Marine safety expert answers your questions

Author: Northern Gateway
Dated: 21 December 2011

In yesterday's Marine Safety blog post, Are BC's waters too dangerous?, there were some thoughtful comments that touched on really important issues and asked really good questions. To best answer them, we've engaged the help of Chris Anderson. Chris is a Master Mariner and the lead Marine Advisor for the Northern Gateway project.

Richmond and Harold both asked simliar questions about weather, night travel on the waterways and additional safety measures. Here are Chris' responses, in italics:  

Hi Richmond and Harold. My name is Chris Anderson a Master Mariner and the lead Marine Advisor for the Northern Gateway Project. Thanks for adding your comments and questions. Because both of your comments are very similar, I’ve decided to answer them together.

Richmond, regarding your inquiry about the safety measures other than double hull tankers and pilots that the project will have in place, I invite you to watch our video, if you haven't already, that provides an extensive overview of the proposed marine safety initiatives, by clicking here. While some items such as double hulls and the use of pilots are required under Canadian statutes, Northern Gateway has also voluntarily committed to

  • using escort tugs,
  • upgrading navigation infrastructure, and 
  • to providing spill response resources outside Kitimat Terminal. 

Admittedly, our video is long, but there are a lot of safety measures in place that are worth learning about.

Harold and Richmond, you are quite right in your comments on daylight hours. Northern Gateway clarified its position on this matter in recent communications with the Joint Review Panel. Comments in our Application to the effect that “Transits of the CCAA will usually occur during daylight hours” were made in error. That said, with the navigation technology onboard modern tankers, assisted by planned upgrades to navigation aids and the addition of land based radar, the marine channels can be safely transited during both daylight and at night. Marine terminals in northern latitudes such as Kitimat, Scotland, Sweden, Norway and Alaska have operated for decades under similar conditions.

There are some differences between Port Metro Vancouver and Douglas Channel; however, we do not believe weather is one. Weather conditions in the open waters of Hecate Strait and Dixon Entrance, as is the case with waters off the West Coast of Vancouver Island leading to Port Metro Vancouver, can be severe and need to be taken into consideration for marine operations.

Conditions along the BC Coast are definitely no worse than other parts of the world with a long history of tanker transits, such as the North Sea or the waters off Japan. Similarly conditions in the marine channels leading to and from Kitimat are not that different from that of the Straits of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia. Tanker transits to and from Kitimat, like Port Metro Vancouver, include passage through marine channels and a risk of grounding, which is why both Port Metro Vancouver and Northern Gateway support the use of tug escorts.

The tug escorts proposed by Northern Gateway will be much more powerful than any tug currently available on the BC Coast and will be able to assist tankers in the open waters if required. One key difference between the Port of Kitimat and Port Metro Vancouver and Puget Sound area is that the risk of collision is much lower in the Kitimat area due to the much lower traffic density.

Another commentator, Ron, asked a question about our spill response plans should a tanker incident occur. Here's Chris' answer for Ron:

Ron, we do not disagree that while mitigation measures, such as tug escorts, may lower the risk so far as is reasonably practicable, a spill could still occur. That is why Northern Gateway has committed to implementing a response capability that would exceed Canadian requirements and increase the response capability for the entire Canadian west coast.

Despite the significant investment that this response preparedness would require, we would hope never to see it used for an actual spill. Historic marine spill incidents have resulted in extraordinary improvements to tanker design, construction and operation, and in oil spill response requirements and capability.

Northern Gateway believes learning from other incidents from around the globe is critical to the safety and success of the Northern Gateway Project. In the years following the Exxon Valdez incident, over 11,000 tankers have been safely escorted by tugs through Prince William Sound.

Norway, one of the world’s leading seafood producers, is also one of the largest oil producers (some terminals see more than 2000 visits per year). Norway’s marine terminals, like those of Scotland and Sweden, have operated safely for decades without a major tanker incident, in part, because these countries employ many of the same strict safety protocols and risk mitigation measures being proposed by Northern Gateway.

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  • Northern Gateway, Dec 03rd, 2012 (2 years ago)

    Hi Bob, thanks for your comment.

    The JRP hearings reviewing the Gateway project will be in Prince Rupert beginning Monday, December 10. Our marine experts will be on panels under cross examination speaking to the details contained in our application.

    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 important to be aware that Transport Canada has reviewed our marine plan through its TERMPOL process and found "no regulatory concerns and no serious safety issues." You can read more here:

    When we looked at using the Kitimat port, we used a comprehensive process to determine whether or not the channels leading into the port were safe for tanker operations. You can read more here:

    This video describes the process Northern Gateway used to determine marine safety considerations: safety video

  • Bob June, Nov 28th, 2012 (2 years ago)

    HI; thanks yu for getting back to me.
    I understand you have been committed to Kitimat, and I understand that building along the Skeena is challenging.
    I am very concerned you are going for the cheapest route, not the safest marine egress point. Can you expand on your analysis of Rutpert as a terminus and perhaps give me the link to your port analysis for comparison of Rupert and Kitimat.
    I would also appreciate more detailed information on the Scottish and Nowegian ports that would compare directly to Kitimat access in piloted distances, numbers of course changes, width of channels, annual shipping volumes, distance to spill mitigation resources, available trained manpower and deployment time. As a lay person I understand the weather may be similar but I question wether either of these countries have the long, convoluted accesses that Kitimat requires.
    I have reviewed your website carefully and I cannot find any of this information,

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

    Hi Bob, thanks for you comment and questions.

    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.

    Our marine expert spoke to the weather and emergency response capability related issues in the post above. We are confident that the components of our marine plan will make the area safer for all marine traffic.

