Marine assessment and our first response plan

Tanker Traffic and Safety

Northern Gateway will put in place a comprehensive, world-class marine safety program for this project, including:

  • Modern double-hulled tankers
  • Independent BC pilots and International Maritime Organization (IMO) certified tanker crews
  • All tankers vetted by a third-party agency before gaining entry to port
  • Escort tugboats tethered to laden tankers
  • A radar system to augment the automatic identification system being installed along coastal routes

Over the past 25 years, more than 1,500 ships have safely travelled in and out of Kitimat, 250 tankers (50 to 60 of which are crude oil tankers) call annually at the port of Vancouver, and many more trade in Eastern Canada, and worldwide.

Some suggest that there is an existing “moratorium on tanker traffic.” But the fact is that in 2005 the former Transport Minister Jean Lapierre confirmed in writing that there is no moratorium on tanker traffic on the coast of British Columbia.

In 2009, Port Metro Vancouver welcomed 2,791 vessel calls. Of those, 255 were tanker vessels which moved 8 million tonnes (approx. 55 million barrels) of oil from Vancouver, of which 4 million tonnes (approx 25 million barrels) were crude oil.

Natural Resources Canada notes that with regards to petroleum products, because of their connection via major waterways, “Atlantic Canada and Quebec have good access to imports from the northeastern U.S. and Europe. As a result, there are a number of major independent marketers who import petroleum products into Montreal for sale in the Quebec and Ontario markets.”

According to Transport Canada in 2006, with the longest coastline of any single country in the world, Canada sees about 20,000 oil tanker movements each year. Of these, 17,000 occur on Canada's east coast. For instance, in 2000, 29 million tonnes of crude petroleum and 2 million tonnes of fuel oil were imported into Canada on tankers.

Northern Gateway will ensure this project is designed and built to world class safety standards. Similar facilities operate safely off the coasts of Norway and Scotland in very similar geographical conditions. Oil ports have also operated safely on the east and west coasts of Canada for many years.

  • Escort tugs, the most powerful on the West Coast, that will also carry emergency response and firefighting equipment
  • Establishing a first response team in Kitimat that will significantly exceed the federal standard of responding to an incident
  • Locating emergency response equipment and training staff at locations along the marine route
  • Installing and monitoring a radar system to cover critical route sections and a monitoring station in Kitimat for all marine traffic to provide guidance to pilots and other vessels in the area
  • Tankers must be a maximum of 20 years old and classified by a suitable classification society
  • Tankers must be insured and provide proof of insurance
  • Tankers must be double-hulled
  • A tanker’s classification society must be a member of the International Association of Classification Societies
  • Tankers must not have changes in ownership, classification or insurance underwriters more than once in the past two years
  • The tanker must have at least one inspection report in the Ship Inspection Report Program (SIRE) database in the previous two years
  • The tankers owner must agree to allow Northern Gateway or its agent access to the tanker for inspection
  • The tanker must have English-speaking officers and crew
  • The tankers will not have any expired or temporary certificates onboard
  • A tanker must certify that it meets all Flag and Port State requirements
  • A tanker’s owner must agree to meet all the marine terminal regulations (such as the use of tethered escort and berthing tugs)
  • A tanker’s crew must agree to allow Northern Gateway to place representatives onboard the tanker as required during ballast discharge and loading operations to observe for safety and pollution prevention

Tanker regulations


The inner hull of the tanker is subdivided into individual cargo tanks. Depending on the vessel’s size and design, there will be 10 to 18 tanks on the tanker.

What regulations will tankers have to follow to be granted permission to dock at the terminal?

All tankers carrying product will be escorted by a tethered tug within the outer channel between Browning Entrance (or Caamaño Sound) and the northern end of Douglas Channel. An additional escort tug will be used in some portions of the shipping routes within the Confined Channel Assessment Area (CCAA).

This CCAA includes the confined waters comprising of the area between Browning Entrance at the north end of Principe Channel (Northern Route) and the marine terminal and between the entrance to Caamaño Sound and the marine terminal.

Emergency response details

Emergency response personnel and equipment will be located at Kitimat and along the marine route to ensure the fastest response time possible. We are currently assessing where the stations could be positioned.

