Good decisions and effective action depend on good information. Since there is little we can do directly about Canadian tankers transiting Boundary Pass and Haro Strait good background information might be very helpful.
The increase in the amount of oil being shipped through Boundary Pass and Haro Strait is due in very substantial part to the decision of President Obama to disapprove the Keystone XL pipeline. The Canadians were quite irked that the U.S. was not going to buy their tar sands oil. They decided to increase the size of the Kinder-Morgan trans-mountain pipeline which runs from Alberta to Vancouver. That pipeline has a current capacity of 300,000 barrels per day most of which is being shipped through Haro Strait to the Far East. The planned increase is for a capacity of 890,000 barrels per day. It is ironic that in appeasing one environmental group concerned that a Keystone XL pipeline leak would be polluting has created another even more serious environmental threat.
Kinder Morgan plans to expand their Westbridge terminal to be able to handle three Afrimax tankers at once rather than just one as now. Currently an average of five tankers a month are loaded at Westbridge. The plan is to handle thirty four a month, about one a day, the same number that transit Rosario Strait to Anacortes and Cherry Point. Afrimax tankers are up to 800 feet in length with a dead weight tonnage of 75,000 to 115,000 tone and carry 500,000 to 800,000 barrels. At full capacity the pipeline would not carry enough to fill 34 such ships each month so it is doubtful that tanker traffic would increase as much as estimated.
More than 10,000 vessels transit the lower Strait of Georgia, Boundary Pass and Haro Strait each year. But that includes tugs, fishing boats, private yachts and ferry boats. There are about 3,000 large tankers, container ships and bulk carriers that pass the same way each year. Adding another 400 tankers would increase the total traffic to about ten ships a day, a bit less than one every hour, coming or going.
There should be some assurance with the many steps the Canadians have taken to enhance tanker safety in Vancouver and the approaching waterways. Tankers over 40,000 DWT must have two pilots, two ships officer and two crew members at all time while transiting Boundary Pass and Haro Strait, with two more crew members on standby. Outbound tankers must arrive at the entrance to Boundary Pass at slack low tide so that in the event of a grounding the tanker would be floated free by the rising tide before the inner hull of the double hull tankers could be breached. All tankers must be accompanied by a tug capable of moving the tanker and must be tethered throughout the passage. The ships captain, the tug captain and a coast guard representative must meet and confer before the voyage to insure that everyone is up to date on the passage. And the ship must be cleared by the vessel control center and maintain contact with the center throughout the passage.
Double hull tankers have replaced the single hull tankers like Exon Valdez. At the present it appears that the four 941 foot Alaska class tankers built for BP, the largest used on the Alaska run, represent the best compromise between the economies of scale and the safety of maneuverability.
There is a similar arrangement for loaded tankers going north through Rosario Strait to Cherry Point. The narrowest passage is between Peapod Rocks and Buckeye Shoals. The jagged reefs are only a mile apart. If some day coming or going on the ferry you should happen to see a northbound tanker towing a tugboat backward it’s a tug all tethered and ready to tow the tanker if there should be an engine or steering failure.
The best possible way to get a feeling for the ship traffic in both Haro and Rosario Straits is to follow it on the web site http://www.marinetraffic.com/ais/home. The identity, location, speed and destination of all substantial marine traffic is shown in near real time. Much of the smaller vessels, fishing boats, tugs, ferry boats and private yachts are also shown. If there were enough people interested it might be possible to get a group to visit the marine traffic control center in Seattle. I believe it would be reassuring.
We have oil tanker traffic on both sides of our island archipelago: Incoming Alaska oil on the east side through Rosario Strait: Outgoing Canadian oil on the west side through Haro Strait. Could that traffic be eliminated?
Probably not entirely although it might be reduced, reducing the environmental hazard. The Canadian oil, which would flow through pipelines now in existence or to be built, would go to the refineries using the Alaskan oil and the Alaskan oil would go to Japan or other Asian customers who are buying the Canadian oil. That would involve all of the oil companies and, the shipping and pipeline companies, the refineries and a host of US and Canadian governmental entities. Who knows if it could be made to work but exploring it would be a better way of using our time and money than sitting on our heels and complaining. It might even cut back on some of the oil trains. there might even be some profit for the companies involved, a win win solution.