Dear Minister George Heyman


Dear Minister Heyman:

I am writing to follow up on the meeting the Prime Minister held with British Columbia Premier John Horgan and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley in Ottawa on April 15, 2018 to discuss the twinning of the Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX) project.

The Government of Canada has a strong regime in place to protect the environment in land and marine areas under its jurisdiction, and is committed to continuous improvement in this respect. We are dedicated to ensuring that Canada’s resources are developed in a way that is informed by rigorous science and evidence, aligns to Canada’s climate change plan, protects Canada’s rich natural environment, including our Oceans, respects the rights of Indigenous Peoples, and supports our economy. Our priority remains to effectively advance both Canada’s economic progress and our environmental responsibilities.

In this context, I wanted to underscore our government’s commitment to seeing the TMX project go ahead, as this vital infrastructure is in Canada’s national interest, and to outline why our government has confidence this project can proceed in a manner that is safe, environmentally responsible, and can be built and operated to the highest standards. I also outline measures we have taken, and propose potential areas for future collaboration, to ensure concerns about the project and the protection of B.C.’s coast are addressed in a comprehensive and meaningful way.

Protecting the coast
The Government of Canada firmly stands by its decision to approve the TMX project.  The project was approved, with 157 legally-binding conditions, within the context of Canada’s climate action plan and after a rigorous review based on science and evidence, as well as extensive consultations with Indigenous peoples and other relevant parties. These conditions, including for marine safety, are among the most stringent ever imposed. We believe the marine safety requirements alone are more onerous than those imposed for any other project proponent.

The Oceans Protection Plan
In addition, the federal government has launched the $1.5 billion Oceans Protections Plan (OPP), the largest investment Canada has ever made to protect our coasts and marine environments. This plan will provide far greater protections to our coast after this project is built than we have today, despite the small increase in tanker traffic. This funding will enhance marine safety along Canada’s entire coastline, the longest in the world – supporting new and ongoing prevention, preparedness and response measures. This directly responded to recommendations, including those from the Royal Society of Canada in 2015, to fill the gaps that existed in Canada’s system at that time. These improvements will be completed on the BC coast before the pipeline infrastructure expansion is operational.

We are developing a marine safety system that rivals any in the world. The marine safety improvements from the Oceans Protection Plan, coupled with the stringent project conditions for the TMX project, and building on the robust system already in place, will put extraordinary safeguards in place for all vessels, including those carrying petroleum products. Those safeguards include:

  • Requirements for, and the use of, experienced pilots and tethered tugs to escort resources safely out to sea;
  • Increasing the towing capacity of the Coast Guard by adding two large vessels capable of towing large vessels and installing towing equipment on 25 large vessels;
  • Five new spill-response stations funded by industry to enhance emergency response capacity, as well as new, significantly shorter response time which could benefit Burrard Inlet;
  • Based on the polluter-pay principle, removal of the Ship-Source Oil Pollution Fund per-incident limit of liability, and making an unlimited amount of compensation available for spill response;
  • Strong partnerships on monitoring and spill response with coastal and Indigenous communities; and,
  • The Kitsilano Coast Guard Station has been re-opened.

Crude oil has been shipped safely through the Vancouver harbour for over 60 years, and diluted bitumen for over 30 years.  We are confident that these improvements will help maintain this impressive record, and not only address concerns about tanker traffic, but will increase marine safety for all vessels, the over 3100 large vessels that use the port of Vancouver and 206,000 vessel movements in the Salish Sea annually. Once the expansion project is complete, Trans Mountain tankers will represent less than seven per cent of the total large commercial marine vessels transiting the Juan de Fuca Strait.

To complement Canada’s world-leading marine safety regime and response capacity, the Oceans Protection Plan will add to the already significant body of scientific knowledge concerning petroleum products in the marine context and incorporate Indigenous knowledge.

Our government has invested substantially in oil spill and response research for over 35 years, and has produced over 60 peer-reviewed publications in the last five years alone focused on the science of diluted bitumen spills. As a result of this research, and ongoing work by Canadian and international researchers, Canada has advanced overall understanding of the fate and behaviour of petroleum products in ocean and fresh water.

Based on current scientific evidence and limited real-world spill experience, diluted bitumen behaves similarly to conventional crude oils; it will float initially for several days depending on the environmental conditions.

Since 2013, the Government of Canada has made concerted efforts to increase investment, collaboration and coordination of work among Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada to increase understanding of spills of diluted bitumen in marine and freshwater environments. That investment was augmented in 2016 with additional funding provided to implement the Oceans Protection Plan, which includes focusing research on the fate, behaviour and effects of various oil products in different spill conditions and under extreme Canadian climates, to improve the security of transport of oil products, spill recovery and responses.

