Port Moody joins calls for TMX to develop ‘credible plan’ in case of oil spill in Burrard Inlet

The City of Port Moody is joining calls for Trans Mountain Pipeline (TMX) to develop a detailed plan in case of an oil spill at the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby.

TMX is consulting with stakeholders regarding the decommissioning of the old 60-year-old pier, which has been replaced with a three-berth expansion, which will allow a seven-fold minimum increase in tanker traffic in the Burrard Inlet.

Port Moody sent a letter outlining their concerns, the most notable being the need for a “credible plan” in case of a spill, including clarification, responsibilities and processes for life-saving tasks, and clearly identifying who is responsible for these tasks.

The city is not the first to call for a more-developed response plan.

On May 8, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) sent an open letter to the B.C. Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman, warning that “no credible plan exists” to handle an evacuation of coastal communities.

“Health Canada’s guidelines for an oil spill response emphasizes that hazardous materials should not be transported through populated areas,” said Dr. Tim Takarao, a physician-scientist and expert in epidemiology and toxicology. “If a large spill ignites on the inlet, tens of thousands of people could require evacuation.”

The letter was co-signed by a host of environmental, health and Indigenous Organizations, along with Green Party leader Elizabeth May, famed environmentalist David Suzuki, and 14 local mayors and councillors – including Port Moody Couns. Amy Lubik and Haven Lurbiecki.

Westridge terminal is already mechanically complete and was ready to start transporting diluted bitumen (dilbit) through Vancouver’s First and Second Narrows as of May.

CAPE argues, however, that major safety measures in the event of a spill are not operational, and appeals to the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) to restrict additional TMX tanker traffic until a proper plan is in place.

If one Aframax tanker (capable of carrying 600,000 barrels of dilbit) were to spill two-thirds of its load in the Burrard Inlet, and only 0.5 percent reached coastal shores, more than 25,000 people would need to immediately evacuate, according to the group’s estimates derived from Transport Canada’s Emergency Response Guidebook.

It adds that if the flammable cargo were to ignite, the number of people needing to evacuate would jump to 105,000.

“Fire and smoke-related mass casualties would be expected, along with hospitalizations from cardio-respiratory conditions and skin exposures to carcinogens for those who join in clean-up, and contact the spilled diluted bitumen,” the letter stated. “Damages, including mental health impacts, would be potentially present for years to come.”

The letter argues the emergency response suggested in TMX’s human health risk assessment (HHRA) has numerous “gaps and unanswered questions,” specifically related to a coordinated response to significant spill.

A contractor hired by TMX completed the current HHRA in October, 2023.

However, health authorities have disagreed over conclusions and assumptions related to its risk estimates, as they do not follow provincial health guidelines, according to CAPE.

One problem is that while HHRA calls for massive coordinated response between provincial and federal agencies, as well as local and regional governments, the HHRA simply describes having “appropriate authorities” lead evacuations efforts.

Another issue highlighted is that the HHRA only models for a hypothetical spill in English Bay, rather than a more populated area like the Burrard Inlet, and only one joint-response exercise has been conducted to date.

TMX’s HHRA also makes comments which run contrary to Health Canada guidance around crude oil incidents, such as issuing shelter-in-place measures when immediate evacuations are required, and downplaying the health risks.

CAPE included a Health Canada map, showing that populations within 800 metres of the shoreline would need to be evacuated in a spill event involving a fire.

They note that over seven oil tankers spill annually, and just last year, an Aframax tanker exploded in Malaysia.

“While a spill in Burrard Inlet would be considered a rare event, it is one with potentially catastrophic consequences,” the letter stated.

Port Moody has a history of opposition to the TMX expansion, and its objections were specifically related to potential risk to its waterways and environment.

The city is located approximately 2.3 kilometres east of the terminal, with 19.3 kilometres of shoreline along the Burrard Inlet – including 13.9 kilometres officially designated as environmentally sensitive.

In 2012, council passed a resolution officially opposing projects expanding tanker traffic near its coastal waters, and the city became an intervenor in National Energy Board hearings asking for reconsideration around the TMX project.

Mayor Meghan Lahti noted the city raised specific concerns about the risks, responsibilities, processes, capacities in the event of an oil spill.

“Those were all things that we actually argued about in our brief,” Lahti said. “We spent a lot of resources in the city to put forward . . . why we felt that there was a high risk for Port Moody.”

Patrick Penner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Tri-Cities Dispatch