Lesson of Exxon Valdez Oil Spill More Relevant Than Ever

As the Harper Conservatives work aggressively to re-introduce oil tankers to the dangerous waters of the British Columbia coastline, the Green Party of Canada is urging Canadians to remember the devastating Exxon Valdez oil spill in the Gulf of Alaska’s Prince William Sound 23 years ago tomorrow.

“The 1989 Exxon Valdez spill taught us some tragic lessons,” said Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands and Leader of the Green Party of Canada.  “We learned how difficult it is to clean up a remote shoreline, how widespread and long-lasting the damage can be, and how costly such accidents are in ecological, social, and economic terms.

“Most Canadians realize that this must not be allowed to happen again, and yet the continued push to develop the oil sands at a breakneck pace brings the very real risk that it probably will,” said May.

After the Exxon Valdez grounded on a reef, the resulting spill of 40-million litres of heavy crude oil spread across nearly 2,000 kilometres of shoreline. It was responsible for the deaths of up to 700,000 birds, marine life, billions of herring and salmon eggs, and the continuing contamination of an entire ecosystem.

The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council estimates that almost 80 000 litres of crude oil still remain in the subsurface and, at the current rate, “the remaining oil will take decades and possibly centuries to disappear entirely.” Oil is still found as surface puddles and pockets in the sand of some beaches.

For this and other reasons, the Green Party is calling for a legislated ban on crude oil tankers along BC’s coast.  This ban would include the busy south coast, as well as the more pristine and rugged north coast area.

In the south, since 2007, the federal government has allowed up to 1.2 million barrels of tar sands crude oil to be shipped from Kinder-Morgan’s Burrard Inlet terminal in Vancouver each week to California and China.

In the north, Enbridge has proposed a 1,170 km Northern Gateway pipeline to carry 525,000 barrels per day of Alberta tar sands crude oil westward to a new oil-tanker port at Kitimat.  If these projects succeed, oil tanker traffic through the region could increase by five-fold in coming years – up to 200 supertankers annually.

“The proposal to build a pipeline from a tar sands terminal near Edmonton, across the Rocky Mountains, over 1000 rivers and streams, and through First Nations territories –and then allow supertankers, which are as long as the Eiffel Tower is high, to transport this oil along an incredibly winding and rock-filled route through an ecologically-significant region sounds like another Exxon Valdez in the making,” said May.

According to one of Enbridge’s own studies, a spill of 36,000 cubic metres of bitumen — on the order of the Exxon Valdez spill — in Wright Sound near Kitimat would contaminate 240 kilometres of shoreline in 15 days.  The Environmental Commissioner in the Office of the Auditor General has warned that Canada has no ability to respond to such a devastating oil spill.

“With such clear warnings, why should we allow this pipeline-tanker extract-and-export scheme to happen? Canadians must speak out against such oil industry and Conservative recklessness.”