Keeping British Columbia's natural beauty while supporting Canada's economy

Tanker Traffic in BC

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Tankers have been safely conducting incident free business on the coast of British Columbia for many decades.

Unfortunately the marine industry has been caught up in a debate which comes down to whether one believes in development of Canada’s oil sands and the export of product off-shore. It must however be understood that when the high level of mis-information is stripped away, the world cannot live without oil resources and given this reality, no jurisdiction in the world has contemplated the sort of restrictions on tanker traffic that many are campaigning for in British Columbia.

Standard tanker sizes are:

Class in Deadweight Tons

  • Product 10,000 – 60,000
  • Panamax 60,000 – 80,000
  • Aframax 80,000 – 120,000
  • Suezmax 120,000 – 200,000
  • VLCC 200,000 – 320,000 (very large crude carrier)
  • ULCC 320,000 and above (ultra-large crude carrier)
    • * Deadweight Tons = Carrying Capacity

The tankers currently servicing Kitimat are product tankers whilst those servicing Vancouver are up to and including the Aframax category.

Contrary to popular belief, the risks for tankers are the same as for non-tankers. The three major areas of risk for all ships are natural hazards, vessel equipment issues and the human element. The BC coast has similar issues to countless other navigable coastlines with strong tidal currents, narrow channels and sometimes adverse weather conditions. Winter conditions on the west coast of Canada can produce severe weather with very high winds but, on the plus side, in most cases once a vessel enters the channels they are often more protected than in the open water areas.

A modern tanker port

A modern tanker port

VLCC Lightering to an Aframax off the California coast.

VLCC Lightering to an Aframax off the California coast.

When dealing specifically with tankers there is, without exception, extensive consultation before any changes are made to an accepted practice. A recent example of this is the change from 12.5m draft for tankers in Port Metro Vancouver to 13.5m. This proposal took five years of analysis and consultation with significant changes to procedures and practices in order to ensure that safety was not negatively impacted.

Arguably, the procedures now in place in Port Metro Vancouver actually enhance overall safety. To achieve this, fast time simulations and full-mission bridge simulations were conducted in addition to live testing using tugs and a loaded tanker to verify the accuracy of the simulation results. As a consequence, changes were made in the handling of tankers using a different methodology for the use of tugs and supported by the introduction of personal pilotage units (portable electronic navigational units). As a consequence, the level of safety for tankers in Vancouver and along the BC coast has been further enhanced, and industry is confident that a similar exercise can be repeated in the north.

tanker-transit

Tanker outbound transit through Second Narrows

 

Over the past several years, the Enbridge Northern Gateway and more recently the Kinder Morgan expansion project, have both come to the attention of the general public. As a result, a number of misconceptions regarding tankers and the movement of tankers in our waters have been given coverage in the media.  Most of it is not supported by the plain facts, for example:

A modern tanker port

VLCC Lightering to an Aframax off the California coast.

Misconception #1: There is a moratorium on tankers.

Misconception #2: Tankers have increased significantly in size since 2007

Misconception #3: Tankers are being brought into harbours with just 1.3m under the keel under Second Narrows Bridge.

Misconception #4: A tanker incident in the north will spill more oil than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.

Misconception #5: Tankers are accidents waiting to happen.

Misconception #6: The Douglas Channel is barely wide enough to accommodate a very large crude oil carrier (VLCC).

Misconception #7: Weather conditions on the east coast of Canada are not as severe as the weather conditions on the West Coast.

Double hull construction is mandatory for all tankers

 

The data in the table below only shows the larger tankers calling on the North Coast but there are also a great number of tug and barges supplying diesel and petroleum to remote areas including Haida Gwaii. While there is a voluntary exclusion zone on the West Coast, the only moratorium in place is for oil and gas drilling.

The voluntary exclusion zone was established following a drift study by the Canadian Coast Guard in 1988 and is designed to ensure that a tanker en route from Alaska to the United States had sufficient time to order the assistance of a tug in the event of a major engine failure.

Year

Number of tankers handled on the North Coast

Largest length

Deepest draft

2006

12

186m

12.2m

2007

16

186m

12.0m

2008

18

189m

12.8m

2009

22

186m

12.8m

2010

24

186m

12.1m

2011

18

186m

12.4m

Pilots have been handling crude oil tankers in the Port of Vancouver for almost 60 years and contrary to popular belief they have not increased significantly in size since 2007. While we have seen an increase in numbers of tankers, the sizes of the tankers have not changed significantly.

Year

Number of crude oil tankers in Vancouver Harbour

Largest length

Deepest draft

2005

39

243m

11.85m

2006

30

245m

12.0m

2007

44

249m

12.49m

2008

62

249m

12.26m

2009

70

249m

12.5m

2010

71

244m

12.4m

2011

41

250m

13.0m