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The Simushir under tow from US tugboat Barbara Foss (via Maritime Forces Pacific Facebook)

The Simushir under tow from US tugboat Barbara Foss (via Maritime Forces Pacific Facebook)

The incapacitation of a Russian cargo vessel off Haida Gwaii caused great panic amongst all of us who watched the events unfold over the past weekend. The seas were very heavy – not an unusual state of affairs for that part of the world at this and other times of the year.

For very good reason, the Haida Nation was extremely worried and upset about the developments. It looked up for a while is if they might have to deal with this themselves and, course, although they were prepared to use and sacrifice their own vessels, none of these were built for this kind of an emergency. Eventually, the chance intervention of an American tugboat got the situation under control.

During the time of this emergency, the story was covered regularly on the BBC and CNN, in addition to our own local news. It was a national and international news event. One ship! No accident! No oil-soaked beaches! No dead and dying birds!

What about hundreds of oil tankers?

This being so with one vessel in trouble off our coast – and far from the first – what are the risks when the number of tankers off the coast is in the hundreds, plus those coming out of Vancouver and Howe Sound? The risks involved are enormous. If one vessel, not carrying bitumen, can threaten this much damage and cause so much concern, consider that we’re bound to have that happen over and over again. The law of averages means we’ll have accidents. Indeed, the law of averages is that we will have accidents on an ongoing basis – as a group of learned fossil fuel transport engineers found after examining Enbridge’s plans.

In addition to tankers carrying bitumen from the Enbridge pipeline, if, heaven forbid, it ends up being built, we have the prospect of more tankers on the south coast from Kinder Morgan’s planned pipeline expansion to Burnaby. The very minimum number of extra tankers a year coming out of Vancouver will be 404 – more than one per day. In addition to that, there will be, if the LNG plant goes ahead in Squamish, another 40 tankers coming out of Howe Sound.

(Let me pause there for a moment. It has taken us 50 years to clean up Howe Sound after Britannia mines, pulp mills and so on. We now have salmon back, herring back, shellfish back, whales back – the whole recovery has been a near miracle made possible by the efforts of the people of British Columbia. Now all of this is jeopardized so that an Indonesian billionaire can make buckets of money providing virtually no employment and no money to the local community or the province.)

Accidents happen

The companies, of course, say that they have a great safety record and that they don’t think that anything will happen. Companies say this all the time and have hugely expensive public relations departments and outside agencies to help them disseminate that message.

The problem, is obvious – notwithstanding all of the optimism of the companies and governments, accidents will happen. You cannot have something in the order of 450 huge tankers a year coming out of the harbour of Vancouver and Howe Sound without having accidents – they are inevitable.

It is not just a question of an accident that we must concern ourselves with. If the accident is going to be a benign one, or one where very little damage is done, that’s one thing. The fact of the matter is that a serious accident to a tanker will be catastrophic. Remember the Exxon Valdez, which was carrying ordinary crude oil, not bitumen. As this incident and the Enbridge catastrophe in the Kalamazoo River teaches us, is all but impossible to clean up.

Kinder Morgan would change Vancouver forever

Like many of you, I have lived in the greater Vancouver area all my life. Many of you will have been here for a number of years; even those who have just arrived will know of the beauties of our harbour, the Salish Sea, the Gulf Islands, and the southern part of Vancouver Island. For the vast majority of us, this is why we live here.

I must confess to you that I have forgotten about the beauties of the many beaches in Vancouver itself. I have forgotten the joys I had as a child and then as a younger person using these beaches. I have forgotten how important these beaches are to tourism. I have forgotten how beautiful these beaches are and how much their very presence adds to the enjoyment of people who live here.

That’s the problem, isn’t it? We all become so familiar with the wonderful surroundings in which we live that we tend to ignore them. All of these things, however, when we think about them, become hugely important to us. And we are about to jeopardize all of that in order to transport highly toxic bitumen from the Tar Sands to the Far East.

Saving BC falls to provincial, local governments

We tend to forget that the ultimate responsibility for this rests with the provincial government. We have to pretty much forget the feds. It’s true, that they are the ones that will approve the pipelines but the provincial government and indeed local governments have a great many ways to curtail them while Ottawa – the Harper version – has no intention of doing so.

Let’s face it, the federal government is hopeless. They simply do not care. They go through the motions, always knowing what the results will be.

We know that the prime minister and his idiotic finance minister, Joe Oliver, have already committed to both the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and Kinder Morgan. They really don’t care what the National Energy Board, their poodle, says anymore than they care about what the people of British Columbia think.

While they are the ones we really ought to be petitioning, we know that’s hopeless. One only has to look at what BC Tory MPs are saying. Like the little pet parrotts they are, they all squawk the government line.

The responsibility rests with Premier Clark and her government. There are a great many things that she can do to stop both of the pipelines and any subsequent tanker traffic.

Premier Clark abdicates duty

Here is the problem – premier Clark and her government have no intention of doing a damned thing.

Why do I say that?

She is in thrall to foreign energy companies. All one has to do is look at their policy with respect to liquefied natural gas (LNG). LNG plants contribute tankers just as pipelines do. In the case of the one proposed for Squamish in Howe Sound, there will be at least 40 tankers per year if we accept the company’s word. Though they may not be carrying bitumen, they are hardly without risk – and catastrophic risk at that.

World-Class rhetoric

I must confess that I am sick and tired of hearing about “world-class accident prevention” and “world-class recovery” after the accident that wasn’t going to happen.

World-class means absolutely nothing. They are two words intended to comfort us all without having any specific guarantee attached to them. They are just words without substance. Moreover, what we do know of as “world-class” isn’t worth a damn if we look at the results of tanker accidents around the world.

Moment of truth

We are coming, as a people, to the moment of truth. The National Energy Board – which incidentally won’t let you ask questions of their witnesses – will approve the Kinder Morgan pipeline. That having happened, who’s to stop 404 bitumen-laden tankers?

Now is the time we must let this provincial government know, in no uncertain terms, what we feel and the consequences we will visit upon them at election time if they ignore us.

Christy Clark is the premier of British Columbia, for God’s sake! She and her government have a sworn duty to protect us and the environment in which we live. Her obligation is not to LNG companies, or the tar sands or pipeline companies, nor to those who own the tankers, but to us, the citizens and the place in which we live.

Surely, we must hold her to that duty.

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