An oil tanker heads through the Second Narrows

An oil tanker heads through the Second Narrows

Oil tanker series let critics overstate impact of harbour spill

Letter writer John Hunter argues it's ridiculous to estimate the costs of a spill here based on the BP spill in the Gulf.

Dear Editor:

I commend your team on the excellent and largely accurate three-part series Oil & Water regarding the potential increase in crude oil tankers in Vancouver harbour.  Unfortunately the second part examining the effects of a spill contained numerous unchallenged errors by interviewees.

Firstly, Rex Weyler’s claim that bitumen hitting the water separates into gases and creates a toxic cloud is sheer fiction.  If he meant diluted bitumen (“dilbit”), it is still a misleading statement, in my opinion.  Some of the light diluent will evaporate, but it is harmful only if people stay in the area downwind for some time.  Significant exposure can cause nausea, headaches, and respiratory problems, and people may need to leave the area, depending on the situation.  Over a few days, the fumes dissipate.  Like table salt, which is toxic above certain limits, it’s all about the dose.  As to the threat of toluene and benzene, their concentration in dilbit is less than one per cent, or one-thirtieth of that in the gasoline you pour into your lawn mower.

The oil sinks to the bottom, Wyler claims.  Some heavy crudes such as Mexican Maya may sink to the bottom of a fresh water body, but typical Canadian bitumen should not in either fresh water (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conclusion) or especially in our denser salt water.  However, the final result depends on the crudes shipped, and a turbulent fresh water river could cause such problems.  I recommend Weyler read the U.S. EPA report on pipelining dilbit for the Keystone Project, Volume 2 (http://keystonepipeline-xl.state.gov/documents/organization/182068.pdf, page 3.13-31).

Mr. Weyler says he based his $40 billion number for an oil spill cleanup “here” by comparing our situation to somebody’s estimated $50 billion cleanup cost for the BP offshore oil rig blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.  He might as well compare it to the cost of a space shuttle flight; it’s total apples and oranges.

Let’s look at the differences between our situation and that incident.

First, there have been serious blowouts on oil platforms; in a century of tankers in B.C. waters there has never been a major spill, even in the half century before radar, electronic depth finders, GPS, tethered tugs, double hulls and coastal pilots on our tankers.

Second, a double-hulled Aframax tanker moving at five knots with tethered tugs in Vancouver Harbour has the safety feature of 10-14 individual tanks; even if the total tanker load were leaked (an impossibility in my view), it would be 12 per cent of the BP blowout of five million barrels.

Third, the BP leak was 5,000 feet deep, and unlike a tanker, had an unknown ultimate volume of oil escaping at high pressure and could only be inspected by remote submarines.

Fourth, the Gulf spill continued for over three months; oil is not left pouring out of a grounded tanker in Vancouver Harbour for months.

Even Exxon Valdez, a tanker carrying twice the load of our Aframax tankers, which hit a reef at 18 knots and ruptured eight of 11 tanks, cost “only” $4.3 billion for cleanup and compensation (excluding punitive damages) in an extremely cold and remote area with no initial cleanup capability.  In my view, Weyler’s $40 billion claim is ridiculous.

His statements implying that tanker owners can escape liability have already been debunked by others interviewed for this article.

Coleen Doucette of The Oiled Wildlife Society of B.C. claims there are no laws forcing oil spillers to respond to oiled wildlife.  This is a half truth.  The Environment Canada website for the 1990 National Policy on Oiled Birds allows the Canadian Wildlife Service to take over oiled bird operations if the polluter is not doing an adequate job, charge them the costs of cleanup, investigate the incident, and take legal action.  She also claims that bitumen “burns the skin dramatically” – this too is false (Syncrude Bitumen Material Safety Data Sheet, page 2) unless it is hot as in a refining process.  Cold bitumen may produce moderate skin irritation.

Lastly, the unidentified person who commented that the port has handled oil tanker traffic for more than 50 years is half right.  It’s nearly a century, since Imperial Oil opened Ioco Refinery about 1915.

There is room for debate, and errors in information will occur, but let’s try to stick to the facts, and skip the hyperbole.

John Hunter, P. Eng.North Vancouver

Note: Hunter is a semi-retired chemical engineer who worked in the energy industry, including heavy oil, oil sands and petroleum refining in Canada, Venezuela, Mexico and Asia for over 40 years.

Just Posted

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

Kalyn Head, seen here on June 4, 2021, will be running 100 kilometres for her “birthday marathon” fundraiser on July 23. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Woman’s 100-km birthday marathon from Chilliwack to Abbotsford will benefit Special Olympics B.C.

Kalyn Head hopes run raises awareness, advocates for inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities

Missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs was found deceased on Thursday evening (June 17).
Body of missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs found

Hobbs was reported missing Monday after leaving his job site in Langley

UFV athletes were honoured for their strength and perseverance during the pandemic. (UFV photo)
Fraser Valley athletes recognized in year without sports

UFV Cascades athletes honoured for strength shown during the pandemic

web
Mission students hold rally, say everyone welcome at school

Ecole Christine Morrison Elementary School hosted an Anti-Racism Day on June 15

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Surrey Fire Service battled a dock fire along the Fraser River late Friday night (June 18). It was on Musqueam Drive, near Industrial Road, around 10:45 p.m. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
VIDEO: Fire engulfs pier on Surrey side of the Fraser River

Dock has reportedly been unused for a long time

People in Metro Vancouver can expect to experience a short wave of heat just in time for Father’s Day, according to Environment Canada. (Black Press Media files)
Short-lived heatwave headed for Metro Vancouver this weekend

Temperatures are expected to be up to 10 degrees higher than average Sunday and Monday

Most Read