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Proposed surge in oil tankers manageable, port says

Oil tanker passing through Burrard Inlet after loading with crude from the Kinder Morgan terminal in Burnaby. - File
Oil tanker passing through Burrard Inlet after loading with crude from the Kinder Morgan terminal in Burnaby.
— image credit: File

Port officials say they don't expect harbour traffic jams to arise from a major increase in the number of oil tankers loading from an expanded Trans Mountain pipeline.

Kinder Morgan Canada announced in mid-January it has enough committed shippers to justify a larger pipeline expansion to a capacity of 890,000 barrels per day.

That's expected to bring up to 34 oil tankers per month, up from about 25 previously forecast and around five per month right now.

Port Metro Vancouver harbour master Yoss Leclerc said the project would, if it advances, undergo a comprehensive review of harbour transit needs.

But he said it doesn't appear the new size of the proposed pipeline – bringing up to 400 tankers a year – would tie up too many anchorages and cause a shortage of space for other cargo ships.

"Usually the tankers don't stay a long time at anchor – one to two days," Leclerc said.

"Looking at what we saw from Kinder Morgan, I don't see any forseeable issue in terms of anchorages or where to put them."

Nor did he expect harbour traffic restrictions – no other vessels are permitted to move in the Second Narrows when a tanker is transiting – to be too onerous for other users of the waterway.

He was responding after Burnaby NDP MP Kennedy Stewart suggested an "oil export only port" could be the end result if Kinder Morgan continues to upsize the pipeline project.

"There will be a choke point in Burrard Inlet where you have so many tankers you can't have any more traffic," Stewart said.

Stewart argues the Kinder Morgan may expand the planned line further – to a million barrels per day and beyond – and at that point there will be enormous pressure to dredge the Second Narrows to allow much larger oil tankers.

The current Aframax size tankers carry up to 650,000 barrels per day, but due to draft restrictions in the harbour they are only loaded 75 to 80 per cent full so they sit no deeper than 13 metres in the water.

"They are going to bring the same size of vessels that are coming today," Leclerc said. "From our perspective, the project will not require any dredging, not even with the new information, with the expansion."

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