The pipeline situation in Canada has been contentious for a while. But now, it’s getting positively weird. In the latest twist, the energy giant Kinder Morgan is proposing a novel wildlife protection scheme. If a pipeline expansion that boosts oil exports out of Vancouver leads to a massive new spill, Kinder Morgan says it knows just what to do: It will spook the whales.
Canada, has become a place where putting in a new pipeline is so controversial the most expedient thing is to take an old one and make it bigger.
Under these circumstances, a 1950s-era piece of infrastructure like the Trans Mountain Pipeline — which follows a route similar to Northern Gateway’s, out of Alberta to the west coast, where an oil terminal, tankers and the energy markets of Asia await — looks pretty good.
When Kinder Morgan, the company that owns Trans Mountain, drew up a proposal to triple the pipeline’s capacity, people took note. The Vancouver of today is more environmentally inclined than the Vancouver of 60 years ago, and while a bigger pipeline might mean more money, it would also mean several hundred more oil tankers powering into the Port of Vancouver, passing right through popular whale migration (and whale watching) spots.
Whales are clever about some things. What they don’t seem to be so smart about is avoiding oil spills.
In the months following the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, there were numerous sightings of gray whales, porpoises, and orcas swimming right through oil slicks instead of attempting to avoid them.
Last month, the Department of Ecology for the state of Washington asked Kinder Morgan how the company planned to deal with whales if a spill happened along the coastline.
Among the tactics listed: sending in boat traffic; fire hoses; flying helicopters; using pipes to make clanging noises; and setting off low-frequency “seal bombs” or firecrackers underwater.
These tactics, known as “hazing,” definitely scare away non-whales, and seem to annoy whales into leaving, sometimes. But the predictability of their effectiveness remains something of a mystery.
“I am unaware that any whale hazing techniques have been, or will be, scientifically tested on actual whales,” Don Noviello, an oil spill response specialist at Washington State’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the Globe and Mail. Or, as Kinder Morgan cautioned in its report on its hazing plans: “No single deterrence technique will work in all situations.”
The town of Burnaby, along Trans Mountain’s route, is resisting the expansion, to the point of not allowing Kinder Morgan employees onto public lands for site surveys.
If the Trans Mountain plan does get blocked, it won’t be because Kinder Morgan proposed annoying some whales. It’ll be because Kinder Morgan annoyed some people.
(from editorial by Heather Smith at Grist.org)