Pacific Northwest
The High Mercury oil tanker steaming toward the Port of Vancouver, B.C., through prime orca habitat in Haro Strait in 2017.

Oil exports to China boost tanker traffic through orca habitat

Crude oil exports from Canada’s Port of Vancouver shot up by at least 67 percent last year, sending more tankers through critical habitat for orcas on both sides of the Washington-British Columbia border.

Most of the oil in the Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver winds up in refineries in Washington state, by way of a branch pipeline to Ferndale and Anacortes.

Much of the rest goes to a refinery in Burnaby, B.C., just east of Vancouver, that produces gasoline, diesel and jet fuel for Canadian customers.

Energy analyst Kevin Birn with IHS Markit in Calgary said people in the Vancouver area used less of those products last year, leaving more oil in the big, multi-customer pipeline to be sold overseas.

“Any free space will be occupied by exports at this point,” Birn said. He said data from the National Energy Board of Canada shows exports from the Trans Mountain pipeline doubling last year, more than the 67 percent increase reported by the Port of Vancouver.

Most of the oil sent overseas went to China and South Korea.

It’s meant a jump in oil tankers in Washington waters – and more risk of oil spills, though fewer tankers ply our waters than did a decade ago.

About half the oil used in Washington state is delivered by tankers coming in the Strait of Juan de Fuca from the Pacific Ocean.

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