What would the impact of an oil spill in Burrard Inlet be?

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This page builds on information from a Tsleil-Waututh Nation report that assesses the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker project. You can read and download the full report here.

 

Every inch of Burrard Inlet, including the Indian Arm, would likely be affected by an oil spill (Background Facts for TWN Independent Assessment, p. 1). Such an incident would also affect Tsleil-Waututh cultural activities.

 

A reasonable worst case oil spill in Burrard Inlet after 48 hours.

 

What would the immediate effects of an oil spill be?

  • The Vancouver Sun reports that within 48 hours, 90% of the oil would strand on our beaches and foul up to 25 kilometres of shoreline; stranded oil can turn into secondary oil spills when it refloats at high tide, then strands yet again (Trans Mountain Assessment Report, p. 68).
  • Even the small portion of oil that does not strand along the shore can cover tens of square kilometres on the water (Trans Mountain Assessment Report, p. 66).

 

Workers clean the oil that has stranded on the beach.

Can an oil spill be cleaned up?

  • Oil cannot be fully cleaned up, and a delay in cleanup response will considerably decrease the volume of recoverable oil (Trans Mountain Assessment Report, p. 3)
  • Dr. Jeffrey Short states that the abundance of armoured beaches, marshes and mudflats in the Burrard Inlet promotes oil stranding and sinking along the shorelines. Oil may sift into the subsurface of sandy beaches, fall to the subtidal floor, or sink into the holes burrowed into mudflats by marine organisms. Oil, in these cases, could hide on Burrard Inlet shorelines for decades or even a century, making it incredibly difficult to clean up (Appendix 3, Fate and Effects of Oil Spills, p. 56, 57).
  • Even under the best of circumstances, less than half the volume of spilled oil can be recovered during a cleanup response in Burrard Inlet, leaving oil in the air, on the shoreline, or in the water (Trans Mountain Assessment Report, p. 69)

 

Tugboats pull a large tanker through the Inlet.

 

How would an oil spill affect people living in the Burrard Inlet ecosystem?

  • The toxic fumes from spilled diluted bitumen could affect the health of over one million people, including those on the Tsleil-Waututh Reserve (Trans Mountain Assessment Report, p. 70)
  • The harm to the ecosystem will affect Tsleil-Waututh cultural activities, the subsistence economy (such as various forms of fish, seafood and birds), and the contemporary economy. Water pollution and sediment will contaminate places important for cultural work, and thus prevent access to ancestral knowledge and wisdom (Trans Mountain Assessment Report, p. 71)

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Would the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline affect fish, birds, and wildlife? Fish, birds, and other wildlife are in the immediate path of harm in the event of any oil spill, major or minor. Here's how: Any marine birds near an oil spill risk oiling and probable death. A major spill could result in one of the top bird mortality events ever caused by oil.
How likely is an oil spill if the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline goes ahead? Based on the Kinder Morgan's past record, an oil spill is likely to happen at least once in four years, and the proposed pipeline will make oil spills more likely. If the proposed pipeline is implemented, the likelihood of a spill in the Burrard Inlet over fifty years lies at 79-87%.
What would the economic cost of an oil spill be? A 2012 study on the potential economic impact of a tanker spill on ocean-based industries in British Columbia, conducted by the Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia estimates that a medium-sized spill on British Columbia's north coast would cost the regional economy up to $189 million.

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