News / Vancouver

Retired engineers warn tankers could pose risk to Ironworkers’ bridge

With a federal decision on the Trans Mountain pipeline looming, firm insists more oil tankers can safely navigate Burrard Inlet.

Retired engineer Brian Gunn, a member of Concerned Professional Engineers, stands in Vancouver's New Brighton Park overlooking the Second Narrows and Ironworkers' Memorial Bridge.

David P. Ball / Metro Order this photo

Retired engineer Brian Gunn, a member of Concerned Professional Engineers, stands in Vancouver's New Brighton Park overlooking the Second Narrows and Ironworkers' Memorial Bridge.

Could a 120,000-tonne Aframax-size oil tanker from Kinder Morgan’s Burnaby terminal knock out two bridges over the Burrard Inlet?

That’s a question posed Wednesday by Concerned Professional Engineers, a group of retired engineers including several with expertise in bridge-ship collisions, marine safety and port operations.

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“I've been in this trade of ships and seaports,” said Brian Gunn, former Westshore Terminals’ engineering and maintenance manager for its coal facility in Tsawwassen, B.C. “(With) a sevenfold increase in tankers through the Second Narrows bridges, I'm amazed the federal government has not done a proper risk assessment about traffic through these two bridges.”

Of particular concern to him and three others — University of British Columbia emeritus professor Ricardo Foschi, Peter Hatfield and Chris J. Peter — is the possibility that increasing the traffic through the Second Narrows would also increase the chances of an accident.

They presented their findings before the National Energy Board reviewing the plan, but Gunn said they were ignored when the board gave its green light.

In one scenario the engineers modeled, an oil tanker suffering a broken rudder might veer several metres into the raised railway bridge tower before its tethered tug boats could correct course.

The vessel’s momentum, Gunn argued, would mean it could hit the first bridge “with such force” that it could then be carried on the tanker’s bow into the traffic-heavy Ironworkers’ Memorial Bridge, “and potentially take out that bridge.”

“We're not fear-mongering or saying this will happen,” he insisted. “It's a scenario that could take place.

“More than anything, it could lead to a fairly large loss of lives given the traffic going over the bridge.”

A cargo vessel sits on the south shore of Vancouver harbour near the Ironworkers' Memorial Bridge across Burrard Inlet's Second Narrows. In the background is the green railway bridge that the Concerned Professional Engineers warn could be hit by an off-course oil tanker.

Jennifer Gauthier / Metro

A cargo vessel sits on the south shore of Vancouver harbour near the Ironworkers' Memorial Bridge across Burrard Inlet's Second Narrows. In the background is the green railway bridge that the Concerned Professional Engineers warn could be hit by an off-course oil tanker.

Kinder Morgan’s nearly $7-billion pipeline expansion proposal would triple the flow of diluted bitumen oil through an existing pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to a terminal in Burnaby, increasing oil tanker traffic through the Burrard Inlet seven-fold.

The company has cited increased safety measures to reduce the risk of an accident — including tug boats, B.C. pilots and advanced navigation aids — and rejected the notion that the bridges were in any danger.

Asked for an interview on the engineers’ concerns, Trans Mountain directed Metro to the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s website.

“For about 60 years, tankers have travelled through the Burrard Inlet without incident,” stated a post by operations and planning vice-president Peter Xotta. “In that time, safety standards have continued to become more stringent.”

The authority also stated online that Port Metro Vancouver’s Second Narrows Movement Restriction Area Procedures require Aframax-sized oil tankers to only be 80 per cent full and have three tug boats attached. They may only pass under the bridge at daylight slack water, when the tide is highest.

“We realize there are mitigation measures,” Gunn countered. “But these mitigation measures are not enough.

“A risk analysis needs to be done.”

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