Tar Sands, Tankers & Pipelines

British Columbia is a major focal point for companies that want to use the province to ship tar sands oil to international markets. The two main proposals are the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain and Enbridge Northern Gateway projects. Crossing hundreds of rivers and streams and exposing our coast to the increased threat of oil spills, these proposals would also enable expansion of the tar sands, Canada’s largest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution, while bringing few lasting economic benefits to British Columbians.

West Coast Environmental Law is working to prevent the expansion of tar sands infrastructure in BC in order to protect our watersheds, marine and terrestrial ecosystems, our climate, and the human communities that rely on them. To do this, West Coast engages in three types of work.

First, West Coast provides legal and strategic advice and representation to a number of First Nations that oppose tar sands pipelines and tankers in their territory.

Second, West Coast provides public legal information, analysis, and occasionally funding through the Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund to enable to the public to engage on oil pipeline and tanker issues.

Third, West Coast advocates for law reform that can change the rules of the game, including a legislated oil tanker ban on BC’s north coast, and environmental assessment reform to better enable community voices to be heard and to accommodate Indigenous governance.

Oil Pipeline and Tanker Proposals

The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Project proposes to build a new 987-kilometre pipeline from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, BC, mostly alongside an existing pipeline constructed in the 1950s. The proposed expansion would triple Kinder Morgan’s transport of oil to Burnaby from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day on average.

The new pipeline would be used to carry diluted tar sands bitumen, the majority of which would be exported. This would require a sevenfold increase in oil tankers entering Burrard inlet, jumping from about 60 to 408 tankers per year.

The Enbridge Northern Gateway project proposes to build twin 1,178-kilometre pipelines shipping an average of 525,000 barrels per day of diluted tar sands bitumen and 193,000 barrels per day of toxic condensate between Bruderheim, Alberta and Kitimat, BC. Northern Gateway proposes to build a new shipping terminal in Kitimat as a terminus for the pipelines, which would introduce an average of 220 supertanker shipments per year through the narrow Douglas Channel.

These types of tar sands infrastructure proposals present serious risks to our water, land, and climate. Enbridge, for example, was responsible for the largest inland oil spill in American history when its Line 6B pipeline ruptured near Marshall, Michigan in 2010, spilling over three million litres of tar sands oil and seriously contaminating Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

In the marine environment, such proposals would leave British Columbia vulnerable to an oil spill disaster on the scale of the Exxon Valdez, which could devastate the coastal environment and way of life for generations. Furthermore, tar sands infrastructure through BC would facilitate significant expansion of oil production in the tars sands, locking in increases in carbon pollution that are inconsistent with Canada’s international goal to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

These proposals are also being pushed forward in the face of the refusal of consent by many affected First Nations, as evidenced in the Save the Fraser Declaration, the Coastal First Nations Declaration and the Treaty to Protect the Salish Sea, in which signatory First Nations ban tar sands infrastructure projects in their territories pursuant to their own laws.

For a list of West Coast Environmental Law's most recent publications related to Tar Sands, Tankers & Pipelines, click here