Debate rages on over Enbridge ‘Northern Gateway’ Project and the Liberals plan to allow oil tankers along the B.C. coast

As I sat and watched the CBC documentary, ” Black Wave: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez” , I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before a disaster like this hit our beautiful B.C. coastline. That is, if the Northern Gateway project goes ahead in northern B.C., resulting in oil-supertankers zig-zagging their way along-side it.

The focus of intense scrutiny from both residents in the area and environmentalists alike, the project centers around the  construction of two pipelines that  will, when built, originate in the Edmonton area ,cross northern B.C. and will end in the port community of Kitimat. This is where Enbridge will construct a new  port terminal, complete with two berths to accommodate oil tankers.  Residents and environmentalists are worried about the likelihood of oil spills along  both of the pipelines and the coastal waters of British Columbia –  frankly, so am I.

I’ve written about this issue previously HERE and HERE- covering both the political and environmental angles of it. Although the NDP brought this project and the likelihood of oil tanker traffic along our coast up as an election issue,( oil tanker traffic has not been allowed along the BC coast for years, but Gordon Campbell plans to change all that)  I’ve heard nothing since their defeat – a shame on all counts. The issue has certainly become no less important  nor has it gone away.

 This is why the timing of an email I received from a Kitimat resident was so relevant to what I learned from the Exxon Valdez documentary. But first, let’s take a look at the statistics.

Contrary to information given by those who support the project, oil spills at sea are not uncommon events at all. In fact, they  actually happen all the time – they are just not highly publicized unless it is such a disastrous event that it merits the fleeting attention of the press. A good majority of spills happen at sea, and nevereven merit a mention, and some go entirely unreported. The documentary mentioned above covers all of this in complete detail, and is a must see for anyone who cares about this coastline.

 According to the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation, there were 13 reported spills in 2007, and 3 of them were over 700 tonnes, which is considered to be a large spill. 

It is accurate to say that with the number of oil tankers predicted to be travelling the coast of BC carrying condensate and oil back and forth from the pipeline, it is not a matter of  ” if a spill happens”, but rather “when it happens”.  And unlike spills at open sea, a spill among the islands and channels of the B.C coastline would have devastating and long-lasting  consequences for years to come.

Nearly twenty years after the EXXON spill, there is still oil to be found in the area, not to mention the economic and personal costs inflicted on the residents that have never disappeared.

For example, the bankruptcies that occurred when several fisheries tanked as a result of oil contamination that affected the fish runs.

 A class action court case that took so long children grew into adults while it continued on, because Exxon vowed they would do everything they could to NOT pay that judgement.

And the suicides – let us not forget those. Wonderful and vital members of the town of Cordova, Alaska who lost much during the years following the spill – including all hope – and could no longer bear the stress and strain of life after EXXON.  There is no compensation for them, or their families because how can you attach a monetary value to a life.

In the end, the ocean and the town and the people in it were nothing more than a big bill to Exxon, a bill they didn’t even want to pay, because to pay the judgment meant losing money out of their operating capital that could be busy making them more money. Despite telling the people of Cordova they would make it right, and do whatever it took to make that happen, in the end it was not anything good or noble that made them pay- it was the highest court of law in the United States of America.

Is this what the residents of B.C. want? I can’t answer that question, because in my experience, very few people  even know this project is happening, let along being supported fully by the B.C. government. 

 It is that lack of knowledge , and the lack of attention being paid to this by most local media, that infuriates me. How can someone object to something that they have no knowledge of?  This is just what the Campbell government wants, and does best – keep silent, don’t answer any questions, and keep the people in the dark.

You will hear  the premier speaking often about opening up the Asia Pacific Gateway, but has anyone heard the premier speak about how  his government plans to handle an oil spill along the B.C coast that he promotes every where he travels? Supernatural BC alright – I wonder what will happen when boaters and coastal residents wake up and see the tankers along the coast…or worse yet, the stench of crude oil as it laps upon their beautiful seaside retreats – some of them perhaps, Liberal vacation homes.

It is the effort to inform the public  combined with a fierce love for this province that drives the residents opposed to this project up north to soldier on, people like Murrey Minchin.

 I received this letter to the editor he sent to the Northern Sentinal newspaper in Kitimat, on July 16th – Mr. Minchin will advise me if it is indeed published, as many publications in the north have developed a reputation for not printing letters that are in opposition to the project. I have inserted the link to the Enbridge webpage where the amount of oilspills they have had can be found, on page 34

 “ Dear Editor,
 
 
I’d like to respond to the article, ‘Gateway is a proposal, not a project: Harris’, in the July 8th, 2009 Northern Sentinel. In it, your reporter writes, “As for safety, Harris hoped the project will make the environment they work in” (then Harris is quoted as saying) “safer than without the project”.
 
 
When Mr Harris says things will be, “safer than without the project”, he’s probably referring to the aids to navigation on Douglas Channel that are part of the proposal. I can’t imagine even he believes two 1,170 km pipelines, one carrying 193,000 barrels (over 30 million litres) of condensate a day east to Alberta, and the other carrying 525,000 barrels (over 83 million litres) of oil a day west to Kitimat, or having supertankers zig-zagging their way down Douglas Channel can make the environments Enbridge works in, “safer than without the project”.
 
