Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘Port of Vancouver

Sailing into Unknown Waters

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LNG tanker
file photo: Reuters

There is a lot wrong with the present BC government’s obsession with establishing an LNG industry. It is, of course, based on fracking – which has been creating earthquakes in BC, a place which, you might think, has quite enough of an earthquake risk already. We also know that the industry has been understating the release of methane from fracking – and that is far more damaging greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It is also the case that the costs of producing and storing power from wind and solar sources have been dropping rapidly – far faster than any other power producing source anticipated. That means that whole idea that there is a need for some kind of intermediate step between phasing out coal and switching to 100% renewables is redundant.

The siting of LNG plants has also been one of significant controversy, mainly because of sensitive ecological issues which have been ignored by our deliberately crippled environmental review process. There is an LNG plant operating here already – and has been for many years. It is operated by what is now called Fortis BC, which used to be BC Gas. They developed an LNG program to reduce their storage costs. Gas gets produced year round but demand is heavily seasonal. They were also interested in developing new markets in an exercise called load spreading – for example using natural gas either in its compressed or liquid forms for transportation. Which is where I came in. As a policy analyst and transportation economist for the BC Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum resources in the early 1990s I was lobbied by BC Gas to try to get CNG powered buses for BC Transit, and LNG for BC Ferries. The first did happen, the second didn’t. But CNG in transit had a very chequered history.

The LNG plant is located at Tilbury on the Fraser estuary.

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One of the reasons the Port is so keen on getting rid of the tunnel is the potential to increase traffic on the river – including much larger LNG tankers for exports. People like Todd Stone have been denying this, but the evidence is overwhelming. But what that also means is that due diligence has not been done in assessing whether such a proposal is desirable at this location. I used to be a Fortis shareholder, as my financial advisor was very keen on their performance and its impact on my portfolio. We had a very interesting discussion about the meaning of the words “risk assessment” – particularly when it came to the expansion of the Tilbury terminal.

I am indebted to Kevin Washbrook, who has been very diligent in researching this issue and bringing it to the attention of Fraser Voices – one of the groups opposing the tunnel replacement. That is another reason for the insertion of the map: the proximity of the terminal and the idea of very large LNG vessels passing under the bridge is a concern, but because of the way the way that all the proposals in the area are viewed as standalone and no cumulative assessment has been done, the concern is not now being addressed.

As Kevin says

Canada is way behind what is legally required in the US and not at all prepared for security or safety risks of building LNG terminals near coastal communities.  The Wespac proposal on the Fraser River is particularly egregious.  I don’t think there is any way it would be approved in the US.

The comparison to security procedures in the Port of Boston is interesting.   There a major bridge over the Tobin River is closed every time an LNG tanker transits underneath.

I don’t have any sense that the Province has considered this in their planning for the new 10 lane Fraser River crossing.   Security closures during rush hour when LNG tankers are transiting the river?  That won’t go down well.

There is a full report as a pdf file. Part Five is a focused review of the Wespac proposal on the Fraser River and is of particular interest.

To give you a taste of what is covered I am going to cut and paste the Executive Summary here

The pursuit of an LNG export industry in British Columbia is taking place without the government oversight needed to protect the public from safety and security risks.

US regulatory processes provide clear guidance on how to screen LNG proposals for these risks, and how to enforce security protocols around LNG facilities and tankers. Both are needed to protect communities and critical infrastructure from the risks posed by LNG. Similar regulatory processes could easily be established in Canada – if governments chose to make public safety and security a priority.

However, in British Columbia LNG export proponents choose siting locations according to their own criteria. When these proposals enter licensing, permitting and approval processes, those sites are taken as a given:

• NEB export licensing decisions consider only whether proposed exports will impact Canada’s domestic supply of natural gas;

• Our federal government, with responsibility for marine safety, has not established a pre-screening process for marine LNG facilities or a process for assessing the security of our waterways for the movement of LNG tankers;

• The voluntary TERMPOL review process does not consider security concerns;

• Federal Marine Transportation Security Regulations contain no terminal siting criteria or waterway assessment protocols;

• Federal and provincial environmental assessment processes address accidents, but not the likelihood and consequences of deliberate attack; and

• The BC Oil and Gas Commission, with authority over the permitting of coastal LNG facilities, does not explicitly require assessment of the risk of deliberate attack on those facilities, and excludes consideration of LNG tankers and marine approaches to proposed facilities from hazard identification and emergency planning processes.

In short, no government agency, federal or provincial, is tasked with asking fundamentally important questions:

• Is this a safe place to build an LNG terminal?

• Is this an appropriate waterway for the movement of LNG tankers?

