Why oil supertankers have no place on the British Columbia coastline

On Sunday, December 2nd, 2012 in Blogs

Ideally, Canadians would have an opportunity to discuss what energy decisions are most in our national interest:  to export bitumen crude as fast as possible?  To refine the crude in Canada creating tens of thousands of jobs here? To continue to allow Eastern Canada to be dependent on Nigeria, Angola and Venezuela for oil supplies, or to improve the pipeline infrastructure heading east from Alberta to serve the rest of Canada?

We are not going to have that opportunity.  With the 2012 budget, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have made it clear (as if it were not abundantly clear already) that discussion about Canada’s energy policy will be viewed by them as tantamount to a direct attack on the national interest.  To point out that ignoring the climate crisis actually hurts our economy with costs by 2020 of over $5 billion/year (conservatively), as the National Round Table on Environment and Economy (NRTEE) did, is sufficient cause for execution.  Given the small cost of the NRTEE, its origins in the Mulroney era, and its mandate to bring industry leaders together with labour, environmental groups and others to find multi-stakeholder consensus, the decision to kill it was a shock.  Environment Minister Peter Kent’s defence of the decision (obviously not his decision) that we no longer need such an advisory body because we have the internet is a joke.

For an environmental group to organize to protect the environment of British Columbia is to become targeted for “sanctions” under the Canada Revenue Agency, with $8 million set aside for going after environmental groups.  As the Globe and Mail pointed out “witch hunts do not come cheap.” The CRA has been conducting a steady campaign of harassment against environmental charities for years.  Audits have been frequent for years, with the desired chilling effect on public criticisms of government policy. Does Mr. Harper really need to direct $8 million more to equip CRA for even greater levels of harassment?

The decisions have all been made.  The problem is that in asserting that oil supertankers can safely traverse British Columbia’s northern coastal waters, the Prime Minister is ignoring quite substantial evidence.

Transport Canada shocked experts through a facile conclusion delivered to the Joint Review Panel hearings on the Enbridge supertanker scheme.  No doubt at the direction of their political masters, Transport Canada told the panel it saw no “regulatory difficulties” with the proposal.  The document tabled to the review process in defence of this pre-ordained conclusion is a shoddy piece of work.  There is no reference to the 1972 moratorium on oil tankers, respected by every federal and BC government since then.    The conclusion the route is safe is based on the width and depth of channels and whether supertankers can actually fit through them.  The only discussion of weather and wave and storms is to suggest that (over time) a system of weather warnings will be set up to warn tankers to stay in port if it’s stormy.  How the tankers are to handle the extreme conditions known to come out of nowhere in the area is simply not discussed.

In that it has ignored Environment Canada’s Marine Weather Hazards Manual which states that the Hecate Strait (through which the supertankers must pass) is “the fourth most dangerous body of water in the world.”

Author John Vaillant in his classic The Golden Spruce described the Hecate Strait as “a malevolent weather factory: on a regular basis its unique combination of wind, tide, shoals, and shallows produces a kind of destructive synergy that has few parallels elsewhere in nature.”  He goes on to describe how “blind rollers” – enormous waves that come out of nowhere — can expose the sea floor of Hecate Strait.  The submission to the review process never even mentions the Hecate Strait.

Department of Fisheries and Oceans review of the threat to humpback whales in 2005 named the proposed tanker traffic to Kitimat as a threat to whale recovery.  Humpback whales are listed as a species at risk in the threatened category.  Scientists actually think the fin whales may be even more at risk of tanker collisions. The Transport Canada document suggests they will have whale spotters to warn a captain to avoid a whale.  Really? Whale spotters can see whales in fog? At night? In a gale?  No wonder that even in the report to the review panel contains concerns from DFO and recommends that Enbridge continue to work on this problem.

Lastly, Transport Canada’s conclusions are based on a long list of safety features, including using two tug boats to assist in supertanker navigation, which are voluntary.  Enbridge will not own or control the tankers, but asserts its approach to tanker approval will ensure safety of the tankers it does not control.

Some people may buy this bland reassurance.  It is a lot easier if you only care about selling bitumen crude to China, and a lot harder if you care about the existing tens of thousands of BC jobs dependent on a healthy coastal ecosystem.   In fact, if you care about keeping BC’s coast oil-free, it is impossible.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/CanadianPatriots Pitchforks Torches

    EnBridge has proved many times by hundreds of spills that they have no business operating anything in BC.

