Sockeye and other fish and wildlife are threatened by plans to ship jet fuel through the Fraser River estuary (Land Conservancy photo)

Jet Fuel Tankers in Fraser River Would Put Critical Fish Habitat at Risk


As Parliament debates the watering down and the neutering of environmental legislation in Canada you again must be made aware that the lack of leadership by Environment Canada and DFO (with the laws they now have) have allowed one of the most irresponsible projects to be proposed for construction in the world class Fraser River and its globally significant estuary that is home to some of the largest salmon runs and migratory wildlife populations in the world. If Bill C-38 is passed as is, this valuable river and key fishery habitat will receive less protection than it has over the past  few years despite what the Minister Ashfield has promised – a more focused effort to better conserve key habitats and fisheries. This promise is nothing less than a cruel hoax.

The Fraser River is is one of the most critical fishery rivers and key fishery habitats in the world and that fishery does not now receive proper protection and with Bill C-38 it will get much worse. In the past decade DFO and EC have not done their job in enforcing their sections of the Fisheries Act and above all have compromised proper and comprehensive environmental reviews that can harm fish and migratory birds and their essential habitats.

The Vancouver Airport Fuel Facilities Corporation (VAFFC) attempted to barge jet fuel into the Fraser River in 1988. The then Federal Environmental Review Process held proper hearings and rejected that proposal in 1989 as too great a threat to the estuary and public safety. Imagine – better environmental protection some 23 years ago! Despite that finding, the VAFFC refused to build a safer option – a pipeline from the Vancouver Airport to the Cherry Point refinery and large fuel dock near Bellingham in Washington State.

Two years ago VAFFC detected that times had changed and environmental laws were not being applied (despite the misleading claims of the opposite from DFO Minister Ashfield and Ministers Kent and Oliver) and applied to ship giant Panamax tankers of cheaper jet fuel from offshore locations into the very fragile and highly productive Fraser River Estuary, build a large offloading terminal several kilometers upstream and there store up to 80,000,000 litres of toxic and highly flammable jet fuel on the shores of the Fraser River. So as to ignore the Federal CEAA process, whose weak regulations did not even trigger a comprehensive or public panel review of this major project, VAFFC asked the BC Environmental Assesment Office for a voluntary review and Port Metro Vancouver (PMV) then accepted the Province as a lead in a so called harmonized review with PMV. Most citizens and local city councils have found this arrangement totally unacceptable and unethical.

Why would the Federal government allow a junior government lead review when this is a federal airport, federal port, federal migratory birds, federal fish and habitat and relates to a federal pilotage authority, federal navigable waters and Canadian shipping laws? Also why would the Federal Government delegate environmental impact review to the port (PMV) that is dedicated to industrial development in fish and wildlife habitat areas? This is one of the greatest conflicts of interest imaginable. In this project, PMV will indeed profit from any project approval. Only a lower level Environment Canada official to date has stated in writing that this project is unacceptable (August 2011) – i.e.: “The project would present a new and unacceptable risk to the locally, nationally and internationally-important fish and wildlife populations of the Fraser River Estuary, including migratory birds and species at risk…” and “Environment Canada is of the opinion that there is a limited ability with currently available technologies to effectively control a potential Jet-A fuel spill in the Fraser river Estuary”.

Last week the PMV released a new report rationalizing the low risk of tanker traffic in the Fraser River. This is despite the fact that the VAFFC could have up to 100 tankers and barges a year entering the estuary full of toxic and  flammable jet fuel. We have had a safety systems engineer review the tanker traffic report produced by offshore consultants for PMV. A covering letter from VAPOR and the VAPOR tanker traffic critique are attached for your information and action.

It is urgently requested that BC MLAs and federal MPs look into this matter, in that we are witnessing a serious slide into a high risk activity in this world class fish and wildlife habitat area and the BC and Federal environmental assessment processes seem unwilling to relate to this project in a a serious or meaningful way. Also if Bill C-38 is passed by the Harper Government, this type of irresponsible risk exposure to our environment and public safety is bound to increase greatly over the next several years and our living resources in the river and their habitats will again be further degraded. Our children and grand children will damn those that allowed this to happen.

It is urgent that you now act on these matters in that Canada will be greatly diminished if this type of irresponsible environmental planning and assessment is allowed to continue.


About Otto Langer

Otto Langer BSc(Zool) (1968) and MSc (1974) worked for the Department of Fisheries and Environment Canada from 1969 to 2002 pioneering the enforcement of the habitat provisions of the Fisheries Act appearing in over 100 courts as an expert witness. In 2002 he joined the David Suzuki Foundation establishing its Marine Conservation Group specializing in salmon farming issues. His articles appear in numerous technical publications and in 2005 he co-authored Stain Upon the Sea: West Coast Salmon Farming which won the Roderick Haig-Brown BC Book Prize.

3 thoughts on “Jet Fuel Tankers in Fraser River Would Put Critical Fish Habitat at Risk

  1. Once again I don’t understand the thinking! Why in H’s name would be bring Aviation Fuel tankers up the South Arm; and then pipeline it across Richmond to the airport?
    What wrong with a dockage jetty at the mouth of the North Arm; is that not the airport? I don’t think the bulk of the salmon are going change routes!

  2. Otto,

    You miss the message: Environment is second, no I meant last in order of importance (people are second to last), development (what ever that means) is first and it trumps all.

    For speaking out you sir have revealed yourself to be a radical in the arms of foreign financiers. Stephens men made it clear: resistance to the regime is futile, how dare you question when wealth and might is always right?

    Were you born in the age of freedom? Freedom has not existed in my 55+ life time, have you found it in yours? We are slaves, face the facts.

    In Stephens world scientists are blasphemous and blasphemously immoral in their stand against development, which means; To rip the heart and soul out of a collective consciousness sometimes called a biosphere or for the clueless an environment, in order to profit at all costs. And you dare speak against this foolishness? How dare you, keep up the good work, in fear of being blackballed? You sir are brave indeed!

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