As a result, as project reviews gain momentum, there is valid concern that approval processes will attempt to mitigate risks through design requirements for projects that should have been rejected at the outset because they are poorly sited.

The best way to manage security and safety risks around LNG development in BC is to avoid creating those risks in the first place. Canada and British Columbia need to establish transparent and well justified site selection and waterway suitability assessment processes for LNG export proposals to ensure we avoid these risks. A preliminary pre-screening process will be an important tool for eliminating poorly sited project proposals, and will save proponents and government time and money that would otherwise be spent in lengthy approval and permitting processes.

Fortunately, the hard work of developing a pre-screening process has already taken place in the United States. Studies by Sandia National Laboratories have determined justifiable hazard planning distances for assessing risk posed by proposed LNG facilities and LNG tanker movements on nearby populations and critical infrastructure.

The Sandia Laboratory findings have been incorporated into a comprehensive waterway suitability assessment process used by the US Coast Guard to screen LNG marine terminal proposals for safety and security risks. USCG waterway suitability findings from this process are used by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (the US agency in charge of LNG terminal approvals) in their decisions on LNG terminal proposals.

Canada should look closely at existing US regulations – they provide a ready made and proven template for developing our own pre-screening process to protect the public from LNG risks during the process of LNG terminal site selection.

However, even if government did develop a comprehensive pre-screening process, British Columbians would still face risks from LNG export projects. Our federal government has failed to establish a preparedness and response regime for ship-source incidents involving hazardous substances like LNG, despite long identifying such a regime as a priority. The LNG industry has not established a dedicated response organization such as the one in place to address oil spills. Coastal first responders are likely unprepared to deal with the serious hazards posed by a worst case incident involving loss of containment and fire on an LNG tanker. Canada has not established a regulatory regime for bunkering LNG–fuelled vessels, nor, apparently, a certification program for LNG bunker barges.

Further, existing marine security regulations in Canada are underdeveloped and reactive. They do not incorporate, as normal operating procedure, moving exclusion zones around LNG tankers that are common practice in US ports. In addition, neither our Port Authorities nor LNG proponents themselves appear adequately resourced to enforce such exclusion zones if they were applied.

While the probability of a deliberate attack or serious accident on an LNG tanker or facility may be low, the consequences for our communities or critical coastal infrastructure of such an attack could be catastrophic. Government has a responsibility to properly assess and prepare for these risks before BC exports LNG.

Our governments have shown themselves to be keen supporters of development of an LNG export industry. However, before LNG exports proceed, they must show they are just as keen to protect public safety and security from the risks posed by that industry.

BC and Canada should place a moratorium on approved and proposed LNG exports until key regulatory issues are addressed, including 1) developing a proper site screening and waterway suitability assessment process for evaluating LNG export proposals 2) establishing mandatory and enforceable security procedures to address the risk of deliberate attack on LNG facilities and tankers and 3) creating a robust preparedness and response regime for ship source incidents involving LNG, and ensuring that LNG bunkering is properly regulated and LNG bunker barges are properly certified.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 19, 2017 at 3:37 pm

Will planting eelgrass help salmon?

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Mouth of the Fraser aerial 2007_0710_105838AA

My aerial photo of the Fraser River Estuary

 

A guest post from Doug Massey

Port of Vancouver looking to plant eelgrass beds at Roberts Bank.                      

So the Port of Vancouver says it will replace the eelgrass beds that they initially destroyed in 1970 when they built a un-bridged causeway over Roberts Bank and a 20 hectare (49 acre) manmade pod. They added another pod in 1983, and again in 2010. This makes it a problem nearly 50 years in the making.

Further; all of this was done over the objections of a Federal Government report in March of 1979, called: “Report of the Environmental Assessment Panel; Roberts Bank Port Expansion” which stated and I quote; “The Panel recommends that approval for the full expansion as proposed not be granted”.

They specifically stated;

“Any proposed expansion go forward that it be tested on a hydraulic model, where currents and wave action can be measured in order to determine a suitable design to avoid excessive erosion of eelgrass beds and other benthic habitat.”

This environmental destruction throughout Port of Vancouver history has been known for decades, but nothing has ever been done.

Worse the report also notes that a large portion (80%) of the salmonid rearing grounds in the Fraser River Estuary has already been alienated and that any further losses should not be allowed.

They concluded also that certain mitigation measures, such as eelgrass transplants, and provision of new habitat, have not been proven to be effective, and cannot be accepted as compensation for existing fisheries habitat.

