On November 29, the Trudeau government gave the go-ahead for the proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline system in British Columbia. A request for a review was filed on Monday, December 19, in the Federal Court of Appeal in Calgary by Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation, arguing that the National Energy Board has underestimated the impacts of the project on southern resident killer whales.

The Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project involves the construction of a pipeline along the existing Trans Mountain system between Edmonton and Burnaby, increasing the pipeline’s capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day. The project also plans to upgrade the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby to increase the number of tankers it can accommodate from 5 to 34 a month, according to the Government of Canada website.

Could these 34 tankers a day possibly coexist with the 80 killer whales living off Vancouver – known as southern resident killer whales and which are endangered?

Research by the Raincoast Conservation Foundation indicates that this population of killer whales is already highly stressed by a variety of factors. Watercraft noise in particular is believed to hamper communication between the killer whales when they are hunting.

David Miller, President and CEO of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Canada) argues, “This project will increase shipping traffic in the Salish Sea. This will have implications for the 80 southern resident killer whales, as the increase in noise pollution caused by shipping traffic will prevent these killer whales from finding food and communicating with one another. Thus, the recovery of this threatened killer whale population will be compromised by the increase in noise pollution, which will drive them closer to extinction.”

Expanded transport of bitumen also increases the risk of spills, which is a concern for some organizations, scientists and citizens. “The reality is that as soon as you boost oil tanker traffic in the area, the risk level increases. We saw that with the Nathan E. Stewart at Bella Bella and here in Vancouver with the Marathassa; we have no plan in place to respond to a spill. And the truth is that the moment there is a spill, it’s already too late,” mentions Christianne Wilhelmson, Director of the Georgia Strait Alliance, in an interview with Radio-Canada.

A new study published in December 2016 indicates that too little is known about the impact that tar sand oil can have on flora and fauna in the ocean to assess the risks of its transport in marine environments. Wendy Palen of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver told the Canadian Press that given the “significant and unstudied risks” of oil sand products to the marine environment, approving new projects is “problematic, perhaps even borderline irresponsible.”

The Trans Mountain expansion project is also being challenged by a number of environmental groups who consider this project to be incompatible with the fight against climate change, a phenomenon that also affects whales indirectly.


Wildlife Conservation Groups Contest Trans Mountain in Court (in French) (Radio-Canada, December 20, 2016)

Trans Mountain: a Time Bomb Along the Coast? (in French) (Radio-Canada, December 13, 2016)

End of Northern Gateway pipeline threat helps protect the wildlife of the Great Bear region, WWF-Canada says (WWF-Canada, November 29, 2016)

Trans Mountain Expansion Project (Government of Canada, updated December 7, 2016)

News - 21/12/2016

Béatrice Riché

Béatrice Riché has served as editor for the GREMM in 2016. She holds an MSc in environmental science and has spent several years working abroad in the fields of resource conservation, species at risk and climate change. Back on the shores of the St. Lawrence, which she keeps watch over every day, Béatrice writes columns on whales, drawing inspiration from events taking place here and afar.

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