    You can read more about our comprehensive marine safety plan on this page:

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

    Given that wind and wave, ie. storm activity, is much higher off of the central coast with significant wave height of 2.7 m. in Queen Charlotte Sound v's 1.6 m. in Dixon Entrance and a mean wind speed of 38 kph v's 19 kph in Sandspit ant 15 kph in Rupert. Bonilla Is. is 50 miles south of Rupert. Why is Prince Rupert not being considered as the proposed terminal?

    Rupert is allready a significant port with extensive infrastructure investment, it offers easy access to open shipping lanes and I expect offers access to significant spill resources and manpower.

  • Kelly Marsh, Jun 21st, 2012 (2 years ago)

    One last request please,

    Regarding Table 3-2 Spill Return Period For Physiographic Regions along the Pipeline Route of Volume 7B: Risk Assessment and Management of Spills- Pipelines, Section 3: Probability of Hydrocarbon Spill.

    This table shows the "spill return periods" for all the Physiographic Regions for Medium and Large spill categories.

    Could you please provide me with the same "spill return periods" for the Small spill categories for each of the physiographic regions?

    Thank you

  • Northern Gateway, Jun 19th, 2012 (2 years ago)

    Hi Kelly, thanks for following up with us. The marine team is working to provide you with an answer and we'll give you an update as soon as we can. Thanks.

  • Kelly Marsh, Jun 18th, 2012 (2 years ago)

    I noticed in the QRA (Figure 7-4) there is a graph showing the Relative comparison of the effect of increasing or decreasing the number of tankers forecast to call at the Kitimat Terminal on the unmitigated spill return period for each route.

    Is there a graph for the mitigated spill return period comparator? I couldn't find it in the Mitigated Risk Evaluation section.

  • Northern Gateway, Jun 14th, 2012 (2 years ago)

    Hi Kelly, sorry for the delayed response here. It's our understanding that you've found another source with Northern Gateway to have your questions answered. Please let us know if we can assist further.

  • Kelly Marsh, Jun 09th, 2012 (2 years ago)

    In Volume 8C: Risk Assessment and Management of Spills- Marine Transportation, Section 3: Probability of Hydrocarbon Spills. It states “The QRA (Quantitative Risk Assessment) will be finalized in Q2, 2010”.

    Could you please supply a link to this document and updated table 3-1 Return Period of a Spill Associated with the Tanker Traffic for the Northern Gateway Project?

    The QRA was also involved in determining the risks in Volume 7C: Risk Assessment and Management of Spills- Kitimat Terminal, Section 3: Probability of Hydrocarbon Spills.

    Could you also supply a link to any updated data in regards to Table 3-1 Return Period of a Spill from a Tanker at Berth?

    Thank you.

  • Northern Gateway, Feb 13th, 2012 (3 years ago)

    Hi Harold, sorry for the delay in providing an expanded response to your earlier question.

    Wind and waves off the BC Coast can be severe during fall and winter seasons. However, we should note that the weather off the BC Coast is no worse than other areas of the world with a long history of safe oil and gas development and tanker operation, such as the Norwegian and North Seas. In fact, larger waves occur on the east coast which is also where most of Canada’s oil tanker traffic is located.

    Tankers are designed, constructed and classified to trade worldwide in all seasons. Tanker operators try and avoid severe weather using weather forecasts and weather routing systems to optimize their sea routes and fuel consumption. This is possible due, in part, to the advances in weather forecasting since the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. During this time Canada’s weather observation network was greatly expanded with the implementation of the real-time reporting coastal and offshore Environment Canada weather buoys.

    Over the past 10 to 15 years regional meteorological and wave operational numerical models have also been improved greatly due to the much more powerful computer systems now available. Delivery of weather information to ships has also improved with the advent of satellite internet communications.

    Regarding the RSC report, gust wind speeds should be used with caution as they are difficult to measure accurately and typically occur over just a few seconds. A more reliable measure of large wind speeds is the maximum measured sustained wind speed. The values given in the RSC report seem to be applicable to the offshore Cape St. James weather stations located at the south end of Haida Gwaii, with maximum wind speeds being considerably lower in most of the Queen Charlotte Sound and Hecate Strait.

    The typical conditions for project operations are best represented by the average or mean wind speed at each coastal measurement location. These values are representative of the conditions that the vessels will usually be operating. For example, mean wind speeds for the months between November and March for the following locations in the vicinity of the marine routes are: 38 km/h at Cape St. James, 19 km/h at Cape Scott, 22 km/h at Sandspit, 30 km/h at Bonilla Island and 15 km/h at Prince Rupert.

    The wave values presented in the RSC report correctly highlight typical wave heights measured by a network of Environment Canada buoys. As noted in the RSC report, the most robust measure of ocean waves is the significant wave height (Hs) value which represents the average height of the one-third largest waves present. Using updated 20 year-long Environment Canada buoy data (as presented in the Northern Gateway technical reports), the average values of Hs range from 2.7 m in Queen Charlotte Sound to 1.8 m in S. Hecate Strait, 1.3 m in northern Hecate Strait and 1.6 m in Dixon Entrance. In the fall and winter, Hs values exceeding 6 m occur less than 7% of the time in Queen Charlotte Sound, less than 3% of the time in S. Hecate Strait and less than 1% of the time in northern Hecate Strait and Dixon Entrance.

    Of equal importance is the fact that the Pacific Pilotage Authority have been operating in this sector of the coast for decades in all seasons, handling in excess of 1,300 ship piloting assignments per annum and have rarely been unable to board or disembark a pilot or make a transit to or from the pilot boarding station at Triple Island at the northern end of Hecate Strait.

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