Marine Oil Spills

Spills are NOT inevitable and Northern Gateway has placed high priority on both the assessment of risks and the measures required to mitigate those risks, as well as response capabilities and the equipment and logistics support a rapid response would require.

The goal of our marine safety program is to reduce the chances of an oil spill to as close to zero as we can and in fact the probability is remote. Det Norske Veritas, an independent Norway-based organization specializing in marine risk assessment was chosen in a round-table process involving stakeholders and participating aboriginal groups to do this risk assessment. Both the choice of risk analysis study firm and the assessment study itself were independent of Enbridge.

What was found was that under our proposed marine safety program, the probability of a “large” spill of 20,000 cubic metres (126,000 barrels) is once in 2,800 years, and the probability of a “major” spill of 40,000 cubic metres (252,000 barrels) is once in more than 15,000 years (project application Volume 8C, Section 3, page 3-2).

The main weather impacts on shipping include sea states caused by strong winds and sea fog. To mitigate these climatic states, vessels movements within the channel will only take place in conditions that are safe and within navigational limits.

Northern Gateway has undertaken a Full Mission Bridge Simulation with assistance from the British Columbia Coast Pilots at the Force Technologies facility in Denmark. These findings show that the tanker routes can be navigated safely within environmental parameters.

Marine Spill Liability

In the case the responsible party is the marine terminal owner/operator, Northern Gateway would accept full responsibility for all for the costs related to the emergency response and for any property damage as a result of the spill.

In the event of a spill at the marine terminal, Northern Gateway would fairly review and cover claims for losses.

In the event of a spill from a ship, Northern Gateway would liaise with the community and the pollution fund administrators to make sure that those losses are also fairly reviewed and covered. Together with our Community Advisory Board, we would take the lead in making sure that people are fairly dealt with and have access to the funds that have been set up to deal with ship-sourced pollution events.

In either event, Northern Gateway accepts our responsibility to the community to make sure that people do not suffer losses from our project and from ships calling on the Northern Gateway Kitimat Terminal.

For spills originating from a ship, the ship owner would be responsible. Under Canadian law and international conventions, ship owners are required to carry insurance to cover spill damages. In addition, shippers of oil pay into international and Canadian pollution funds to cover the costs of spills over and above insured losses. It would apply to shipping to and from ports in all areas of Canada, including Atlantic Canada, and Quebec. Canada has looked at this and recently increased the amount available to $1.33 MM an amount determined by nations around the world to be appropriate and sufficient to cover the costs of most, if not all types of oil spill events. If Parliament decides that greater coverage is required , that adjustment can be made via the Canadian Ship-sourced Oil Pollution fund, a fund that has rarely been called upon in Canada given the excellent record of the shipping industry on both of our coasts.

Oil spill responsibility, compensation and spill response are all thoroughly covered in our project application in Volume 8. Our plans are to a be a model of world class safety and environmental standards, and to that end, the equipment and logistics support to enable a rapid response in the channel will greatly exceed regulatory requirements. We also expect these topics to be thoroughly reviewed in the regulatory process.

Kitimat Marine Terminal

Located in Kitimat at the end of the Douglas Channel, one of the widest and deepest waterways on North America’s West Coast, the Northern Gateway Terminal will employ the highest worldwide safety and navigational standards. Safety will be a top priority for both the terminal and vessels.

  • A model of world-class safety and environmental standards
  • Two mooring berths
  • Total of 14 storage tanks for oil and condensate, potential for two additional tanks
  • Radar monitoring station
  • First response capabilities
  • Creation of 165 long-term jobs to operate the new terminal, tug fleet, first response and to monitor the surrounding environment

For more information, please see the Marine Information and Plan page.

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  • Gerald Graham, Feb 16th, 2013 (2 years ago)

    In response to your question, I have had a chance to listen to some of the testimony, and to read part of the transcripts: that's one of the reasons I raised the question about 'world class' standards for oil spill response. Your reply is, frankly, quite pathetic. If Prince William Sound has one of the most ( if not THE most ) stringent marine oil spill response regimes in the world, then surely that is the 'world class' standard. And if Enbridge Northern Gateway is nowhere near the Alaskan standard, then clearly what you are proposing is not 'world class'. In short, you should stop making claims that are not supported by the evidence.

