Vancouver targeted as
Tar Sands shipping port


by Rod Marining


tanker under second narrows bridge
Panamax tanker transits Second Narrows and under the railway bridge. Photo by Peter Baker

According to Statistics Canada, in 2007, without any public process, Canada and China began shipping Tar Sands crude oil through Vancouver Harbour. Currently, two oil tankers per week carry up to 700,000 barrels of crude oil through Burrard Inlet and the dangerous Second Narrows, past our beaches and parks and into Georgia Strait. The oil companies have plans to expand this capacity to 10 tankers per week.

It can’t happen here

On July 6, the Vancouver City Council invited Vancouver shipping experts to testify with regard to the safety of crude oil tankers in Vancouver Harbour. The Wilderness Committee and No Tanks coalition claim the City Council heard misinformation regarding the safety record of double hull tankers, the frequency of oil spills and the destination of the crude oil. Captain Stephen Brown of the BC Chamber of Shipping told Vancouver City Council, “We have yet to have a pollution incident from a double hull tanker.” Captain Brown got his facts wrong.

At least two double-hull tanker oil spills have occurred this year. On January 23, in Port Arthur, Texas, a barge struck the double-hulled tanker Eagle Otome, spilling 11,000 barrels of oil, closing the Port Arthur commercial waterway. In May 2010, the double hull tanker Bunga Kelana 3 collided with a freighter in the Singapore Strait, spilling 36,000 barrels of crude oil into the harbour. “Shipping disasters, the primary cause of oil spills, are not uncommon, despite the push to build double-hulled oil tankers,” Stuart Hampton writes in the Hoover’s UK business news.

We only have to remember the Exxon Valdez disaster in Prince William Sound, the BP spill that ravaged the Gulf of Mexico, and recent disasters in China, South Korea, Spain and Norway to know that oil spills are common and devastating.

Tight squeeze through Second Narrows

North Vancouver oceanographer Peter Baker points out that Port Metro has changed its rules to allow larger tankers, carrying 700,000 barrels of oil, to travel through Second Narrows with less that a 1.5-metre clearance between the ocean floor and a ship’s keel, and only at certain high tides. “One has to question the wisdom,” says Baker, “of allowing a major crude-oil terminal to evolve inside a busy harbour and beyond the Second Narrows, an extremely narrow and shallow tidal passage.” To avoid grounding, the tankers must remain in mid-channel through the bending passage, only 30 seconds away from grounding on the shallows. Once grounded in an ebbing tide, a tanker could easily break apart under its own weight. In October 1979, the freighter Japan Erica crashed into the Second Narrows CN rail bridge, shutting down North Shore bulk terminals for three months.

Join a flotilla of commercial fishermen and on-land supporters in English Bay in Vancouver for a rally to let the oil companies and government know that Vancouver does not want to be the Tar Sands oil port and that we don’t want oil tankers in our waters. If you would like to bring your boat to the flotilla, please email Tickets will be available for a ride on the “No Tanks” party boat. For event updates, visit

Chris Badger, chief operating officer of Port Metro Vancouver, told City Council, “All crude oil exports through Port Metro Vancouver since 2004 have been for US customers.” The No Tanks group, however, provided Badger with evidence that tankers from Burrard Inlet carried oil to China. On August 4, Badger responded saying, “I stand corrected in my statement.” Badger admits, “In 2007, over 470,000 metric tonnes of crude oil were shipped to China from Vancouver.”

According to announcements made by the pipeline company Kinder Morgan, tar sands expansion is the driving factor in turning Vancouver into an oil port. According to Statistics Canada, China, a major investor in the tar sands, was instrumental in starting oil shipments from Vancouver. No Tanks and the Wilderness Committee estimate that the financial damage from a large spill in this region would be between $10 and $50 billion, which would devastate our fishing, tourism, shipping, conventions, seaside businesses and our region’s reputation as a “green” city.

Rod Marining is vice Chair of the BC Environmental Network ( More tanker info at