Opinion

BC VIEWS: Coastal protection isn’t a pipeline issue

Tracy Robinson tends oil containment booms at Gale Creek near Bella Bella, after tugboat sank Oct. 13. The B.C. government wants the Coast Guard to train local response crews and provide new heavy rescue tugboats on the Pacific coast. - Heiltsuk Nation
Tracy Robinson tends oil containment booms at Gale Creek near Bella Bella, after tugboat sank Oct. 13. The B.C. government wants the Coast Guard to train local response crews and provide new heavy rescue tugboats on the Pacific coast.
— image credit: Heiltsuk Nation

The Justin Trudeau government has announced its latest measures for “world class” oil spill protection on the B.C. coast.

To many people, this will be seen as a prelude to approving the expansion of the 63-year-old TransMountain oil and fuel pipeline from Alberta to its Burnaby terminal and refineries in Washington. That pipeline approval appears imminent, but that’s not what the increased protection is primarily about.

The recent tug and barge incident off Bella Bella was the latest illustration. Transport Minister Marc Garneau toured the area of the diesel spill cleanup Sunday before joining Trudeau in Vancouver Monday to announce long overdue improvements to Coast Guard resources.

Premier Christy Clark put the case for more “guard” in the Pacific Coast Guard in a speech at the B.C. Liberal Party convention in Vancouver on Sunday.

“We have been cheated by the federal government for a long time while resources go to the east,” Clark said.

That’s a bit dramatic, but essentially she’s right. It’s more a matter of Ottawa’s neglect of far-away B.C. than anything, neglect that can be traced back to the elder Trudeau government.

“World class” land and ocean spill protection was a phrase coined by Clark back in 2012, when she announced her “five conditions” for supporting any expansion of heavy oil pipelines. Back then the main focus was the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat, which Trudeau has since threatened with his promised ban on heavy oil tankers from the North Coast.

We now have B.C.'s definition for “world class” spill response. It’s the capability to intervene within three hours to a vessel in distress anywhere on the B.C. coast, in the worst weather conditions.

Provincial officials say that means three heavy salvage tugboats on 24-hour standby, one at Vancouver, one at Prince Rupert and a third stationed at Port Renfrew, where it could head out to the open sea, outside the voluntary exclusion zone for Alaska crude tankers that have been the vast majority of crude traffic along the B.C. coast for nearly 50 years.

Our popular culture is so saturated with anti-oil propaganda today that it’s difficult to have a coherent conversation about the real risk and the response that’s needed.

The standard narrative, hammered home by U.S.-directed environmental groups and their aboriginal partners in the “Great Bear Rainforest,” is that only Canadian oil is a threat.

How much Alaska crude is shipped down the B.C. coast? According to the analysis by Nuka Research for the province, by 2013 it was about 38 million cubic metres each year. That’s enough to fill B.C. Place stadium to the roof – 15 times.

And that Alaska crude, plus the little bit of Alberta crude that has been shipped intermittently from Burnaby since the 1980s, is only a third of our West Coast petroleum traffic. Most of the other two thirds isn’t diesel, which evaporates quickly. It’s bunker oil, the heavier, more persistent stuff that powers large vessels, from container ships to luxury cruise liners.

The Port of Vancouver currently sees about 5,000 vessels a year, almost all carrying bunker fuel. By 2018, assuming the TransMountain expansion goes ahead and other shipping continues to expand, that is expected to go up to 6,200 vessels. Only 420 of those would be ships carrying Canadian crude, with some going to Asia, finally breaking the U.S. stranglehold on Canada’s petroleum resources.

The cacophony of well-organized protests will be deafening. The silence will continue about the Alaska crude tankers, and Saudi crude shipments to Canada from the east.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

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