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TMX Tanker Traffic Dwarfed by Other Salish Sea Sailings

Cody Battershill

You’re already aware U.S.-supported anti-pipeline activists continually oppose Canadian tankers. But did you know that while these activists make Canadian tankers the fall guy in the energy debate, U.S. oil tankers constantly pass through Canadian waters unabated?

Those U.S. tankers bring imported oil to Washington state and B.C. markets because those activists have blocked Canadian pipeline construction from the oilsands to our tidewater.

Meanwhile, ferry, cruise ship and whale-watching traffic continues to grow and, as the National Energy Board (NEB) states, Vancouver and Victoria release “about 700 million litres of untreated and under-treated wastewater into the Salish Sea per day.”

There’s a problem in our oceans – but the addition of a small number of TMX-related tankers has virtually nothing to do with it. A tiny increase in oil tankers poses almost no threat to ocean ecosystems. That’s not to say our oceans don’t need better stewardship. But activists are barking up the wrong tree.

The combined population of Vancouver and Seattle – key urban centres on the Salish Sea – is expected to hit 10 million within 30 years. That dwarfs the 14 per cent more ship movements TMX would add to today’s traffic numbers for the Port of Vancouver.

The key issues are population growth, overall marine transportation strategies and infrastructure management – not coastal tanker traffic.

The NEB’s TMX report was clear about the challenges faced by the southern resident killer whales whose 73-member population is struggling: “The most significant contributors to the noise pollution that negatively impacts the ability of the whales to hunt and feed,” the report stated, “are other commercial vehicles – mostly passenger ferries, tug boats, deep-sea fishing vehicles and in the summer, whale-watching boats.”

In 2018, 53 ocean-going oil tankers docked at Burnaby’s Westridge Marine Terminal, representing 106 vessel trips in and out of the Salish Sea. After it’s expanded, 408 ocean-going tankers will generate 816 trips a year to and from Westridge for export crude oil.

Compare these numbers with those from the B.C. Chamber of Shipping: large international cargo vessels arriving and departing BC south coast and Puget Sound ports perform about 11,000 Salish Sea trips each year, while 316,388 ferry trips supported B.C. and Washington travellers in the Salish Sea in 2017.

That doesn’t even include whale watching and other commercial vessels.

Marine transportation is vital to the region. But access to markets for Canadian oil and gas, a tiny fraction of the trips, is equally crucial to Canada’s prosperity in a growing global market.

Canada ranks at the top of global energy suppliers in terms of environment, health, safety and human rights, with state-of-the-art pipeline, tanker and tug technologies. We’re the ideal global supplier.

Let’s not miss our opportunity.

Cody Battershill is a Calgary realtor and founder/spokesperson for, a volunteer-built organization that supports Canadian energy development and the environmental, social and economic benefits that come with it.