Open Letter to the Business Council of British Columbia

March 1, 2016

In their op-ed of January 21st, 2016, Messrs. D’Avignon and Finlayson, respectively the CEO and Executive VP of the Business Council of British Columbia, state that it is time for a mature conversation on oil exports against the backdrop of current economic realities.

As a group of retired Professional Engineers who have spent the past four years participating in the reviews of the Trans Mountain and Northern Gateway projects, we agree with their statement.

The authors rightly point out that the world demand for energy continues to grow and that the majority of this growth will be driven by India and China. They also state that Canada does an excellent job regulating its oil and gas industry, and that if we don’t help to fill this growing demand, countries with less stringent standards will step forward and take our place.

They ask: How does the world benefit if Canada says ‘No’? It is a fair question, and one that deserves debate.

However, that’s where the mature conversation ends. Rather than addressing legitimate and sensible concerns put forth by opponents, many of whom like CPE, support development of Canada’s energy sector and economy, they resort to tired rhetoric about these projects being held ransom by a campaign of ‘misinformation’.

Perhaps their argument is that since BC already has many thousands of kilometres of pipelines and sees hundreds of oil tankers per year, the measures that are in place are ‘good enough’. This ignores the basic reality that the Trans Mountain and Northern Gateway projects alone, without the projected boom of BC’s LNG industry, represent an enormous expansion of the oil and gas industry along Canada’s west coast. Canadians are justified in their demand for a comprehensive review of these developments.

Regarding ‘misinformation’, we would like to ask the authors if they are aware that:


  • The risk analyses upon which these projects were approved contain serious and fundamental flaws. For example, the ratio of time tankers spend in enclosed channels vs. open water is, according to the proponents, simply an assumption. Yet for engineers, this knowledge is critical in estimating the frequency of major tanker spills. This may seem like a trivial detail, but it is not.       In complex engineering projects tiny errors carry tremendous consequences. Every new engineer learns the archetypal example: the Challenger space shuttle exploded because a simple rubber seal failed.
  • Disregarding the above flaws, and accepting the risk analyses at face value, the proponents acknowledge that their projects each carry a 10% probability of a major spill within a 50 year operating life. This is a spill of approximately 2,000 times the size of the spill from the Marathassa in English Bay that occurred in the summer of 2015. Do the authors feel that 10% is an acceptable level of risk? We don’t.
  • The Canadian government’s own scientists have repeatedly cast doubt that the product being transported, diluted bitumen, can be cleaned up in the event of a major marine spill. ‘Dilbit’ is not conventional crude oil and experience accumulated over decades of cleanup of crude oil do not directly apply to this product.
  • The funding structure in place to pay for spill cleanup is woefully inadequate and Canadian taxpayers will ultimately foot the bill.
  • Safer port locations exist and have been proposed numerous times. For example, locating the Northern Gateway terminal at Port Simpson would eliminate the need for supertankers to traverse more than 400 km of narrow, congested channels for each of the 11,000 trips they will make in the projected 50-year lifetime of the project. Similarly, Roberts Bank, near the Tsawwassen ferry terminal, is an established port with a clear shipping line to the open ocean. Instead, Kinder Morgan plans to send loaded tankers from a terminal and tanker facility located in a densely populated metropolitan region, Burnaby, through the Burrard Inlet. The tankers would have to pass under two busy highway bridges and a railway bridge, before reaching English Bay and finally, the open ocean. Why have alternate locations never been seriously considered? Is it because they would increase the cost of the pipelines?

The authors’ focus on ‘misinformation’ and ‘fantasy’ belies their intention to have a mature conversation about the development of our energy industry. Yes, there is a vocal and perhaps even fantastical movement that wishes to see all energy development in Canada halted overnight. Yes, a west coast port is required to ship Canada’s energy products to developing markets in Asia. We believe Canadians understand and accept this reality.

However, we also believe Canadians are rightly skeptical about how thoroughly these projects have been regulated, especially in light of recent disasters like the Mt. Polley mine dam breach, the Kalamazoo oil spill, and the Lac Megantic tragedy, where ‘world-class’ regulations very clearly failed to protect people and the environment.

We agree that it is time for a mature conversation about the reality of Canada’s oil industry. We challenge the authors to address the legitimate concerns presented by our group and many others, instead of simply dismissing opponents as being misinformed and fantastical.


Brian Gunn
Spokesperson, CPE