Urgent concerns remain for the province’s endangered orca whales

VANCOUVER—Today’s announcement by the government of B.C. prohibiting increased transport of diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) in coastal waters is a shot across the bow of Kinder Morgan, but does not fully mitigate the risk of spills to marine wildlife, including the endangered southern resident killer whales.

While the federal government approved Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline in November 2017, the B.C. government has said it will fight the decision.

Today’s measures—which B.C. asserts are within its jurisdiction—may make it more difficult and expensive to ship oil, but remain just a step toward reducing dependence on fossil fuels and shifting to a clean energy economy.

“When you approve projects like these, spills are inevitable—and when spills occur, recovery operations can only remove a small amount of the toxic substances from the water,” said David Suzuki Foundation director-general for Western Canada Jay Ritchlin. “We should leave the bitumen in the ground to prevent the risk of spilling it on endangered southern resident killer whales.”

Today’s announcement is intended to slow or restrict the Kinder Morgan pipeline and projects like it.

“We don’t know how effective these measures will be,” Ritchlin said. “We’d rather the federal government cancel its approval of the project altogether and limit shipping traffic, period. But this is a positive step toward getting this dangerous material off our waters.”

Dilbit spills are particularly toxic and hard to clean up. Tar balls sink to the bottom of the water or hang in the water column, eluding conventional booms used to contain oil spills. B.C.’s rugged coastline and ocean conditions also add to the impossibility of containing a spill.

“We support policies that expose the full costs of fossil fuel use, because they help transition to a clean energy economy,” Ritchlin said.

The Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion would increase tanker traffic in B.C.’s coastal waters seven-fold, posing a massive threat to marine mammals. After examining potential impacts of an oil spill in B.C. waters on 21 marine mammals, researchers from the Raincoast Conservation Foundation concluded most individuals would be at risk and a few local populations would die out.

The 76 remaining southern resident killer whales—also known as Salish Sea orcas—are especially vulnerable to ship strikes and toxic oil spills. They already face severe chinook salmon prey shortages and other challenges related to auditory and spatial disturbance.

“These whales are legally protected by Canada’s Species at Risk Act,” Ritchlin said. “Canada should not approve projects that prevent their recovery.”

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For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Brendan Glauser | bglauser@davidsuzuki.org | 604-356-8829