Five Handy Facts About the Northern B.C. Oil Tanker Ban

A bill to restrict the movement of oil off the north coast of British Columbia has been formally tabled by the federal government in the House of Commons, according to a statement released by Transport Canada Friday.

The proposed legislation, which would restrict tankers carrying more than 12,500 metric tons of crude oil from entering or exiting north coast ports, must now make its way through Parliament.

“Today is a positive day for us,” Gavin Smith, staff counsel at West Coast Environmental Law, said.

“We’re very happy to see the federal government follow through on its promise to introduce a tanker ban.”

Smith said the legislation will prevent megaprojects like the Northern Gateway pipeline from being built in northern B.C. but added he has yet to review the text of the bill in detail.

“It appears to be introduced along similar lines to what the government signaled it was going to do in late 2016.” West Coast Environmental Law released a detailed analysis on the proposed tanker ban legislation in early 2017.

Here are five things you need to know about the newly tabled oil tanker ban from that analysis.

1. Tanker Ban Won’t Ban Supertankers of Refined Oil from the Coast

While the proposed legislation does prevent supertankers of crude oil and similar hydrocarbon products from moving in and out of northern ports in large quantities, it does not prevent refined oil products from doing the same.

This leaves the door open for future major oil refinery projects on B.C.’s north coast.

There are currently two proposed oil refinery projects for Kitimat, B.C. Both Kitimat Clean, which would refine 400,000 barrels of oil per day and the Pacific Future Energy Refinery Project, which would refine 200,000 barrels of oil per day, are at various stages of review under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

2. Tankers Carrying 12,500 Tons or Less of Oil Excluded From Ban

Once passed, the bill will only prevent vessels carrying more than 12,500 tons of crude oil from stopping at coastal ports. This allows northern communities reliant on oil for heating and other purposes to continue to receive supply shipments.

Joyce Henry, Director General of Marine Policy with Transport Canada said “it was never the Government’s intent to prohibit resupply. Shipments below 12,500 metric tons will continue to be allowed.”

In previous iterations the tanker ban would have prevented the shipment of more than 2,000 tons of crude oil but this bar was eventually raised to the current 12,500 ton threshold.

Gavin Smith said in a previous interview that the 12,500 threshold is slightly higher than the highest recorded shipments in the region, “so they’ve tried to cap it at the highest level of shipments that have been occurring there.”

3. Tanker Ban Would Not Prevent Another Nathan E. Stewart From Happening

The tanker ban was first announced by the federal government after Transport Minister Marc Garneau traveled to Heiltsuk territory to witness a diesel spill from the Nathan E. Stewart, a sunken fuel barge.

Despite this fact, the tanker ban would not prevent another similar spill from happening. The ban will not affect current fuel barge traffic.

Jess Housty, tribal councilor with the Heiltsuk First Nation previously said that the tanker ban “changes nothing.”

“I would challenge the federal government to give me a list of vessels that are actually impacted by this legislation,” she said. “I can’t think of one.”

The Nathan E. Stewart and other U.S.-bound fuel barges can pass through B.C.’s internal waters even though a Voluntary Tanker Exclusion Zone exists to prevent the transport of international oil from approaching B.C.’s coast line.
The tanker ban does not change that.

“This tanker ban, not only does it not help us minimize the current risks we face, it gives permission for massive new risks that we don’t fully understand and I don’t think the general public would be comfortable with,” Housty said.

4. South Coast of B.C. Near Vancouver and Victoria Not Protected

The tanker ban does not impact tanker traffic on B.C.’s south coast where the terminus of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline is located. The ban extends from the northern B.C./U.S. border and stops near the tip of Vancouver Island.

Recently the federal government approved a massive expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, a change that will lead to a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic in the Burrard Inlet.

5. Details of Banned Fuels Subject to Change

The tanker ban will prevent the movement of large amounts of crude oil from traversing coastal waters in B.C.’s north.

But the ban will also cover other heavy hydrocarbons known as persistent oil products in a ‘schedule’ appending the legislation.

According to Smith, the federal government will determine what types of products are listed in that schedule.

“That approach gives the federal government some flexibility to decide what it does and does not want to include in the moratorium,” Smith said.

The federal government has already, for example, said that jet fuel, propane and liquefied natural gas (LNG) will be permanently excluded from the ban.

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