A big issue in the Salish Sea is concern about increasing oil tanker traffic. Plans by Kinder Morgan to expand its Trans-Mountain pipeline could more than triple the amount of crude oil arriving at the pipeline’s terminus in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The provincial government has joined with First Nations and environmental activist groups in lawsuits against the expansion. But Canada’s federal government has approved it.
“There’ll definitely be more work for pilots…if the project comes to fruition,” said Brian Young, Director of Marine Operations for Canada’s Pacific Pilotage Authority in Vancouver.
The agency oversees marine pilots. These mariners are experts on the underwater topography, weather and other maritime conditions of the Salish Sea.
The pilots board all large ships before they are allowed to enter local waterways. They also take control of navigation to ensure safe passage, per Canadian law. The ships carrying Kinder Morgan’s crude oil take two pilots because they are so large.
“They call the shots in consultation with the captain and his team,” Young said.
Young said they will be ready for an expansion, “because we’re already doing the job, it’s just fewer tankers,” right now.
Young came to the mariner’s life as a teenager in the southeast Indian port city Chennai, following in his father’s footsteps. At 19, he was working independently in charge of massive ships worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The responsibility encouraged him to grow up quickly.
“It gives you a lot to think about, to make sure that your decisions are sound,” Young said. “It makes a better person of you, I believe. And of course it facilitates lots of the world’s trade.”
Vancouver’s port is a center of that trade. With 27 major marine and passenger terminals, the cargo coming in includes containers as well as bulk oil and grain. It ranks as one of the busiest ports on the West Coast.
Right now, oil makes up less than ten percent of the cargo arriving at the Port of Vancouver. The Salish Sea sees about five tankers per month. The expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline could mean a nearly sevenfold increase to as many as 34 tankers per month.
But Young is not concerned about the potential growth. He says they faced similar traffic levels in the 1990s.
“In the grand scheme of things, it’s a world we have to be prepared for, but not a volume significant enough to cause us, from a piloting perspective, much concern,” Young said.
And he says Canada’s Pacific Pilotage is in place to help ensure professional navigation, safe passage and, hopefully, the prevention of any oil spills.
“Pilots are an additional barrier to things going wrong,” Young said. “Pilotage on the B.C. coast is non-competitive, so there’s no commercial pressures involved. When a pilot calls the shots, he calls the shots.”