A couple days ago, one of my regular readers( astro) shared a shocking story here in the comments section. His source for the information was http://willcocks.blogspot.com/.
During one of last weeks storms and ensuing high seas, a cargo ship that was anchored offshore Mayne Island was pushed onto a reef, where it immediately became a serious threat to the coastline. While the ship was a cargo freighter, the fuel tanks may have been carrying up to 1.2 million gallons that- had the hull been punctured or breached- would have had catastrophic impact on our coast line.
Now, ships run aground more frequently than one thinks, so the fact that a ship became grounded on a reef is not the shocking part of the story that I refer to.
What is shocking, is that the BC Ministry of Environment saw the seriousness of the situation, and immediately notified the American government – but did not tell British Columbians one word. The American government issued a press release immediately, and swiftly mobilized staff to monitor the situation. I can not find one word of a press release from our government, still, today.
From Paul Willcock’s Blog:
So the B.C. Environment Ministry told Washington State, but provided no information to British Columbians.
The DFO, as far as I can tell, provided no public information.
The Gulf Islands Driftwood had the story by Friday afternoon.
But 72 hours after an incident that “could have oiled the islands on both sides of the border,” according to the government of Washington State, only a small number of British Columbians knew about the grounding. Governments were silent.
The argument for tanker traffic relies heavily on the effectiveness and accountability of governments in protecting the public interest.
But only Washington seemed to think this important enough to tell the public about.
The B.C. and Canadian governments didn’t think you needed to know.
Today is Tuesday, November 24th, and as of yet I have heard, nor read any coverage of this locally. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
In fact, had it not been for ‘astro’ bringing us that bit of information from Paul’s website, I would never had heard about the incident that ” posed a significant risk of a large black oil spill” and ” could have oiled the islands on both sides of the border”. Likely you would not have either, unless you read Paul’s site.
To me, it is completely unacceptable that the BC government would see fit to warn Americans of the possible danger of this grounding, but leave British Columbians in the dark! It makes me wonder at what point would they have issued a press release? When the oil was lapping on our shores?
***UPDATE: November 25th- I found this item on the NDP site : ” Liberal minister clueless about major threat to our coast”
When questioned by media in the legislature on Monday about the threat caused by the Hebei Lion, a large freighter that ran aground near Mayne Island last week, the B.C. Liberal Environment Minister, Barry Penner, had no idea an incident had even occurred.
Fleming is especially concerned about the Mr. Penner’s lack of awareness about the situation given that other B.C. Liberal ministers are lobbying heavily for expanded crude oil supertanker traffic and for the lifting of the federal moratorium on coastal drilling.
“If the B.C. Liberal environment minister doesn’t even pay attention to the environmental threats caused by routine shipping activities, how can the people of British Columbia trust him to protect our coastal wilderness from coastal drilling and crude oil supertanker traffic?” asked Fleming.
Carole James and the New Democrats are fighting for an environmental action plan that respects communities, offers families positive choices and commits to concrete action to protect species at risk.
According to this release, the media questioned Barry Penner about this incident in the legislature, and he clearly had no clue it even happened, so what happened next?
Nothing for those of us on the mainland. The Victoria Times Colonist ran this story yesterday, but as of this morning I can find nothing in any of the large local dailies or any other evidence this made a newscast in BC.
Is this not newsworthy for all British Columbians, or is everyone expected to read the Times Colonist?
If anything, this incident give me another reason to make something old, something new again. The Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Project.
An issue for me the moment I heard about it, this is something I have been blogging about since May of this year, trying to inform as many people as I can.
The following is a re-post of a piece I published here online back in July, and leads you to links on other bits I’ve done previous to then, that will give you even more background on why this latest incident should make you all think about the risks we may shortly face along BC’s beautiful coast.
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 never even 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?
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!
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. ( he did )