependence on oil.
Given the Trudeau government’s commitment to reducing our contribution to climate change it stands to reason that we would not be expanding the infrastructure that will lock in fossil fuel dependence for decades into the future. Instead we should be investing in infrastructure that will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Expanding our energy grid, retrofitting our existing building and supporting the transition to electric vehicles and public transit for starters. These kinds of  investments would not only make us safer in terms of the risk of a spill and in terms of our contributions to climate change but  they would also create far more jobs per dollar invested and would help safeguard us from the volatility of oil markets that have hit Canada hard in the last couple years.

Prime Minister Trudeau has stated clearly that “the politicians issue the permits but the people give the permission”. Let’s make sure that our new government hears loud and clear that Kinder Morgan does not have permission to treat Burrard Inlet as a sacrifice zone. Let’s hold the federal government to their commitment to do the right thing for climate change. The people of BC don’t want to see anything like the Marathassa spill to happen again.  We want to be part of the solution to climate change and play a positive role in the world.