Two Indigenous groups from northwestern Washington State have thrown another hurdle in the way of Texas-based Kinder Morgan’s [plan to triple the capacity of its Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to southern British Columbia, where tankers would load diluted bitumen for offshore refineries. But neither the pipeline nor the diluted bitumen it would carry are directly at issue.
The Tulalip and Suquamish Tribes are suing the U.S. Coast Guard over its management plan for the sharp increase in tanker traffic through the Salish Sea and Strait of Juan de Fuca that the company’s expansion plan entails, Bloomberg reports.
“Exporting oil will trigger a seven-fold increase in the number of oil tankers transiting the waters of the Salish Sea,” the tribes said. They are asking the U.S. Federal Court to compel the Coast Guard to meet its obligations under the U.S. Endangered Species Act by implementing a traffic separation scheme to keep tankers and whales safely apart. Whales rely on sound to hunt and communicate, and the sound of ship engines can effectively blind them.
As a practical matter, such separation may be difficult for the Coast Guard to achieve, even if the tribes win the order. The whales customarily roam throughout the Salish Sea and Juan de Fuca shipping lanes. The Canadian National Energy Board panel that approved the Kinder Morgan proposal last year acknowledged in its decision that the additional traffic would have a “significantly adverse” impact on the area’s deeply endangered southern orca whale population.
Other groups have also brought actions to slow the project’s progress. Democracy Watch and the PIPE UP Network are asking for a judicial review after Kinder Morgan donated more than half a million dollars to B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s Liberal Party, while energy economist Jeff Rubin has questioned the $7-billion project’s economic rationale.
Clark’s government, which faces an election next week, has given the Texas company promoting the bitterly-opposed pipeline until July 2 to confirm that it will proceed with the project. Cancelling it, at least one analyst has warned, “would essentially be a death knell for Kinder Morgan.”