[Not] Living with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion

Raincoast scientists comment on the opening of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

The Canadian government has completed the construction of the expanded Trans Mountain Pipeline between Edmonton and Vancouver, and oil exports via tanker from Burrard Inlet to points on the North American West Coast and Asia have begun. 

Since 2011, Raincoast has been working to stop this expansion. We have analyzed the risk and consequences of increased tanker traffic on threatened habitats, salmon and killer whales. With representation from our legal team at Ecojustice, we have participated as intervenors in the NEB review process, taken our legal arguments to the Federal Court of Appeal, and sought leave from the Supreme Court. We have raised awareness about the implications -spill or no spill- to wildlife and ecosystems.  

“Any spill could be catastrophic. A large spill would be absolutely cataclysmic,”

Dr. Peter Ross

In 2018, the US based Kinder Morgan sold the Trans Mountain pipeline to the Canadian Government. The pipeline crosses more than 500 streams that support or drain to salmon habitat in the Fraser River watershed.  The pipeline will deliver 890,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day to the Burnaby marine terminal. Tanker visits will increase sevenfold to roughly one inbound and outbound transit through Burrard Inlet, the Fraser estuary, the Gulf Islands, Haro Strait, and Juan de Fuca Strait, every day.

Trans Mountain’s tanker route transects the critical habitat of endangered Southern Resident killer whales. The increase in acoustic disturbance from vessel traffic within waters necessary for their survival is the most pressing concern with this project, as this noise occurs regardless of the safety of tankers. Our 2015 analysis showed that this additional noise from tankers, regardless of a spill, increases their risk of extinction by reducing the time spent foraging for salmon. Our 2024 analysis shows things have only gotten worse. Southern Resident killer whales are not recovering, their extinction risk is increasing, and destruction of their critical habitat continues to occur.    

“The more transits you make of the Salish Sea, the more chances you have for accidents. When you’re traveling through tight areas like Burrard Inlet or Turn Point, or going past the Fraser River Estuary, you are traversing a lot of different, important aquatic habitats on the way to sea.”

Dave Scott

The threat of oil spills is the other big concern. Spills happen, and the seven-fold increase in tanker traffic through the critical habitat of SRKWs increases spill risk. In addition to spills, wastewater and scrubber discharges, and emissions into the air from transiting vessels will add to the mix of pollutants entering SRKW critical habitat. SRKW are already one of the most contaminated marine mammals, highlighting the tangible concerns about spills and emissions that will impact SRKW and the salmon they consume.

When approving the Trans Mountain expansion project, the federal government made promises that measures to reduce the tanker threats to killer whales would be in place before the pipeline was operational. The Governor in Council made these pledges in its Order in Council approving the project, but the federal government has failed to complete them. Their commitment to a regional study of cumulative effects in the Salish Sea, including responses to increased underwater noise, and other spill response commitments for at-risk species, have not been implemented. It appears these promises were simply public relations exercises to manage the government’s reputation after it (re) approved Trans Mountain and overrode Canada’s legislation to protect endangered species (SARA) in the process.

Recently, Raincoast scientists were interviewed by CBC for various shows, sharing their expertise about the problems with this project. 

Recent news coverage about Trans Mountain pipeline

CBC News
CBC The Current
CBC News: The National
CBC Alberta at Noon

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Raincoast’s in-house scientists, collaborating graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and professors make us unique among conservation groups. We work with First Nations, academic institutions, government, and other NGOs to build support and inform decisions that protect aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and the wildlife that depend on them. We conduct ethically applied, process-oriented, and hypothesis-driven research that has immediate and relevant utility for conservation deliberations and the collective body of scientific knowledge.

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.