Follow-up on Trans-Mountain

As a follow-up to my previous post I would like to address some comments about the Trans-Mountain pipeline, oil tankers and oil exports from BC. Most of the following numbers are from Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and Washington State documents. If you want references send a request my way.

Let’s start with some numbers. The current Trans-Mountain has a capacity of about 300,000 barrels a day (b/d). Of the total capacity, 221,000 b/d goes to refineries in British Columbia and Washington State and 79,000 b/d is allocated for marine exports. The Chevron refinery in Burnaby gets about 55,000 b/d and the Puget Sound spur line of the Trans-Mountain has a capacity of 170,000 b/d. The Trans-Mountain expansion has two proposed lines: Line 1 would consist of existing pipeline segments and could transport 350,000 b/d of refined petroleum products, light crude or heavy crude oil. The proposed Line 2 would have a capacity of 540,000 b/d and is allocated to the transportation of heavy crude oil. This new pipeline and configuration set-up would, add 590,000 b/d to the existing system for a total capacity of 890,000 b/d. This includes an upgrade of the Puget Sound line to 225,000 b/d.

One fact not well understood in this debate is that there are 5 major refineries in the Puget Sound with a combined capacity of 643,000 b/d. So why is that important? Well a lot of my Victoria friends have said “we don’t want tankers off our coast”. My response to that is you are really late getting into this game since for the last 20 years up to 600,000 b/d of Alaskan crude has been cruising past your proud city. These tankers have traveled down the entire coast of BC and along the west of Vancouver Island before turning west into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and into the Puget Sound with nary a major problem.

A big complaint is that much of the increased pipeline capacity is for “export” but “export” can mean a lot of things. Thanks to the loss of refining capacity in the Vancouver region we actually “export” crude oil and almost immediately need to re-import it as aviation and jet fuel from the Cherry Point refinery in Washington. Another not well known fact is that the Alaskan oil fields are drying up and new sources are needed to keep the Pacific Northwest in fuel. As I write this, new railway capacity is being built to supply up to 725,000 b/d of Bakken crude to the west coast and the Puget Sound refineries. The route will travel over any number of rivers including the headwaters of the Kootenay River and alongside the Columbia Rivers to the Puget Sound. The route risks both our Canadian and American ecological heritage. Every barrel of oil that can reach the Puget Sound via pipeline or in a double-hulled tanker is a barrel not sent overland adjacent to some of the most pristine and biologically diverse freshwater aquatic ecosystems in the world. Put another way, each Aframax tanker (700,000 bbl at 80% full) leaving the Port of Vancouver for the short haul to the Puget Sound could replace over 11 unit trains traveling almost halfway across the continent.

So I’ve thrown a lot of numbers around but what does this mean? The upgrade of the Puget Sound line of the Trans-Mountain could potentially result in a reduction of the amount of crude oil moving down the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Puget Sound and will certainly reduce the amount of oil transported to the Puget Sound by rail from the Bakken oil fields. With the decrease in Alaskan crude an increase of the Trans-Mountain may not significantly change the volume of oil that currently runs down the Strait of Juan de Fuca every day and given transportation costs, it is likely that the major “export” location for Trans-Mountain oil could actually be to the Puget Sound.

As I’ve written before, we need to move towards a society where oil products are not used for power or fuel. But until that time comes we need these products and the safest, most environmentally responsible way to get them to us is via pipelines. The least environmentally responsible ways are via rail and/or truck. While we transition away from fossil fuels lets ensure that we use the safest modes of transport in order to protect our joint ecological heritage.

Addendum: A comment from Dr. Andrew Leach at U of A reminds me of a pertinent fact. Not all the refineries in the Puget Sound have coking capacity. This would limit the amount of bitumen that could be shipped there as a refinery without a coker would be limited to processing crude and not dilbit. While the documentation for Line 2 indicates that it would transport heavy crude, it is assumed that much of that capacity will be in dilbit form.

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2 Responses to Follow-up on Trans-Mountain

  1. Pingback: On Pragmatic Environmentalism: Being the Responsible Adult in the Room | A Chemist in Langley

  2. Pingback: A Chemist in Langley’s take on Energy East | A Chemist in Langley

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