An oil tanker passing through Burrard Inlet.

Activists unveil oil tanker alerts

Aim is to block tar sands exports through Metro Vancouver and Burrard Inlet

Opponents of crude oil exports through Metro Vancouver hope to shine a spotlight on the issue with a new service that beams out text alerts when tankers dock here.

Ben West, a campaigner with the Wilderness Committee, said the aim is to inform more people who often don’t know up to 70 tankers a year enter Burrard Inlet to load up with crude that flows through the region in Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline.

“Our goal at the moment is just to raise awareness,” he said, adding no specific protests are planned.

Anyone can subscribe to text message alerts on their cellphone (by texting ‘oil’ 604 800 9180) to get details on tankers as they dock at the Kinder Morgan pipeline terminal in north Burnaby, or they can follow @BurrardInletOil on Twitter.

West is among the environmentalists who hope to block Kinder Morgan’s tentative proposal to more than double the capacity of its pipeline to 700,000 barrels per day.

“All Kinder Morgan is doing is expanding to turn us into a tar sands shipping port,” West said.

Company officials note the pipeline also delivers most of the gasoline used in the Lower Mainland.

But West argues any increased capacity is strictly about its ability to export.

“It’s all about profits for Kinder Morgan and not what’s in the best interest of people in B.C.”

Kinder Morgan hasn’t yet formally proposed the $4-billion pipeline twinning but is testing the appetite of customers for more capacity.

For activists like West, the issue is not just about a potential threat to local waters from oil spills but whether tar sands oil – which has a heavier carbon footprint because it requires more energy to extract – is used at all.

“Ultimately my goal is to make Canada play a responsible role in the world on climate change.”

West expects the U.S. government’s decision to delay approval of rival Trans Canada Corp’s Keystone XL pipeline to Texas will be used by Kinder Morgan to promote its route as an outlet to carry Alberta oil to Asia.

“With the Keystone being delayed, at least for a while, this is the number one way the tar sands could be exported,” West said.

Also proposed is Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline across northern B.C. to Kitimat, but it faces stiff opposition from First Nations and requires an all-new corridor, unlike Kinder Morgan’s plan to twin its existing pipeline.