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Province okays jet fuel pipeline bringing tankers into Fraser River

A consortium of airlines known as the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation now has conditional approval for tankers to travel up the Fraser River, en route to a jet fuel tank farm in southeast Richmond.  - File
A consortium of airlines known as the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation now has conditional approval for tankers to travel up the Fraser River, en route to a jet fuel tank farm in southeast Richmond.
— image credit: File

A controversial jet fuel pipeline that would be built across Richmond and bring tankers into the mouth of the Fraser River has been given the green light by the province.

Environment Minister Mary Polak issued a conditional environmental assessment certificate for the project to the proponent, the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corp.

B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office concluded there will be no significant adverse impacts.

The projects includes a marine terminal and storage facility on the South Arm of the Fraser River near Riverport and a 13-kilometre underground pipeline to Vancouver International Airport.

Polak said the expected growth in jet fuel tanker trucks travelling the roads was a "significant concern" and one of the reasons the new pipeline to the airport will be

"Currently there are about 30 trucks per day that travel roads with commuters over the Alex Fraser Bridge taking this fuel to YVR," she told reporters Thursday.

"It's estimated in the next 20 years that number would increase to 200 tanker trucks per day, crossing that same route together with commuters."

Polak said it was a key consideration in concluding the new pipeline will be "far safer for the public and far less risk to the environment."

Each double-hulled tanker entering the Canadian waters must have a qualified pilot on board and be accompanied by two escort tugs.

Other spill-prevention measurs include the placement of protective booms and other spill-containment equipment at key locations.

Polak said the original route of the proposed pipeline was redrawn to avoid unnecessarily impacting residential neighbourhoods.

Richmond's fire department has warned it is unable to respond to a disaster of the magnitude that could come at the pipeline or its terminal on the river.

Polak said that's one reason why the fuel pipeline consortium is being required to maintain a full fire response capability on its own.

According to the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation, the system will meet the fuel requirements of the airlines and airport for the foreseeable future and will eliminate the approximately 1,000 tanker truck deliveries from Washington State that are needed each month to meet fuel demand at the airport.

“The spill prevention and response strategies proposed for the Fraser River go well beyond industry standards and best practices,” said Adrian Pollard, project director of the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation.

“The risk of a spill is low and the response presence designed for this project will benefit all other users on the river.”

It’s a project the City of Richmond does not want.

Last week, senior government officials received a terse letter from Mayor Malcolm Brodie’s office stating the city “remains opposed to the current proposal and advocates that the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation conduct a process which fully and openly considers the economic, environmental and social aspects of any new program for jet fuel delivery to the airport.”

City council doesn’t have jurisdiction on the matter, yet it earlier made recommendations in the event the plan is approved. Those include having the proponent build and maintain a staffed fire hall close to a proposed tank farm, and supply and maintain a fire boat. The city is also suggesting local government and fire officials be given more power to monitor pipeline construction.

The environmental assessment certificate includes 64 conditions, which are legally binding requirement that the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation must meet to be in compliance with the certificate.

Conditions include:

•At least two escort tugs for each tanker and one tug for each cargo  barge coming into the marine terminal.

•Vessels will be under the expert control of pilots specifically trained  for the Fraser River environment.

•Specify that all jet fuel delivery vessels using the facility must be pre-screened through a tanker acceptance program before they enter  Canadian waters; be double-hulled; and insured for pollution liability.

•Automatic leak detection system and automatic and manual shut-off  systems.

•A fire safety plan prepared and implemented in consultation with the fire departments, provincial  emergency services, and the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission.

•Firefighting systems at the fuel-receiving facility and marine terminal  that will protect fuel transfer areas and storage tanks.

Fuelling aircraft at YVR today is a half-century-old underground pipeline connecting the airport with Burnaby’s Chevron refinery. Tanker trucks deliver more fuel from the Cherry Point refinery near Blaine, Wash.

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