BC residents show huge support for endangered whales during Trans Mountain Pipeline comment period

66,400 people submit comments to National Energy Board showing concern for endangered southern resident orcas from project’s increased tanker traffic, tar sands oil spill risk

Protect-the-Inlet-Flotilla

Unceded Coast Salish Territories (VANCOUVER, BC) — More than 66,400 people submitted letters to the National Energy Board during a rushed public comment period on the federal government’s reconsideration of the Trans Mountain Pipeline project, focused on concerns for the endangered southern resident orcas from increased tanker traffic and the risk of an oil spill. 

The 40-day public comment period is part of the 22-week reconsideration process announced by the National Energy Board. In comparison, the original pipeline review process took more than two years. The reconsideration process is so short that at least one environmental group returned $25,000 in participant funding because the group could not find an expert to help it compile evidence in the short timeline.

“British Columbians revere the southern resident orcas. I talk regularly with my students about orcas as an indicator species of the health of the Salish Sea. Studies have shown us that an oil spill from the Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project could devastate this iconic species. The science of climate change tells us that if we want to preserve a livable future for our children, this pipeline cannot be built. We cannot afford to ignore this science any longer,” said Lisa Descary, a high school science teacher who lives in Richmond, BC. 

“There are 74 members of this species left, and such a large increase in tanker traffic would add an unacceptable amount of stress to the already fragile population. A spill at the wrong place and/or the wrong time could doom the entire orca population into extinction,” reads one letter.

A trifecta of issues including vessel traffic, lack of food, and toxins is contributing to the low reproductive success of the southern resident orca population. This August, a member of the southern resident’s J Pod, Tahlequah, carried her dead calf for 17 days over 1,000 miles in apparent mourning for the calf that lived for a mere 30 minutes after it was born.

Environmental groups are concerned that the review of tanker traffic impacts doesn’t go far enough out to sea. The National Energy Board limited its consideration of tanker traffic impacts to 12 nautical miles, instead of the 200-mile exclusive economic zone, which could leave out a number of endangered or at-risk whales, such as blue whales, fin whales and sei whales.

“The growing oil spill off the Newfoundland coastline, which has now been deemed ‘impossible’ to clean up, is a visceral reminder of the risks posed by the oil industry. Today, tens of thousands of concerned Canadians have again signaled their opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project and the threats the project poses to the southern resident orcas. For the sake of the whales and our climate, Canadians are once again telling the National Energy Board that this project will never be built,” said Sven Biggs, Climate Campaigner at Stand.earth.

“Over 66,400 people have registered their concerns over the impact the Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project would have on endangered orcas, struggling salmon and a climate in crisis. Their voices deserve to be heard in a fair, open process that doesn’t have a predetermined outcome. Instead the Prime Minister is currently short changing our future, and risking further lawsuits. Canadians saw the damage climate-fueled events like wildfires and historic floods can do this summer, Californians are dealing with that reality right now. The timeline to act and quell the damage is getting shorter by the day and pipelines don’t fit,” said Mike Hudema, Climate and Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace Canada.

“This tanker and pipeline project threatens our coastal ecosystems, economies and communities. That unacceptable threat has moved tens of thousands to action. This is a message to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: together, we will defend this coast for all the species that call the Salish Sea home,” said Christianne Wilhelmson, Executive Director at Georgia Strait Alliance.

The comment period ended on Wednesday, November 20, but it is unconfirmed how many comments could be stuck in the fax queue at the National Energy Board. In early October, the Board gave the public one week to comment on the scope of the reconsideration process. After more than 11,000 people submitted scoping comments, the Board revealed its fax machine was “having difficulties keeping up with the volume of use” and it was concerned it would miss comments stranded in the overloaded fax queue. 

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Media contact: Sven Biggs, Climate Campaigner, sven@stand.earth778-882-8354