Auditor slams EAO, fueling Richmond pipeline opposition

For Richmond residents opposed to plans to ship jet fuel up and down the Fraser River via Panamax tankers, July 7 was a day of reckoning for the environmental assessment process theyve opposed since day one.

Now that this report is out, it gives us that much more ammunition because it states exactly what we were saying at the beginning, said Carol Day, the chair of Vancouver Airport Pipeline Opposition for Richmond.

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According to a report released by B.C. Auditor General John Doyle, the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) is failing to properly assess and monitor major projects that could put the environment in harms way, such as the proposed fuel tank farm on the Fraser Rivers south arm put forth by the Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation (VAFFC), which represents commercial airlines.

Its upsetting that the EAO is not effective. Theyre there to protect our environment and they arent, Day said.

The EAO falls under the powers of the Ministry of Environment and is supposed to assess the environmental, economic, and social sustainability of major industrial projects like mines, highways and power plants. It is also supposed to monitor projects once built.

The importance of environmental assessments was highlighted in 2010 when an offshore BP drilling rig exploded, releasing five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The drilling had been exempted from an environmental impact study.

With Vancouver International Airport expanding, it requires more fuel capacity. It gets most of its fuel through a pipeline from a north Burnaby refinery, which is near capacity. About 35 tanker trucks also ship fuel from the U.S. daily.

An official proposal from VAFFC has been postponed until late August. After that an EAO report is supposed to be completed and handed to the minister of environment for approval (certification).

Since 1995, 115 projects have been approved while just one has been denied.

On July 8, project director Adrian Pollard defended the Fraser River tank farm and pipeline across Richmond noting it would provide more access to offshore oil and exclude the need to build a much longer pipeline to the Cherry Point refinery in the United States.

The project is currently undergoing rigorous environmental assessment and mitigation strategies for fires, earthquakes and spills have been discussed with regulating authorities, Pollard said in a letter to the News.

Pollard said up to five barges and tankers would transit the Fraser River each month. VAPOR asserts that the better options are to build a larger pipeline from Burnaby or build a new pipeline from Cherry Point.

Richmond East MLA Linda Reid agrees, saying she favours expanding the Burnaby pipeline capacity. I think the risk to the river is too great, she said.

Asked what she could do as an MLA to make this possible she said the issue is inherently not political and the decision ultimately comes down to Port Metro Vancouver.

The process is above politics. It is supposed to be a purely scientific process.

On Tuesday, Richmond Centre MLA Rob Howard said because the Auditor Generals report notes that the EAO is currently making changes to how it certifies projects, it would be best to wait for those changes to occur before looking at any reports and ultimately making a decision.

When we hear the recent criticisms of the auditor general that raises some concerns. I think we need to give everyone more time to regroup and respond to the Auditor Generals concerns.

Howard said he was not clear on how the VAFFC initially had come to decide on the option of a tank farm on the south Fraser when several other options were available. While Howard believes a pipeline is the way to go, he also said all the information needed to be presented before a decision is ultimately made.

I can appreciate for some people its black or white, but I still need all the information until we make a decision because we rely on that airport for a tremendous amount of jobs, he said.

Jim Ronback, a retired systems safety engineer, said the findings of the Auditor General should make this project even more black and white.

One of the key criticisms that caught my eye is they (EAO) dont follow up on the requirements and conditions theyve attached to the projects approval, he said. If you lay down criteria thats wishy-washy and cant be followed up on, theres no indication that they will be accountable for the systems safety, he said.

Problems with the proposal keep piling up, he added, from lack of environmental oversight, to foreign ships lacking Canadian safety standards to tugboat operators being overwhelmed by the increased tanker traffic on a fast moving river.

Ronback said a major accident or natural disaster could spin out of control very quickly, destroying the Fraser River estuary in its wake. When Richmond MP Alice Wong was asked about her position on the pipeline project during the federal campaign, she said she would wait to see the results of the EAO report. Now the credibility of the EAO has been seriously challenged, Wong was asked if she was still depending on it to inform her decision.

She said she needed time to review the Auditor Generals report before commenting.

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