Tug-Barge Petroleum Tankers
WHEREAS more than half a million deadweight tons of petroleum products are being shipped from Washington state to Alaska via the 'protected' waters of the British Columbia Inside Passage every year;
WHEREAS these tug-barge combined units carry up to 20,000 deadweight tons of petroleum products up the entire BC coast at least once every 10 days;
WHEREAS this traffic employs not a single Canadian, nor a single Canadian pilot, nor master mariner, nor even a deckhand, nor pays any fee, tariff or dividend to the Canadian public, nor even stops in Canada, except occasionally to load petroleum products at the Kinder Morgan or Chevron spigot in Vancouver;
WHEREAS at least six tugs, all involved in towing barges sank off the BC coast last year, and this year already there have been at least two serious groundings associated with tug/barge units;
WHEREAS all other petroleum product tankers that traverse the British Columbia coast must travel at least 20 miles offshore in order to increase the time available for a rescue response in the event of disaster;
BE IT RESOLVED that American tug-barge petroleum traffic be barred from traveling up and down the 'protected' waters of the British Columbia Inside Passage, and be required to travel, by suitable, seaworthy double-hulled vessels safely 20 miles off the BC coast, just as all the other petroleum tanker traffic must do.
The combined, mated vessels which are the subject of this resolution consist of ‘Articulated Tug/Barge’ (ATB) units, as well as regular Tug and Tow units. There are at least a dozen of these vessels carrying various refined and heavy oil products plying the British Columbia coast, most of which are owned and operated by the Texas-based Kirby Corporation. Although Alaska exports large amounts of crude petroleum by tankers, there are no refineries there, so these tug/barge units travel north, loaded, to serve the state's domestic market.
These barges generally carry 10,000 deadweight ton loads (dwt) but occasionally up to 20,000 dwt loads are carried, and by Transport Canada regulations they are allowed to carry as much as 40,000 dwt north, through Seymour Narrows. (Approximately 40,000 dwt of oil spilled out of the Exxon Valdez.) There is, on average, one loaded tug barge traveling north every 10 days up the BC Inside Passage, the entire length of the BC coastline, for a total of at least 500,000 deadweight tons annually.
This substantial traffic has largely ‘flown under the radar’. This may be because the vessels are comparatively smaller than more typical oil tankers, yet the inevitable accident will be catastrophic to the British Columbia coast. They travel the Inside Passage of British Columbia’s coast which is often described as ‘protected’ because it is sheltered from the open Pacific, yet there are a great many hazards and offshore conditions along this route, including strong tidal flows, reefs and shoals. Were a tug to become disabled for any reason, the barge that it is pushing could easily end up on the rocks and spilling its contents.
It should be noted that these tug-barges operate by ‘special waiver’ issued by BC's Chief Pilot, Captain Kevin Obermeyer, CEO of the Pacific Pilotage Authority which oversees all shipping on Canada's Pacific coast. These waivers exempt this traffic from Transport Canada regulations which otherwise require two Canadian pilots on the bridge, and exempts them from the requirement of navigating with escort tugs in Port Metro Vancouver. It also exempts them from restrictions which otherwise bar petroleum tankers from traveling anywhere other than via Juan de Fuca Strait, and from there, 20 miles offshore of the BC coast. They travel without Canadian pilots and without any basic First Nations protocol permission, and Canada derives no benefits at all in terms of employment or business from it, while accepting considerable risk.
We offer a reasonable alternative to this traffic: the petroleum products that Alaska requires for its domestic market should be delivered by modern double-hulled tankers along the standard designated route, 20 miles offshore. This solution would ensure that if a vessel gets into trouble for any reason, it would be far less likely to go aground and there would be more response time to take measures to prevent a spill. This resolution is intended to promote that form of shipping as a replacement for the current tug-barge transport of petroleum between Washington and Alaska along the BC coast.
Although the issue of petroleum tankers operating in British Columbia waters is a highly charged and contentious issue that is of great concern to the people of Canada, very little is known about this traffic that has been traveling quietly up and down the waters of this coast. You can learn more by signing onto the ‘10,000 Ton Tanker’ Facebook page:
managed by Bella Bella resident and Green Party member, Ingmar Lee, who co-authored this resolution.