In 2010, the B.C. Government scientists reported their concerns about ongoing channel erosion between the Tsawwassen Ferry and Roberts Bank Port Terminals and claimed reports were “grossly incomplete” and their cumulative effects were being discounted.

The Roberts Bank Port Expansion together with the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, have virtually destroyed the natural eelgrass beds by physically obstructing the natural flow of water and sediments.

This in turn forced the migrating salmonoids away from the eelgrass shelter area and forced them to be exposed to the natural predatory fish in the Strait of Georgia, thus causing a high mortality rate. This mass destruction of fish stocks has never been investigated or studied by the Department of Fisheries & Oceans.

Now in order to compensate for the loss of the salmonid and crab eelgrass, and marshland resulting from the construction of Terminal 2 at Roberts Bank, the Port of Vancouver in October of 2016, proposed to create 43 hectares of  manmade eelgrass and marshland immediately north of Steveston’s south arm jetty, next to the Sturgeon Banks.

Then on February the 13, 2017 they proposed to plant 4 hectares of eelgrass near the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, in an attempt to recreate the eelgrass that was lost over 50 years ago, when the ferry terminal was built.

How important was this eelgrass system 50 years ago?

Quoting again from the 1979 government report:

“The Fraser River Estuary and associated transitional wetlands comprise of one of the most dynamic and productive ecosystems in Canada. The ecosystem supports a large and diverse community of organisms.

All links of the food chain are present from plankton, benthic invertebrates and estuarine vegetation, through to the complex life forms such as fish, birds and mammals.” 

We must not let these proposals of mitigation by the Port of Vancouver fool us into a false sense of security, by trying replace, or imitate eelgrass that was naturally created by an undisturbed flow of sediment down the mighty Fraser River. Perhaps they should remove the training walls they have installed all along the Lower Fraser River (Trifurcation) and allow the Fraser River to flow in its natural channel and carry and deposit the sediment to its natural destination along the river  and create the marshlands and eelgrass beds at its mouth where it will create the most good.

One cannot overstate the need for a full scale hydraulic model of the Fraser River Watershed be constructed, governed by an independent Agency that would determine what the cumulative affects each and every proposal would have on the  Fraser River Estuary.

In conclusion: If the Port of Vancouver is truly serious about retaining the Fraser River’s Ecosystem they should step back from their proposals to further expand Roberts Bank Port with Terminal 2, and stop advocating for the removal of the George Massey Tunnel and the dredging of the river deeper so they can industrialize the whole of the Lower Fraser River. After half a century, the destruction of the mighty Fraser River has to stop now while there is still something left to save.

Submitted by: Douglas George Massey,  Delta, B.C. 

With the help of  dedicated friends.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 29, 2017 at 12:55 pm

The life of a female longshore worker

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April Hurmuses, a Vancouver writer, was hired on the docks in 1984 as a switchman. She is now a head checker on the container docks. Her current project is an oral history of women who work in non-traditional jobs. To contribute or comment contact: Longshoremaam(at)gmail.com

April has written an account of gender discrimination in the Port of Vancouver published in the Sun yesterday. This weekend, all of Vancouver will be out enjoying the Gay Pride parade, and feeling good about how inclusive and multicultural we are. Yet this is the same place where a newspaper vendor – who happens to be a “visible ethnic minority” – gets assaulted by off duty police, using racial epithets, and one of them gets off with a short period of confinement he can serve in his own home.

Reading her account I felt like I had been thrown back forty years. When I started work these attitudes were common – not just in the docks but in banks, supermarkets and libararies. Every workplace seemed to have its own strange segregations. In one very posh city bank there were separate lunch rooms for male and female staff. No one said anything until one day a new female teller asked me to show her where the lunchroom was so I showed her to where I ate my lunch. It never occurred to me that such segregation could exist in Britain in the 1960s.

I was also fortunate later to work for the Greater London Council, which led the way in fighting discrimination against women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities. And was pilloried by the right wing press for its actions.

It is utterly shameful that these conditions persist in Canada in the twenty first century. It is hardly surprising when the provincial government can cut back the budget of the Human Rights Commission to a level of complete ineffectiveness and suffer no consequences. We know that this kind of behaviour continues – and the City of Richmond has had to face both gender and race issues in its Fire Department and works yard.   The Port is, of course, federal jurisdiction but the CHRC does not seem to have been very effective either.

There should be effective government agencies that deal with these issues and ensure that progress is made. We cannot simply sit back smugly and applaud ourselves for our “tolerance” when such injustices continue unpunished and uncorrected. Yet under the present administrations, federal and provincial, that is the most likely outcome. And that is a disgrace on us all.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 1, 2009 at 10:18 am