Proposal may mean more oil tanker traffic in Wash.

SEATTLE — A proposal by Kinder Morgan Canada could mean more oil tanker traffic in Washington waters.

The company announced earlier this month that there was so much interest in long-term purchase contracts for Canadian tar-sands oil that it wants to boost capacity of its proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline, The Seattle Times reported Sunday.

The proposed pipeline expansion would increase capacity from the 750,000 barrels per day announced last April to 890,000 barrels per day. The current capacity is 300,000 barrels per day.

If the expansion is approved, it would mean an increase in tankers in the waters of Washington and British Columbia, from five a month to as many as 34 a month, said Michael Davies, director of marine development for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project.

Kinder Morgan Canada, part of Houston-based Kinder Morgan Inc., will develop its expansion proposal to Canada’s National Energy Board over the coming months. It hopes to begin operations by 2017.

Davies noted his company has never had a spill from a tanker at its dock since the Westridge terminal began operations in the 1950s.

Most of the tanker traffic would travel through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, proceed between the San Juan and Gulf islands, and enter Vancouver Harbor.

Some are concerned about the risk of oil spills if tanker traffic increases.

“This is one of those moments in history that will significantly increase the risk exposure of a catastrophic oil spill in Puget Sound, within a core area of the killer whale’s critical habitat,” said Fred Felleman, a Seattle resident who serves as an alternate on a steering committee engaged in a vessel-traffic risk-assessment analysis.

“You can’t just squeeze more traffic through the same waterway and expect everything to remain the same.”

Todd Hass, of the Puget Sound Partnership, said the steering committee wants to work with shipping interests to understand risks posed by vessel traffic and how to manage them.

Under the expansion, the number of tankers plying the Strait of Juan de Fuca would increase by more than 50 percent, to more than 1,000 a year, including 408 tankers shipping Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline tar-sands oil, Davies told the Times.

While tanker traffic is scheduled to increase, it still would be a small portion of the approximately 5,000 to 6,000 transits a year of large commercial vessels coming into the region, said Chip Boothe, with the Washington Department of Ecology’s spill-prevention preparedness and response program.

“We are not minimizing the potential for it to have an impact, but I am appreciating that we have a pretty robust marine-navigation safety system in this region,” Boothe said.

“Yes, there is a potential for increased traffic. Is that increase adequately managed in the system we already have in place, or does it need to be modified to assure we don’t increase risk? That is what we will be looking at.”