  • http://twitter.com/frothquaffer rob clement

    i care about Canada and its environment which will be one legacy i leave my, as yet unborn, grand-children. Will it be worth anything by the time Harpy gets through with gutting our environmental legislation?

  • Carol Wilkins

    I am in complete agreement but I’m a little concerned about this Financial Post article


    What are we to believe? Vivian Krause articles such as — http://fairquestions.typepad.com/rethink_campaigns/2012/05/rockefeller-tar-sands-campaign.html

    – Make me wonder at the funding sources too. I DON’T want the pipeline, I don’t want tanker traffic but I also don’t want to play into the hands of those 1% who support Agenda 21 and regard the population of global citizens as a burden. The BIG MONEY names behind the deep pockets of environmental movements scare me and I find it hard to trust their altruistic spin.

    • http://twitter.com/webwildink Bear_Code

      Be very careful about Krause.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shwalker48 Stuart Walker

    Pointing to the shortcomings of Enbridge is a bit of a fool’s trap, another could, and likely will, rise to take its place. The effort must be toward stemming the attitude that richness is found only in material wealth.

  • http://twitter.com/webwildink Bear_Code

    I have worked the coast of BC since 1966. What pains me about the Enbridge line is that they refuse to consider Rupert. There is basically one 90 degree turn and then out to sea. A tanker using this route would be passed Haida Gwaii in about 10 hours. Petronas wants to build a natural gas line along the Skeena so I don’t see why Enbridge couldn’t do the same, and share some costs. I don’t want tankers or a pipeline, but if it is going to happen by force, then Rupert would be a better route.

    Yes the seas are dangerous but remember, most accidents are human error and rocks don’t move but ships do. Even some Pilots I know are heavy drinkers among other things and this will be a factor, Corporations love cutting time, and they will attempt to do so at every opportunity. Also, having two tugs is almost laughable, because there isn’t room for them to pull or push, they can only slow the laden ship some what, depending on their power and Kitimat doesn’t have that kind of power. Many questions to ask, and many answers to come forward.

  • http://www.facebook.com/george.jardine2 George Jardine

    Navigating those Straits would be like going through a mine field without a mine detector just one mistake the consequences would be a major disaster, .King Stephen harper’s attitude is damn the torpedo’s full steam ahead, headlong into deep trouble.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=778443377 John E Rimmer

    Do tankers have to wait for the worst possible weather to navigate? Because that is what it sounds like to me? Just as airports will delay flights due to bad weather, don’t they do the same thing with Tanker or other boat traffic? Can’t ships be sent out during daylight to increase the chance of avoiding unseen problems at night?
    Seems to me, that a lot of traffic problems can be prevented if navigating these straits at only the most safest periods. I am sure that a few of these super tankers can wait a day or two of the weather is bad.
    Also there is a great deal of Global politics at the stem of this fight. There are many countries that DO NOT want to lose their market share to Canada’s exports. Americans don’t want to lose their highly discounted source of friendly oil. The only ones losing is our country’s finances. The majority of this country’s provinces rely on transfer payments to fund their social programs (including BC), but for some reason we are so adamant about all the ‘dirty’ oil from the TARsands that we want to forfeit our own health and prosperity? IF BC residents want to make sure that they have their waters and land pristine, they should look at removing their largest cities. Why not cover your best food producing land with urban sprawl. And ask yourselves where the majority of the ‘Environmentalists’ live? A little hypocritical I would say.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=522470943 David Weber

      “but for some reason we are so adamant about all the ‘dirty’ oil from the TARsands that we want to forfeit our own health and prosperity?”

      – We won’t be forfeiting health if a pipeline isn’t built. And as for forfeiting prosperity, oil counts for less than 1% of our economic activity. If we just packed it all in there would not be much effect on our economy. I am not advocating this, but let’s be realistic. We need to do things the safest and smartest ways possible.

  • http://www.facebook.com/george.jardine2 George Jardine

    One drunken ships captain and all those reports are useless, look what happened to the Costa Concordia.and also the Exxon Valdez.

  • B

    The reason that Alberta oil is “Underpriced” is because there is such a small demand for it. and that is because so many countries have banned our oil because we refuse to produce it, and export it in an environmentally friendly manner

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