• Federal Moratorium on British Columbia Crude Oil Tanker Traffic
  • January 8, 2016 | Authors: Dionysios Rossi; Graham Walker
  • Law Firm: Borden Ladner Gervais LLP - Vancouver Office
  • On November 13, 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau instructed the Minister of Transport, the Honourable Marc Garneau to "formalize a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic on British Columbia's North Coast, working in collaboration with the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Minister of Natural Resources and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to develop an approach." This mandate accords with promises made by Prime Minister Trudeau during the Liberal election campaign.

    Whether a federal moratorium on tanker traffic exists in British Columbia has long been a subject of debate. To date, there has been no legislation or other written instrument formally establishing such a ban. Despite this, various secondary sources have continued to refer to the existence of a moratorium and the federal government maintained this policy for a number of years. However, there is the Tanker Exclusion Zone, a voluntary truck routing measure that applies to loaded crude oil tankers servicing the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System between Valdez, Alaska and Puget Sound, Washington. Tankers carrying no cargo may transit within the Tanker Exclusion Zone.

    In 2010, the House of Commons passed a non-binding opposition motion calling for a ban on crude oil tanker traffic off British Columbia's north coast. This was followed by a private member's bill sponsored by Vancouver Quadra Liberal MP Joyce Murray in 2010 (Bill C-606), which had the support of the minority Parliament. It was ultimately dropped from the Order Paper when the 2011 federal election was called. Under the leadership of the Conservative Party, the position of the federal government was that there was no legally binding moratorium on the west coast. This allowed oil and gas projects involving the use of crude oil tankers to develop in British Columbia.

    The terms and extent of a formal federal moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic and the manner in which it will be established remain unclear. However, it is anticipated that any such ban will have a significant impact on oil and gas development projects in northern British Columbia given the necessity of tanker transport to these projects. For example, it is anticipated that the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project will require 225 tankers carrying condensate and crude oil to travel the Douglas Channel each year. It is notable that the mandate letter does not appear to prohibit exports of refined crude oil, so some oil and gas projects may not be affected.