Risk Analysis of Proposed Northern Gateway Oil Tanker Routes and Vulnerability of Ecologically Important Areas, in Northern Pacific British Columbia using Geographic Information Systems
External threats, like oil spills from invading oil tankers, increase the vulnerability of the surrounding marine and terrestrial areas of ecological importance within the Northern Pacific coast of British Columbia. This study examines the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project’s proposed shipping routes and associated oil spill risk, with the goal of identifying the proposed route that constitutes the most risk to surrounding ecologically important areas, designated by IUCN and British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment. The Northern Gateway project proposal takes a reactive approach to environmental impacts from oil spills, thus this study adds to the precautionary knowledge base by examining the risk and impacts of oil spillage prior to project approval. The three proposed shipping routes begin at the Kitimat port and proceed down the Douglas Channel with one route traveling north of Haida Gwaii and two routes traveling south of the island. A GIS-based Multi-Criteria Evaluation (MCE) is developed using the weighted criteria of marine traffic, marine hazards, marine obstructions, wave heights, bathymetry and route proximity to land as well as the constraints of ocean depth, route extent and ocean area within the study extent. All criteria and constraints are determined by an extensive literature review. The MCE identifies the riskiest tanker route as being the Southern 1 tanker route, with 43% of the cells identified as having extreme risk. The vulnerable ecologically important areas are identified as being those within a distance of 25km from the areas classified as having extreme risk. The statistics from this function revealed the Northern tanker route as the route with the greatest number of ecologically important areas vulnerable to oil spills, with 51 areas. This study recognizes that there are limitations associated with an MCE and a proximity analysis and it is recommended that future research should be conducted to further resolve associated issues.