Port Metro Vancouver will likely see a dramatic decrease in the number of oil tankers navigating local waters by years end because oil producers and refineries are using a North American pipeline as their preferred method of oil delivery.
While environmentalists might see it as a victory of sorts to reduce tanker traffic, it is business deals between Alberta oil producers and Washington State refineries that have dictated the movement of crude oil this year.
The shift in delivery method has resulted in only 21 tankers, as of Aug. 22, navigating through Vancouver Harbour to Kinder Morgans terminal in Burrard Inlet. If volume of tanker traffic were to match 2010 levels of 71 tankers, another 50 vessels would need to pass through local waters.
Thats not going to happen, said Chris Badger, chief operating officer of Port Metro Vancouver.
Badger said agreements between oil producers and Washington State refineries have replaced trends in previous years of crude oil being shipped in tankers from Burrard Inlet to California.
Kinder Morgans pipeline does not extend to California but Badger cautioned the shift in oil delivery does not mean California refineries are no longer interested in importing Canadian oil.
It just means theres stronger demand from refineries in Washington, he said. To be quite frank, I think California would be happy to take the oil, as well. Its just the way that their contracts are set up, the priority is to Washington first.
Despite the method of oil delivery, Badger noted Kinder Morgans pipeline is still funnelling 300,000 barrels of crude per day from Alberta to Burrard Inlet, where it is either loaded on tankers or sent via pipeline to Washington State. There is no pipeline extension to California.
Much of the oil that is refined in Washington State and California is then returned to Vancouver on barges in the form of gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel. Since 2004, all crude oil exports from the Port have been to U.S. customers.
Right now, if the trade is going better by pipeline through the various contracts, it doesnt mean that they wont increase again on the water side, Badger said.
Last summer, Badger and oil industry representatives were invited to a meeting hosted by Vancouver city council after news surfaced of the dramatic increase in tanker traffic in Vancouver waters.
Port Metro Vancouver statistics show tanker traffic increased from 22 in 2005 to 71 last year. Several environmental activists and groups, including the Wilderness Committee, attended councils meeting to voice concerns about how catastrophic an oil spill would be to Vancouver.
Ben West, the healthy communities campaigner for the Wilderness Committee, said the decrease in tanker traffic may make it difficult for Kinder Morgan to argue for an expansion of its facility in Burnaby.
West helped organize a protest Saturday at Kinder Morgans terminal and said it was important to continue raising the issue of oil in the context of climate change. While there is a strong movement in North America to ban tanker traffic and stop pipeline expansion, West said there has to be a change in how people get around.
Were looking for a shift from the amount thats being invested in highways to go to public transit and to have real firm commitments from the provincial government around not sprawling over farmland, he said, adding that he doesnt see a decrease in tanker traffic as worth celebrating. Were trying to reduce the demand for fossil fuelsperiod.