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