  • Northern Gateway, Feb 12th, 2013 (2 years ago)

    Hi Gerald,

    World class means evaluating the Project, not just the regulatory requirements in Canada or another jurisdiction, and making commitments to prevent spills but also to be prepared in the event of a spill. The response standards in Alaska were established following the Exxon Valdez spill. A lot has changed since 1989 and it is important to consider this when comparing response planning standards in different geographic and regulatory regions.

    World class does not mean selecting the most stringent standards without evaluating the project design and international changes to the shipping industry. Northern Gateway has a unique opportunity to set an appropriate response planning standard and build a modern world-class system to meet this standard.

    Are you familiar with the Response Organizations Standards (1995)?

    They say: "The standards are intended to be used in the planning process in preparation for a response to an oil spill incident. Each response plan will be unique, taking into account the geographic features specific to that region. Since the response to an incident will be influenced by environmental and other factors, the standards should not be used as a yardstick against which to measure the appropriateness of the response. Rather, they seek to ensure that a suitable response infrastructure is in place and ready to be deployed in the event of any spill, regardless of size and conditions."

    Our marine response committments are under review with the current expert panel sitting in front of the JRP hearings. Have you had a chance to listen in to the proceedings or review the transcripts?

    Here's a quote from Owen McHugh, one of the leads on the panel:

    "I guess the simplest way to explain that is we’ve made a commitment that we will meet. We’ve committed to a response planning standard and that -- those capacities will be in place.

    And this isn’t the first time that a new response organization has been set up, as Dr. Owens said the other day. It has been a long time so we’re at a great advantage to evaluate what are the best technologies to apply to this.

    We can talk to the global experts that have been doing this for the past 30, 40 years and say, “If you were going to do something differently, what would you do” and we can learn from those lessons and we can apply those and we can have what would be considered probably one of the best response organizations in the world. We’re at a great advantage."

    Included on the panel are experts who have had a hand in planning and implementing response strategies on other oil and gas projects in marine environments, including Alaska. This team has brought real-world expertise and extensive knowledge of and consultation with the global leaders when it comes to response planning. Applying best practices is a central part of our planning process.

  • Gerald Graham, Feb 12th, 2013 (2 years ago)

    You say your marine oil spill response plan is 'world class', but what you are proposing in terms of response capacity doesn't even come close to the Alaskan standard of 300,000 barrels for Prince William Sound. How can you continue to make such outlandish claims in the face of such stark evidence to the contrary?

  • Northern Gateway, Jan 02nd, 2013 (2 years ago)

    Hi Chris, thanks for joining the discussion. Those are some thoughtful questions worthy of consideration for sure!

    Did you see the report the MacDonald Laurier Institute published last year? We blogged about it here: but here's a direct link for your convenience:

    The report takes an in-depth look at the Canadian experience with marine oil shipping and highlights the progress Canada has made to reduce marine oil incidents—Canada has a world leading safety record. The information in the report should answer some of your questions.

    Transport Canada also has some more detailed information available on their website here: Transport Canada conducted a TERMPOL review of Northern Gateway's marine plan and concluded they have "no regulatory concerns and no serious safety issues." You can read more on that report here:

  • Chris Pook, Dec 30th, 2012 (2 years ago)

    In looking at the Douglas route to Kitimat I became interested in how the traffic at Kitimat would compare to both the current traffic to Vancouver and also in the St. Lawrence.

    Perhaps you could help me be answering some of the following questions so that I can put the issue into an East Coast perspective.

    Many thanks, Chris.

    How does the proposed number of transits compare with the number of transits on the St. Lawrence between Montreal and Levis?

    How do the channel dimensions in the Douglas compare with the cleared channels on the St. Lawrence in that region?

    What has been the incidence of spills on the St. Lawrence?

    How does the lack of ice in the Douglas influence the comparison to the St. Lawrence?

    How many tankers annually stop at Placentia Bay in Newfoundland? How many spills have been reported? The North Atlantic is not noted as being a pacific ocean.

  • Northern Gateway, Nov 20th, 2012 (2 years ago)

    Hi Arno, thanks for your comment and question.

    Over the past 50 years, ships have been safely using the port at Kitimat. Furthermore, between 1982 and 2009, more than 1500 tankers carrying petrochemicals made safe transits in and out of Kitimat through the Douglas Channel.

