The ongoing environmental disaster from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico might have you asking yourself the following question: “What would happen if a similar spill were to occur here at home?” As BC currently has in place a moratorium on offshore drilling, we will hopefully never find out. However, we do not have a ban on oil tankers, and they’re currently a serious threat. For the sake of argument, let us say that a slightly smaller spill than the Deepwater Horizon occurs, somewhere in magnitude around the Exxon Valdez. Aside from the obvious devastation of marine life and local economies (see our oil-spill model), there would be a substantial cost to clean up the oil itself.
Let us revisit the Exxon Valdez for a moment. Since 1989 when the Valdez dumped over 257,000 barrels of oil into the waters of Prince William Sound, the total cost of cleanup is estimated between 3.5 and 9.5 billion dollars. Who would bear this cost? According to a report prepared for the Living Oceans Society, the bill would fall largely on the shoulders of Canadian taxpayers.
Currently, there are no tankers sailing through the treacherous inland waters of BC’s north coast. But that will change if Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline passes an environmental review. The pipeline and the associated marine terminal in Kitimat would bring an average of 225 tankers per year to BC’s coast. The capacity of these tankers would range from 700,000 to 2,000,000 barrels, almost as great a volume as that lost from the Atlantic Empress in the world’s largest ship-source oil spill. Even in the absence of a full scale disaster, analysis conducted by the Dogwood Initiative suggests that a spill of 10,000 barrels or more could occur every 12 years if tankers are permitted in North Coast waters.
If you are disturbed by the prospect of such volumes of oil travelling through our waters, then you’re in good company. The federal NDP, Liberal and Bloc Québécois, the Union of BC Municipalities, over 80 First Nations Bands, and 80 percent of British Columbians support a permanent tankers ban on BC’s North Coast. Last month, Liberal MP Joyce Murry tabled a Private Members Bill in the House of Commons, proposing a ban on crude oil tanker traffic in Hecate Strait, Dixon Entrance and Queen Charlotte Sound.