Collectively, the Government of Canada has dedicated some 50 scientists, technologists, chemists and engineers in four major programs to study oil spill behaviour and recovery technologies. There is a significant body of work in the public domain that have been peer reviewed domestically and internationally, which helped inform decisions on pipeline projects as well as oil spill planning and preparedness. This body of knowledge, coupled with continued research, means we can say with confidence that responders will be able to better understand and predict the behavior of petroleum products in marine and freshwater environments—enhancing Canada’s ability to prepare for and respond to spills.

Working with Indigenous peoples and industry
We are collaborating with coastal and Indigenous communities and industry, industry, provinces, and territories, to realize the goals outlined in the Oceans Protection Plan, and working in partnerships with Indigenous peoples to ensure strong marine safety and environmental protection.

Pipeline and Rail Safety
The Railway Safety Act, the Pipeline Safety Act, the National Energy Board Act, the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, the Marine Liability Act, the Fisheries Act, as well as the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, establish a comprehensive world-leading federal regime in Canada related to the transportation of petroleum and other products.

The highest safety and security standards are in place in all modes of transportation to prevent incidents and accidents, while enabling rapid, science-based planning and response actions in the unlikely event of a spill.

The robust federal system is built on the “polluter pays” principle, whereby the industry transporting the product is responsible for costs related to cleanup and pollution damage. Further, a world-leading suite of liability and compensation measures is in place, addressing activities under federal jurisdiction and protecting Canadians from damages and costs associated with spills.

The recent measures enacted under the Pipeline Safety Act and amendments to the National Energy Board Act also demonstrate our government’s commitment to world-leading pipeline safety, as does Canada’s commitment of $65 million in new funding to support activities and priorities of the co-developed Indigenous Advisory and Monitoring Committee for the TMX project. This Committee provides a mechanism for Indigenous communities to provide advice to federal regulators, and participate in the monitoring of the existing line, the expansion project, and associated marine shipping.

Marine Sector
The Government of Canada has established a national ship-source oil spill regime comprised of three key areas: prevention, preparedness and response, and liability and compensation. This world-leading regime has its foundation in international obligations and is built on international and domestic cooperation and standards. Through new legislation and major investments, such as the Oceans Protection Plan, the Government of Canada is dramatically strengthening this already robust regime.

The more than 100 regulations, 30 acts and international agreements and commitments that make up Canada’s marine safety regime, are first and foremost, focused on preventing accidents from occurring.

We are confident that the full suite of measures in the Oceans Protection Plan and beyond will ensure comprehensive environmental protection, minimize any risks to the land and marine environments arising from TMX or similar infrastructure projects, and allow for a quick, efficient and effective response in the unlikely event that such actions were necessary. The Oceans Protection Plan and additional project-specific safeguards are rooted in scientific research, and our commitment to evidence-based decision making is unwavering.

Looking ahead
I understand that our senior officials have met a number of times over the past few months to provide further clarity and information on the Oceans Protection Plan, and on the science, including diluted bitumen, to discuss areas of concern to British Columbia, and to consider possible solutions. In this context, we remain open to explore those solutions further – such as examining ways to ensure more effective towing capacity on the West Coast, or to strengthen loss and damage provisions under rail safety legislation. In February, we also announced federal programs to reduce reliance on diesel fuel in rural and remote communities along British Columbia’s coast, and we are committed to working with Indigenous communities and B.C. to support access to these programs.

Our officials have been meeting to consider how we can advance collaboration and alleviate any ongoing concerns regarding spill response capacity. One proposal that we would like to highlight is a potential partnership among the Government of Canada, the Government of British Columbia and Indigenous peoples, to articulate a seamless land-to-sea system to protect British Columbia from spill risks through integrated work on planning, preparedness, response, and recovery and critical alignment of safety and response systems in our respective jurisdictions. Initial steps would include identifying any potential incidents whose impacts are most likely to cross jurisdictions, and improving upon joint systems and protocols to address environmental risks and incidents, including spills.

Should your government wish to further collaborate on science, we could consider establishing a joint Scientific Expert Advisory Panel. Such a panel would build on our science investments and results, take stock of work on the fate, behaviour, and effects of various oil products in different spill conditions and under extreme Canadian climates in order to inform further scientific work under the OPP and spill response modelling, preparedness and response measures. Such a panel would be made up of independent experts, be national in scope, and examine all types of petroleum products.

In addition to these measures, I also wanted to advise you that the Government of Canada has today submitted its response to the Government of British Columbia’s “Policy Intentions Paper for Engagement: Phase Two Enhancements to Spill Management in British Columbia”. Canada’s submission outlines the full scope of federal activities that underpin our confidence that the TMX project can be developed and operated safely, given that British Columbia did not address in its Consultation Paper the robust Canadian safety regimes, the long-standing scientific expertise, and significant recent investments made by the Government of Canada related to spill management. It is essential that Canadians have access to a complete and accurate picture of federal jurisdiction, spill management in Canada, and the world-leading federal measures in place to protect Canada’s coast, communities and environment.

Yours sincerely,

Catherine McKenna, P.C., M.P
Minister of Environment and Climate Change

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