With Canada’s approval of the Trans Mountain Corp.’s pipeline expansion, those in Washington state who have opposed the project due to potential environmental ramifications are at a loss.
“No matter what happens, we will be vigilant and unwavering in our calls for (environmental) accountability and diligence,” Governor’s Office spokeswoman Jaime Smith said. She said, though, that there’s little the state can do to challenge the project, other than continue to voice concerns over tanker traffic, orca whales and climate change.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in mid-June approved the contentious pipeline expansion to triple the flow of oil from Alberta to the Pacific Coast.
The Trans Mountain Pipeline, which Canada purchased from Kinder Morgan in 2018, is the nation’s only pipeline to the West Coast, according to the Trans Mountain Corp. website. It delivers about 300,000 barrels of crude oil and refined products daily through about 715 miles of pipeline traversing Alberta, British Columbia and Washington.
Some officials, tribes and environment groups worry the increased tanker traffic raises risks for oil spills in the Salish Sea and for endangered Southern Resident orcas and adds greenhouse gas emissions.
The project “exacerbates an already existential crisis for our orca, salmon yields, sacred tribal sites, and efforts to combat climate change,” state Sen. Liz Lovelett, D-Anacortes, said this week in a letter to Trudeau, urging him to reconsider.
“The negative impacts of this decision are undeniable,” she said. “Tribal considerations, the plight of our beloved orca, and the health of our Salish Sea are too important to be risked for short-term economic gains.”
Gov. Jay Inslee called the project approval “alarming and deeply disappointing” when it was announced June 18.
“This pipeline, if built, will impose significant negative impacts on our coastal communities, increase the risk of oil spills in our shared waters and double down on carbon-intensive fossil fuels at a time when world leaders need to double down on clean energy,” he said in a news release. “It would unwind our urgent efforts to reduce toxics in our environment, protect our orcas and improve oil-transport safety.”
Those concerns have been echoed for several years by state, federal and tribal leaders representing parts of the Salish Sea region and environment groups. They led to Kinder Morgan backing away from the project in 2018 and ultimately selling the pipeline to the Canadian government.
Early estimates suggest the project could net Canada about $47 billion in revenue from taxes and royalties as revenues increase for oil producers, according to Trans Mountain Corp.
“The Trans Mountain Expansion Project will help make sure Canada gets full value for its oil,” the company’s website states, adding that workers will benefit from construction, oil producers will earn more revenue and the government will collect more tax.
The expansion again on the horizon will largely follow the route of the original Trans Mountain Pipeline, built in 1953, with 609 miles of larger pipeline to increase the capacity from 300,000 barrels to 890,000 barrels per day.
While most of that increased capacity will be sent by tanker ship to Asia, according to Trans Mountain Corp., some could also come through the Puget Sound Pipeline — a 69-mile pipeline spur that extends to refineries in Whatcom and Skagit counties.
Delivery of oil products through that pipeline to Washington started in 1954. Today, it can deliver up to 240,000 barrels per day to the four refineries it serves here, including Shell and Marathon at March Point near Anacortes.
In 2018, the Puget Sound Pipeline spur reportedly moved 55 million barrels of crude oil into the state, according to state Department of Ecology records.
With a capacity for about 195 million more barrels per day, there’s room for growth.
Marathon Petroleum Anacortes Refinery spokesman Matt Gill would not provide specifics on whether the refinery’s supply was expected to change.
“However, we support the development of energy infrastructure, which is critical to ensuring supplies of reliable, affordable fuels to consumers,” he said.
Shell Puget Sound Refinery spokesman Cory Ertel also would not discuss its supply expectations, but said the refinery’s procedure for choosing the most compatible and competitive sources of oil, as well as how it handles its products, will not change.
Trans Mountain Corp. spokesperson Ali Hounsell said no start date for construction on the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion had been set.
Of primary concern for Native American tribes in Washington is the plan to build two additional docks at British Columbia’s Westridge Marine Terminal, which will enable an increase in the number of vessels it serves each month from five ships to 34, according to Trans Mountain. That’s an increase per year from about 60 to about 400.
“The Samish Indian Nation remains extremely concerned with the Trans Mountain Pipeline and its potential impact,” tribal Chairman Tom Wooten said. “The risks associated with this project are not worth the potential rewards. We urge the government of Canada to reverse its decision.”
Julie Teel Simmonds, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the project puts the region’s endangered Southern Resident orcas at increased risk.
“Trudeau has chosen to unilaterally support the oil industry over the needs of endangered species and the global community,” she said.
Washington leaders are not alone in fearing the expansion for environmental reasons. British Columbia officials, including Premier John Horgan, have also shared concerns.
“We are disappointed that the federal government has re-approved a project that poses great risks to our coast, our environment and our economy,” Horgan said in a Tweet on June 18.
George Heyman, British Columbia’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, also said in a statement to the Skagit Valley Herald that the coastal province is concerned about protecting jobs and industry that rely on a clean environment.
“British Columbians expect the government to protect our land and waters and the thousands of good paying jobs that depend on a healthy environment,” he said. “Defending our coast and environment from the risk of a potentially catastrophic oil spill remains our primary responsibility.”