    Marine weather forecasting has significantly improved over the years. Forecasting has increased safety for all vessels including tankers, fishing boats and passenger ships. Meteorological stations have been installed in the approach channels to provide real-time weather conditions. Using these weather systems tools, the tanker masters, pilots and escort tug masters will develop navigation plans to safely navigate the route, accounting for existing and forecasted weather conditions.

    While modern tankers are capable of operating in extreme weather in open water conditions, tanker operators generally avoid these conditions through weather routing to optimize their sea routes and fuel consumption. Tanker operators also anticipate weather limits which are common in the area of pilot stations and in port and terminal operations. Northern Gateway proposes to also adopt operational limits covering wind and sea conditions—meaning tankers won’t be entering the coastal channels during periods of inclement weather. We expect that in these sheltered marine channels weather will seldom exceed forecast operational limits.

    Should the need arise, the preferred inclement weather tactics are:
    • Outbound tankers would remain at the Kitimat Terminal until it is determined safe to transit to open ocean.
    • Inbound tankers would remain offshore until weather conditions are determined safe for pilot boarding and transit to Kitimat.

    Tankers do not typically seek to access anchorages as their primary inclement weather tactic. That said, anchorages were discussed in our TERMPOL submission to Transport Canada in Chapter 10 of Section 3.5 & 12 ( Transport Canada conducted the TERMPOL review and found it to have no regulatory concerns or serious safety issues. There is one designated anchorage near Anger Island in Principe Channel capable of accommodating vessels up to VLCC size. Our TERMPOL submission discussed additional temporary and emergency anchorages available along the proposed routes as well as holding areas where tankers could wait out weather with the assistance of the escort tugs.

    All laden and ballasted tankers will have a close escort tug between the pilot boarding stations at Triple Islands, Browning Entrance and Caamaño Sound and the Kitimat Terminal. In addition all laden tankers will have a tethered escort tug in the marine channels. These tugs, in addition to being able to steer and arrest a tanker in the event of a mechanical failure, can also hold a tanker in position for an extended period of time – meaning an anchorage is not required to wait out bad weather in the coastal approach channels areas.

    It’s important to note, the weather conditions on Canada's west coast are similar to the Atlantic coast and North Sea, two areas with extensive oil and gas tanker operations.

    Certified BC Coast Pilots would be aboard to assist ships’ masters with navigation and weather systems analysis. BC Coast Pilots have a long history of safe operations on BC’s north coast and have indicated to the National Energy Board that it is rare that ships are required to wait for pilot boarding due to inclement weather on BC’s north coast.

  • Arno Kopecky, Nov 16th, 2012 (2 years ago)

    Hi there,
    just wondering, I've heard that there is only one emergency anchorage along the tanker route (ie between Douglas Channel and outside entrances to Hecate Strait) that is big enough for an oil tanker. Is that true? If so, how does this affect safety considerations, given the storm-prone nature of the tanker route?
    Thanks for your time,

  • Northern Gateway, Oct 24th, 2012 (2 years ago)

    Hi Bob, thanks for your comment.

    We have been committed to Kitimat as the port site since 2005. Enbridge looked carefully at using the ports of Kitimat and Prince Rupert, but ultimately decided to proceed with Kitimat due to the steep terrain and difficult engineering required to safely lay the pipeline along the Skeena River Valley from Terrace to Prince Rupert.

    It's interesting you bring up cost considerations when it comes to pipeline design. We were asked a similar set of questions at the JRP hearings examining our pipeline route in Prince George recently. Our experts made it very clear to the panel: safety trumps cost. You can read more about this issue here:

  • Bob June, Oct 24th, 2012 (2 years ago)

    Can anyone explain to me why Kitimat, with a extremely convoluted approach, is the proposed terminal rather than Prince Rupurt, with direct access to open water and developed as our north coast destination terminal, has been chosen?

    Cost and problems with access to Rupurt down the Skeena come to mind but I have heard no discussion on the topic. I would suggest that running a pipeline parallel to the Skeena is a fisheries issue. However I am confident that with modern tunneling technology a pipeline could be built a safe distance from the river at a reasonable cost.

    To me it looks like another example of Enbridge cheaping out and taking the least expensive route without regard to the long term.

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