 
I’m guessing Enbridge didn’t hire Roger Harris as vice president of Communications and Aboriginal Partnerships for his in-depth knowledge of constructing oil pipelines and oil ports, or his expertise in their operation. My hunch is he was hired to draw on his many years in politics and be Enbridge’s spin doctor; to apply soft focus filters over the wrinkles in Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project. Spin doctors hide things like important details, or uncomfortable truths. They don’t give clear answers or reference their sources. I hope I’m wrong with this assumption, so I’m inviting Mr Harris to give some clear, concise answers to the following questions, and ask him to reply to them here in the Northern Sentinel for all to see.
 
 
1) How much time does it take a tethered tug to stop a fully loaded 1,148 foot long supertanker that’s carrying 2,050,000 barrels (over 325 million litres) of oil traveling at six knots, which has lost power?
 
 
2) If the powerless supertanker above was drifting at six knots while traveling with a six knot outgoing tide (or twelve knots relative to the shore, islands, shoals, etc), what distance would the tug and supertanker travel before the tug could stop it, then pull it backwards fast enough to gain directional control?
 
 
3) The almost 40 year old Pacific Northern Gas underground pipeline has been ruptured once in the Copper River valley and once in the Howson Range by landslides. How much oil would spill into the Copper River if the pipeline is hit by another 1.4 million cubic meter landslide, as happened in the Copper River valley 15.5 kilometers from the Skeena River on June 8, 2002?  Given there are to be ten pumping stations on the pipeline, isn’t there a possibility that 10% of the 525,000 barrels of oil (that would be 52,500 barrels, or over 8 million litres) would spill into the Copper, then Skeena Rivers? 
 
 
4) According to the Enbridge website their Canadian and US pipelines spilled 13,777 barrels (over 2 million litres) of oil in 2007. This was east of the Rocky Mountains on comparatively flat terrain. Do you, Mr Harris, believe the Copper and Skeena Rivers as well as Douglas Channel and all its connecting waterways are, “safer than without the project”? If not, why?
 
 
5) Why won’t Enbridge agree to have a full public enquiry held in Kitimat, requiring sworn testimony on all aspects of the Northern Gateway project?
 
 
My hope is Mr Harris will answer these questions clearly and with definitive numbers, but my fear is they’ll be spin doctored out of harms way. That would mean one of two things; either Enbridge is hiding facts which they know would cause massive environmental harm, or they haven’t bothered to research things fully. Both are unacceptable!
 
 
Murray Minchin
Kitimat, BC “
 
I have emailed the Northern Gateway office to ask if Roger Harris would like to answer Mr. Minchins questions and will post his reply if he chooses to respond.
Background:

http://www.northerngateway.ca/

http://www.cbc.ca/documentaries/natureofthings/2009/exxonvaldez/

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8 Responses to Debate rages on over Enbridge ‘Northern Gateway’ Project and the Liberals plan to allow oil tankers along the B.C. coast

  1. astro says:

    Here is a statement from Harry G. Frankfurt, a moral philosopher at Princeton U. He spoke on “The Daily” Show a few years ago. He wrote a book called “On Bullshit” where he compares lying, bullshit and spin doctoring.
    This is what he said about spin doctors.

    “They don’t care about the truth, they care about a certain impression in the mind of the people they are addressing. They are engaged in the enterprise of manipulating opinion, they are not engaged in the enterprise of reporting the facts.”

    Like

  2. BC Mary says:

    .
    A fine piece of work, Laila.

    Thanks for caring and sharing.
    .

    Like

  3. Gary E says:

    Great Piece Laila.

    I might suggest that the destruction of our pristine waters off the coast are in the midst of destruction. Have you heard of the fish farms, the sea lice, the tidal generating farms? Yes the destruction is there it’s only a different color.

    Like

  4. Laila says:

    Astro – right on! I actually blogged about that book last year, or the year before, because it was the funniest – and most true – thing I have ever read. Everyone should take some time to check it out.

    GaryE. and BC Mary- thanks. And you feel free to add anything in where you feel like it Gary, because you are right on all three points. At some point this week or early next, I’ll be doping a review of some of the biggest campaign issues that have gone nowhere since, and are likely to go nowhere until the legislature is back in session.

    Like

  5. Karen says:

    I would just like to comment on Mr. Minchin’s statement that “…he (Roger Harris) was hired to draw on his many years in politics…”. Roger Harris had one term as an MLA from 2001 to 2005 at which time the economy in NW B.C. went ‘to hell in a hand basket’ and we are still trying to recover under Mr. Harris’ government. He was defeated after his one and only term, which to me does not constitute extensive political experience. He lost to Robin Austin (NDP) because in my opinion, Mr. Harris was ineffectual in his duties as MLA.

    Like

  6. Pingback: ” Big Bucks get the nods… ” aka ” The Oliver and Lebel line of propaganda ~ Dave Tyre | No Strings Attached : Laila Yuile on politics and life in B.C.

  7. Pingback: “Big Bucks get the nods…” aka “The Oliver and Lebel line of propaganda” ~ Dave Tyre | THE CANADIAN

  8. Pingback: Blast from the past: July 21,2009: ‘Debate rages on over Enbridge Northern Gateway Project’ | No Strings Attached : Laila Yuile on politics and life in B.C.

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