Oil Tankers in Haro Strait

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.

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