By PHUONG LE
SEATTLE (AP) _ U.S. tribes told Canadian regulators on Wednesday they’re opposed to a proposed pipeline expansion project in Canada that could dramatically increase the number of oil tankers plying West Coast waters.
Kinder Morgan Canada has proposed a $5.4 billion expansion of its existing Trans Mountain pipeline, which links oil from Alberta’s tar sands to the Vancouver, British Columbia-area. The project could increase by seven-fold the number of oil tankers that transit Washington state waters.
Tribal leaders from Washington state traveled to Chilliwack, B.C., to testify before Canada’s National Energy Board.
Increased oil tanker traffic could boost the risk of oil spills with devastating consequences for tribes’ way of life, culture and the environment, as well as their U.S. treaty right to fish, they said.
“It’s not if, but when, one of these tankers run aground somewhere,” said Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community near Anacortes, told the panel, according to an online broadcast of the meeting.
He noted the close call over the weekend when a Russian container ship drifted powerlessly off the British Columbia coast, raising fears about a fuel spill. That vessel was towed into the port city of Prince Rupert on Monday.
“We are salmon people and it is very, very important to us. It’s central to our culture,” said Cladoosby, who is also president of the National Congress of American Indians. His 900-member tribe relies on its salmon and shellfish and other natural resources, and much of that would be threatened by a major oil spill, he said.
The pipeline project would nearly triple the capacity of the existing pipeline, increasing flow from 300,000 barrels of oil a day to almost 900,000.
Under the proposal, up to 34 tankers a month could be loaded with oil at a terminal outside Vancouver, generally travel through Haro Strait west of San Juan Island and the Strait of Juan de Fuca for export to markets in Asia and the U.S. That’s up from about five tankers a month now.
Gary Youngman, the lead for aboriginal engagement for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, said the company respects the tribes’ input and values its relationship with the U.S. tribes.
“We will continue to be committed to minimizing impact and protecting the marine environment,” he said in an emailed statement.
Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish Tribe on the Kitsap Peninsula, told the panel that the tribe is opposed because of the potential oil spill risks.
“The more traffic there is, the more oil there is, the more opportunity there is for a catastrophic spill,” he said. “We’re concerned about the catastrophic impact that an oil spill can have on the ecosystem.”
The board noted that it’s the first time U.S. tribes had testified before it. It’s expected to release a final report in January 2016 with a recommendation to the Canadian government.
U.S. tribes aren’t Canadian citizens, but “they are profoundly impacted by the project,” and share a culture with the Coast Salish people in Canada, Jan Hasselman, a lawyer with Earthjustice representing the tribes, told the panel.
The Tulalip Tribes and Lummi Nation are scheduled to testify Thursday.