Update to: LNG tankers may come close to Sunshine Coast

By Margot Grant

In a surprise move, at the Woodfibre LNG round table discussion on Gambier on March 21, Woodfibre LNG Canada president Anthony Gelotti indicated there is a possibility that LNG tankers will pass by Port Mellon and Langdale. He called this route B.

Until now, route A had been the only route proposed. It would go from the Woodfibre plant straight down the east sides of Gambier and Bowen (Montague and Queen Charlotte Channel) and then into the Salish Sea.

It is the only route mentioned in Woodfibre’s application to the Environmental Assessment Office.

With a map, Gelotti indicated where the newly proposed route B would travel. He showed how tankers could go through the passage between Gambier Island and Howe Sound Pulp and Paper (Thornborough Channel), pass the Langdale terminal, go by the north end of Keats up the east side of Keats (between Keats and Bowen) and then into the Salish Sea.
“I am not ruling out this route through the inside passage of Gambier, along Port Mellon and then in the direction of Gibsons,” he said.

Route B had three apparent advantages: the tankers would intersect with only two ferry routes (Langdale and Vancouver Island) instead of three (Bowen); they would not need to go through the channel between Horseshoe Bay and Bowen, which is heavily travelled by recreational vessels in the summer; and the route along the Sunshine Coast is already industrialized (Port Mellon) and not heavily populated.

Route B had never been mentioned before the Gambier open house discussion.

“I thought Mr. Gelotti was testing the waters,” said Laurie Parkinson, a biologist with property on Bowyer Island in Howe Sound who attended the discussion. “It was clear from the open houses on Bowen and West Vancouver that a lot of people were upset. With route B, fewer people would be affected. And, there had never been, and was not going to be, an open house on the Sunshine Coast.”

On several occasions, the SCRD has requested that the BC Environmental Assessment Office hold open houses in Gibsons or Sechelt, but the EAO indicated that the Sunshine Coast does not need to be consulted on the project because “ships transiting Howe Sound don’t affect the Sunshine Coast.”

Hearing that LNG tankers may pass by Langdale, several people from the Sunshine Coast who were at the open house on Gambier asked Woodfibre president Gelotti if he would support an open house meeting in Gibsons. After some hesitation, he said he would. However, the deadline for submissions to the EAO has passed.

When asked for clarification about a possible route B, Woodfibre LNG responded with an email which did not mention Thornborough Channel in front of Port Mellon.

“The reason you may be hearing about a second route is because Woodfibre LNG Limited was required, as part of the Environmental Assessment process, in 2013, to identify an alternative route for LNG carriers, which included transit through Collingwood Channel west of Bowen Island. This route option was abandoned some time ago.

“I can assure you that if the Woodfibre LNG Project goes ahead, it is our intention that LNG carriers will travel along the existing shipping route, entering Howe Sound through Queen Charlotte Channel, between Bowen Island and District of West Vancouver. This route is also the shipping route that is under close examination as part of Transport Canada’s TERMPOL review process, which will issue recommendations that we are committed to carrying out.”

Why did the president of Woodfibre LNG discuss route B at some length at an open house? The company did not mention it in its application to the EAO. Can it use that route at all?

In an email dated April 7, 2015, spokesperson David Karn of the EAO provided an answer:
“If Ministers decide to issue an environmental assessment certificate and Woodfibre LNG Limited wants to consider a different route from the one presented in their application, Woodfibre would need to submit a request to EAO to amend the environmental assessment certificate to allow the new route and the route would need to be assessed.”

The TERMPOL review process mentioned by Woodfibre LNG is conducted by Transport Canada. It assesses the safety and risks associated with oil/gas tankers to, from and around Canada’s marine terminals. It is a voluntary process and its recommendations are not binding.

“The TERMPOL review process is not only voluntary,” said David Raphael, senior planner with the SCRD, “the discussions are not open to the public, or to us, and there is no possibility to review the report before it goes to the Minister.

“A colleague of mine was at the open house on Gambier and heard about route B,” he said. “If it were discussed during the TERMPOL process, there is no way for us to know. I need to address this with the federal minister. And if it is true, there needs to be an open house in Gibsons.”

On March 26, the SCRD Board submitted the following to the EAO: “With regards to Woodfibre LNG Inc.’s commitment to follow the TERMPOL recommendations, it would be helpful if this could be demonstrated by confirming a commitment to do so in a Memorandum of Understanding.”

The federal TERMPOL review process takes place after the EAO process. It is independent of it and starts later, possibly in July, Raphael said.

The provincial EAO has asked to do the federal environmental assessment as well, a request which was granted. But both provincial and federal environment ministers will have to make a final decision on the project.

When the discussion about route B became public, Commander Roger Sweeny, Certificate of Service as Master Foreign Going, Qualified Master Home Trade, Commander, Royal Canadian Navy (Ret.), 3rd Generation BC Coaster and longtime owner of Mickey Island in West Howe Sound was quick to react:

“This is astounding, if not laughable! Anthony Gelotti plainly knows nothing about Howe Sound.
“Take a look at Thornborough Channel down the west side of Gambier: getting into it around the north side of Anvil is tricky enough; thereafter the channel has many tight turns, and, south of Port Mellon, it is scarcely more than 1500 metres wide on average. So a tanker could never be more than a maximum of 800 metres from shore. A steering failure almost anywhere in Thornborough Channel could mean a collision with a granite cliff.

“Sandia National Laboratories has defined for the US Department of Energy three hazard zones of 500 m, 1600 m, and 3,500 m surrounding LNG tankers. The largest, a circle of 3,500 m radius centred on the moving ship, represents the minimum safe separation between tanker and people. Other LNG hazard experts say at least 4,800 m is a more realistic minimum safe separation distance.
“And then, of course, look at the situation east and south around Keats and into Barfleur, heading westwards (or, if going through Collingwood, southbound) to the Gulf: each of these channels narrows to 1500 metres in one or more places. The Pasley Island group is totally within the danger zone.
“Only a certified numbskull would suggest option B.
“Gelotti’s dangerously simplistic pronouncements and the Fortis expansion plans terrify me,” Sweeny said.