On May 1, 2012, City of Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson tabled a motion to have municipal staff prepare a by-law requiring oil tankers and pipeline operators to indemnify the city and local businesses for “worst case scenario” oil spills.  The Vancouver City Council referred the motion to the City’s Standing Committee on Planning, Transportation and Environment to hear from speakers.  The Standing Committee conducted a hearing on May 2, 2012, and the motion was passed with one councilor opposed.

The preamble to the motion says that it is in response to Kinder Morgan’s announced plan to double the capacity of its pipeline and the anticipated increase in tanker traffic, and the Federal Government’s announcement on March 29, 2012 that B.C.’s command centre for emergency oil spills will be closed and oil spill response be centralized in Quebec due to budget constraints.

The contemplated by-laws would apply to pipeline operators and oil tankers using Burrard Inlet, Vancouver Harbour, and/or the Fraser River.  The motion also provides that while the by-law is being drafted for consideration by the Council, the Mayor will write to Prime Minister Harper to express the City’s opposition to any increase in tanker traffic as an unacceptable and unmitigated risk to Vancouver’s economy and environment.

However, UBC Law Professor Ian Townsend-Gault pointed out in a phone interview on May 4 that pipelines that cross provincial boundaries and tanker traffic are federally-regulated activities, meaning the City’s proposed by-law likely falls outside of its jurisdiction.  If the City wishes to enforce the contemplated by-law, it may have to argue its case in court.  Otherwise, the motion may simply be a starting point in a dialogue between the City of Vancouver and the provincial and federal governments.

See C. Pablo, “Vancouver oil tanker bylaw could run aground in legal waters”, Straight.com May 4, 2012: http://www.straight.com

The text of the motion is available through the City of Vancouver City Council at: