The energy distributor Enbridge and its partners are proposing the Northern Gateway Pipelines Project to transport crude oil from Strathcona County, Alberta to the Private Port of Kitimat in the western British Columbia in Canada and from Kitimat to the open sea for distribution to Asia and California. A second pipeline will facilitate the import of condensate to Alberta. Public hearings are currently underway, and a Joint Review Panel is expected to complete their review of the project by the end of 2013.
Because of the unique environment and First Nations and stakeholder concerns about tanker safety, a number of environmental and safety measures have been proposed, including the use of purpose-built escort tugs. To validate some of these proposed measures, Northern Gateway contracted FORCE Technology’s department for Simulation, Training and Ports to carry out more than 100 real-time simulations of the 200 km (125 miles) route from the open sea to Kitimat and back with the assistance of BC Coast Pilots.
The process of simulating sailings with large tankers is structured around both fast-time simulations and real-time simulations. Fast-time simulations are runs made by a computer programmed with navigational parameters. They are made quickly and provide an overview of how to sail ships safely through different areas, for example where the route narrows. The fast-time simulations proved to Enbridge that the proposed marine routes could be navigated by vessels up to Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) class without the assistance of escort tugs for the design weather conditions.
After the fast-time simulations, FORCE Technology started real-time simulations. The real-time simulations verified for the BC Coast Pilots and Northern Gateway the conclusions of the fast-time simulations. The real-time simulations then assessed two-way, crossing traffic and emergency scenarios which provided Northern Gateway with additional information required to develop marine safety plans. Real-time simulations also focused on the number of tugs required for berthing and unberthing tankers at the marine terminal.
The advantage of real-time simulations is that both captains and local pilots navigate the same route under different weather conditions, thus gaining an overview of possible operational limitations and the optimal manoeuvring strategy for a given weather condition. Moreover, real-time simulations uncover possible technical and human errors under difficult conditions, thereby increasing seafarers’ ability to operate the ship safely in real life.
The importance of escort tugs
One of the more important outcomes for Northern Gateway was FORCE Technology demonstrating the effectiveness of having tug escorts in attendance when navigating from the marine terminal in Kitimat to the pilot boarding stations and open sea to assist in case of a technical problem, for instance a blackout, on board the tanker. This led to Northern Gateway being the first to offer a marine terminal on BC’s north coast. FORCE Technology was subsequently asked to attend public hearings that took place in Prince Rupert, British Columbia during the first quarter of 2013 and emphasised the important role that fast- and real-time simulations had in shaping Northern Gateway’s marine safety plans.