A Burnaby journalist reports on potential harm if an earthquake affects the western terminus of Trans Mountain pipeline, Justin Trudeau’s $20 billion gift to Alberta’s fossil fuel industry.
Concern is justified.
Kathryn Schulz’s The Really Big One won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing.
…Every fault line has an upper limit to its potency, determined by its length and width, and by how far it can slip. For the San Andreas, one of the most extensively studied and best understood fault lines in the world, that upper limit is roughly an 8.2—a powerful earthquake, but, because the Richter scale is logarithmic, only six per cent as strong as the 2011 event in Japan.
Just north of the San Andreas, however, lies another fault line. Known as the Cascadia subduction zone, it runs for seven hundred miles off the coast of the Pacific Northwest…
Under pressure from Juan de Fuca, the stuck edge of North America is bulging upward and compressing eastward, at the rate of, respectively, three to four millimetres and thirty to forty millimetres a year. It can do so for quite some time, because, as continent stuff goes, it is young, made of rock that is still relatively elastic. (Rocks, like us, get stiffer as they age.) But it cannot do so indefinitely… If the entire zone gives way at once, an event that seismologists call a full-margin rupture, the magnitude will be somewhere between 8.7 and 9.2. That’s the very big one.
…The Pacific Northwest has experienced forty-one subduction-zone earthquakes in the past ten thousand years. If you divide ten thousand by forty-one, you get two hundred and forty-three, which is Cascadia’s recurrence interval: the average amount of time that elapses between earthquakes. That timespan is dangerous both because it is too long—long enough for us to unwittingly build an entire civilization on top of our continent’s worst fault line—and because it is not long enough. Counting from the earthquake of 1700, we are now three hundred and fifteen years into a two-hundred-and-forty-three-year cycle.
The New Yorker article in audio form:
Writing The Big One Here at The Tyee, Crawford Kilian explored what happened in 1700 and what will happen when the next big one strikes:
At about 9:00 pm on January 26, 1700, the Cascadia thrust fault broke along a front perhaps 1000 kilometers long.
The fault lies about 100 km west of Vancouver Island, and runs south from B.C. to northern California. It’s the line where the North America plate is gradually overrunning the much smaller Juan de Fuca plate…
Between ground shaking, liquefaction, and landslides, Vancouver and Victoria would be cut off from the rest of the world. Highways and railroads would be cut. Bridges would fall. Docks would be unusable, whether sunken into landfill or simply knocked down. B.C. Ferries terminals, the Roberts Bank coal terminal, and Vancouver harbour would all be crippled. Vancouver International Airport might be under water, or so broken up as to be usable only by helicopters. Even if it survived intact, the roads and bridges serving it might be wrecked.
Power lines would probably be down. Water supplies from Coquitlam and the North Shore might survive but would almost surely be contaminated by landslides in the watersheds. Fires breaking out in collapsed buildings would be hard to fight, and hospitals would be as overwhelmed as those in Thailand and Sri Lanka…
Thompson’s book becomes politically seismic. He has the evidence for an inevitable magnitude 9 mega-thrust quake somewhere off our coast. For up to five long minutes, it will shake Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, and even Sacramento. Within a few minutes, tsunamis will race out up and down the coast and across the Pacific…
Now imagine B.C. after the next 9.0 quake. Old school buildings, not yet retrofitted, have collapsed on thousands of children. Blizzards of broken glass have fallen into the streets of the West End. High-rises and townhouses in Richmond have toppled into the liquefied soil of the Fraser Delta. Vancouver International Airport is a salt marsh. Fires are breaking out everywhere, but water is gone. So is electricity.
Several 10-metre tsunamis have swept into Victoria harbour, carrying yachts and tour buses up Government Street or into the legislature. Port Alberni has been hit, much worse than in 1964. It’s no better south of the border, where Seattle and Portland are in ruins.
Almost no one can respond… we will blame our politicians…
But there are risks beyond those arising from a disastrous earthquake. Air quality near tank farms is discussed in the Boston Globe newspaper article Is there something wrong with the air in South Portland, Maine?
Attendees assembled out of their shared concern about emissions from the tanks, which contain VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. Several VOCs have been proven to cause serious health problems. But because real-time monitoring of the tanks is not always required — instead, regulating agencies allow reporting of estimates — no one knows just how much pollution they’re breathing.
…the plan included extending the existing pipeline to pump oil extracted from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, down to the city, where it would be loaded onto ships. The plan would also require construction of two 70-foot-tall vapor combustion towers, which look like smokestacks. Although the company said they would produce little to no emissions, neighbors weren’t convinced.
…Zuckerman says that what most concerned her was that no one really knew what she and other residents of South Portland had been inhaling for years. The tank farms abut Kaler Elementary and other schools, including South Portland High, which has a higher asthma rate than the state average, according to information collected by the superintendent’s office. And Maine as a whole already has the highest asthma rates of any state in the nation, according to 2019 figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
…Historically, it has also been difficult to determine just how many VOCs are emitted by any one tank. The industry standard has been what is known as AP-42, the name for the series of equations established by the American Petroleum Institute. The standard lets companies incorporate a set of parameters — such as the shape of a tank, local weather, and the vapor pressure of a particular product — and then conduct mathematical calculations to estimate emissions. Those estimates are then submitted to state and federal agencies as proof of compliance…
Canada’s federal government gave $4.5 billion to Kinder Morgan for Trans Mountain after the owners had difficulty financing expansion of the pipeline. By 2020, the new construction budget had soared to $12.6 billion. But according to a 2021 management report:
As of March 31, 2021, construction is approximately 25% complete, with $7.1 billion in capital spending incurred since the inception of the project,
So 56% of the budget had been spent but the project was only 25% complete. That signals a total cost to taxpayers in excess of $20 billion. Compounding that massive loss will be the ongoing ecological disaster of increased tar sands production and the elevated risk to Vancouver and North Shore communities, the inner harbour and coastal waters.
Unfortunately, Trudeau’s Liberals have committed so much financial and political capital to Trans Mountain they will turn blind eyes toward almost any problem encountered. Don’t expect accurate monitoring of air pollution or realistic assessment of dangers.
A Conservative government would be no different. With the Green Party of Canada currently in meltdown, voters will have only once choice in the coming federal election.
Evaluation of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project — Gunton, Joseph, Dale — SFU School of Resource and Environmental Management: