Contributed by Robert Lyman © 2018 

Robert Lyman is an Ottawa energy policy consultant; a former public servant of 27 years and former diplomat for 10 years. 

In view of the current controversy concerning British Columbia’s efforts to block the completion of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMPL) because of the oil spill risk allegedly posed by increased tanker traffic, it seems useful to examine the facts of the matter, as determined through review by the Canadian federal government.


The TERMPOL Process


The marine portion of the TMPL project was reviewed under the Technical Review Process of Marine Terminal and Transshipment Sites (TERMPOL). A TERMPOL Review Committee, whose members include experts from federal departments and authorities with responsibilities related to safe marine transportation, reviews submissions. The purpose of the TERMPOL review process is to:


  • Objectively appraise operational vessel safety, route safety and cargo transfer operations associated with a proposed marine terminal system or transshipment site
  • Focus on improving, where possible, those elements of a proposal which could, in certain circumstances, pose a risk to the integrity of a vessel’s hull while navigating and/or the cargo transfer operations alongside the terminal


The TERMPOL review takes place within the context of Canada’s marine safety regulatory regime, which is one of the most stringent in the world. Under this regime, oil tankers and their operations must comply with a long list of environmental protection requirements of both Canada’s domestic laws and international conventions. These requirements address such areas as safe vessel design and construction, including requirements for double-hulled tankers; safe manning; crew qualifications and training; working conditions; safety management systems, radio communication equipment and equipment for safe navigation including Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems and automatic identification systems (AIS); voyage planning; vessel reporting; and rules to prevent collisions.


Det Norske Veritas Review of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project


Trans Mountain commissioned the consultant Det Norske Veritas, a marine classification society recognized internationally for its marine risk assessment, to conduct a marine transport Quantitative Risk Analysis to determine the impact of the project on oil cargo spill risk, and identify mitigation measures necessary if required.


Det Norske Veritas also completed a general risk analysis for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project in the lower British Columbia Mainland. This project involved the expansion of an existing pipeline that has operated for many years and the consequent expansion of the Westridge Marine Terminal and an increase in existing tanker traffic from 60 to 400 tankers per year. The assessment can be seen here:


The assessment considered the effect on incident risk of traffic growth from Trans Mountain tanker traffic as well as from overall growth in the area. Here are the main conclusions as stated in the risk analysis submitted to the TERMPOL process:


  • The increase in traffic resulting from the Project is found to have a negligible effect on the total incident frequency for the region. With or without the Project, tanker traffic remains a small part of the total traffic in the region.


  • Without the Project, the frequency of accidents resulting in an oil cargo spill of any size is estimated to be one in every 309 years. Post implementation of the Project, if no additional risk reducing measures are implemented, the frequency will be one in every 46 years. If all the risk reducing measures discussed in this report are implemented, the frequency will be one in every 237 years.


  • Without the Project, the risk of a credible worst-case oil spill (estimated by modeling to be 16,500 cubic metres) is estimated to be one in every 3093 years. Once the Project is implemented, if no additional risk reducing measures are implemented, the frequency will be one in every 456 years. If all the risk reducing measures discussed in this report are implemented, the frequency will be one in every 2366 years.


  • Spill response in the region is currently the subject of review by the Federal and Provincial governments of Canada. Based on the information from the risk assessment, enhanced planning standards for spill response describe a regime that will be able to deliver 20,000 tonnes of capacity within 36 hours from dedicated resources staged within the study area. This represents a response capacity that is double and a delivery time that is half the existing planning standards. These enhancements will reduce times for initiating a response to two hours for the harbor and six hours for the remainder of the study area and parts of the west coast of Vancouver Island. The standard for cleaning of oiled shoreline is also improved significantly from 500 metres per day to 3,000 metres per day.


  • DNV concludes that the regional increase in oil spill risk caused by the expected increase in oil tanker traffic to Trans Mountain Westridge Marine Terminal is low, and that the region is capable of safely accommodating the additional one laden crude oil tanker per day increase that will result from the Project.


The Conclusion


Based largely on this analysis and the views received from the participating federal government departments and authorities, the TERMPOL committee concluded:


“While there will always be some risk in any project, after reviewing Trans Mountain’s studies and taking into account its commitments, the TRC has identified no regulatory concerns for the tankers, tanker operations, the proposed routes, navigability, other waterway users and the marine terminal operations associated with the Project tankers. The TRC has identified several findings and recommendations in response to Trans Mountain’s submission and has proposed actions for Trans Mountain to undertake that, in conjunction with Trans Mountain’s commitments, will provide for a higher level of safety for tanker operations commensurate with the increase in traffic.”


The National Energy Board, in issuing a permit to the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, included the TERMPOL recommendations as binding conditions.


One has to wonder what objective, other than obstruction, would be served by a further British Columbia review conducted on a project clearly within federal jurisdiction.