A population of killer whales that live off the coast of Vancouver, Canada is under threat by a planned oil pipeline that could lead to a disruption of their habitat by increased tanker traffic. Texas-based Kinder Morgan is planning to build the $5 billion US Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline project that would transport bitumen from the Alberta Tar Sands directly to the edge of the whales’ habitat in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern British Columbia. The Canadian government has already been advised to approve the project, and its fate now lies with the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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According to the Guardian, the proposal to build the massive pipeline project still needs approval from the Canadian federal government, led by Justin Trudeau. But if approved, it would result in a 1,000 km (620 mile) pipeline from northern Alberta to Vancouver, as well as roughly seven times more barge and tanker traffic.

Killer whales, or orcas as they’re also known, have already had a rough existence in recent years. The Guardian notes that in the 1960s and early ‘70s, many of them were captured and sold to aquariums and theme parks, while those remaining in the wild were exposed to runoff chemicals from local industries – causing them to become the “world’s most contaminated marine animals.”

Conservationists say that an increase in tanker traffic in their habitat could be disastrous for the genetically unique population of orcas – already classified as endangered in both Canada and the US. “The approval of the project is also the approval of the extinction of the population, Ross Dixon of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation told the Guardian. “No one is disputing it. Nobody is saying that’s not accurate. It’s been accepted.”

Related: Donald Trump vows to nix Paris climate deal and pave way for Keystone XL pipeline

So, will it be approved? As of May, the Canadian energy regulator finished two years of review that recommended the government approve the project, with 157 conditions attached to that approval, including 49 related to the environment. Yet the review panel noted that, conditions or not, the project is likely to have “significant adverse effects” on the killer whale population.

The Canadian government has until December 19 to make a decision, and so far, all signs are pointing to approval. Prime Minister Trudeau faces pressure to approve the pipeline from Alberta, where low oil prices have dramatically increased unemployment. Ironically, promises by President Elect Donald Trump to bring back the Keystone XL Pipeline could kill the Trans Mountain project and save the whales.

Via the Guardian

Images via Matthew_Allen and Mike Charest,  Flickr Creative Commons