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Ben West addressing a Vancouver crowd about Kinder Morgan in 2012 (Damien Gillis)

Ben West addressing a Vancouver crowd about Kinder Morgan in 2012 (Damien Gillis)

There’s big news on the environmental front!

Ben West, the eminent young environmentalist until now with Forest Ethics and, before that, the Wilderness Committee, has joined Rex Weyler fighting tanker traffic on the BC coast through Tanker Free BC. This makes a very potent combination indeed. (Full disclosure: My colleague, Common Sense Canadian publisher Damien Gillis, is a founding  board member of TFBC along with Mr. Weyler).

For those who may not know, Rex Weyler was a founder of Greenpeace International and its biographer. He has been active in environmental matters for many years and in 2009 took up the cudgels against tanker traffic on our coast. Tanker Free BC was formed some 5 years ago, specifically to take on the Kinder Morgan issue and the organization laid much of the early groundwork for the campaign to block the project.

Ben is a first class student of the environment and a very able presenter. I have had the privilege of appearing at podiums with both he and Rex.

Huge proposed increase in tanker traffic

The number of tankers required on our coast to transport the oil proposed by Kinder Morgan runs about 400 per year – minimum. This doesn’t count tankers coming from Squamish from a proposed LNG plant.

Despite what the professional mariners tell us, it’s a matter of mathematics. Sooner or later we’ll have a serious accident on our coast. In fact, there’s nothing to say there won’t be more than one.

If this were a relatively minor matter, we could and would have to live with it. But they are transporting bitumen, or dilbit, which is highly toxic and, as the spill on the Kalamazoo River by Enbridge 4 1/2 years ago demonstrated, it is virtually impossible to clean up. This means, to articulate the obvious, that the risk of running tankers on our coast cannot possibly match any advantage it would confer upon the people of British Columbia.

It’s for this reason that opposition to both the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines has been so vigorous. Of course, part of the opposition has come from those who must live with the pipeline in their communities but the issue is the same – be it train, truck or pipeline, they transport a vicious and dangerous poison.

Oil-by-rail threat used to scare pipeline opponents

At the same time as the West/Weyler story we hear from Tory cabinet minister James Moore that pipelines must come, otherwise transportation will be by rail which, by common consent, is far more dangerous than by pipeline.

I must confess here that I’m not certain about the capacity of rail to deliver a comparable quantity of oil – in the case of Kinder Morgan 780,000-1.000,000 barrels a day, and this is of course an important figure to know. If pipelines were simply not to happen, would rail transport be sufficient to fill up 400 or more likely 450 tankers per year?

The answer, according to the limited research facilities available to me, is that this is highly unlikely. Moreover, the safety factors are enormous and make those of pipelines pale into insignificance. This, of course, is the argument that James Moore and the supercilious finance Minister, Joe Oliver, are making – permit pipelines or else…

Weston continues “Environment IS Economy” refrain

Just by way of an aside, a few moments ago when Wendy brought the mail, there was yet again another release by my MP, John Weston, bleating once more “the environment IS the economy”. As I’ve mentioned before, this slogan has about as much meaning as “please adjust your clothing when leaving the lavatory” and gives an idea of typical Tory bafflegab which desperately hopes that their own appalling ignorance is matched by that of the bovine masses.

Rex and Ben face the ill-disguised ultimatum laid down by James Moore that bitumen will come through British Columbia one way or another. The Tories are, of course, in thrall to Alberta voters with an election coming up where every seat is crucial and the safety of unreliable British Columbians not on the radar.

Remember the bitumen

We must remember that the enemy is not the train or the pipeline or indeed the tanker – it is the bitumen from the tar sands. We’re being asked – indeed perhaps ordered – to transport this highly noxious substance through the wilds of our province to populated areas, into tankers and shipped down our coast.

Sham “Process”

The politicians are unconcerned about the feelings of the people of our province. Mr. Moore has, from the beginning, been contemptuous of public opinion and those of us who have fought against the transport of bitumen are portrayed as American-financed neo-hippies. The so-called “process” by which energy decisions are made is as phoney as a three dollar bill as has been amply demonstrated by no less a figure than Mark Eliesen, one of the most prominent energy experts in the country.

Public attention, diverted by the pipeline issue, has not considered that the governments of Canada and British Columbia would cast aside safety issues and threaten the transport of this terrible substance by rail. What this does, of course, is clarify the issue for Ben and Rex and all those who join them in the fight, very much including me. It is the two senior governments who are the enemies – the bitter enemies.

The public of British Columbia must, by civil disobedience if need be, convince the federal and provincial governments that we have sufficient democracy left in this country that the people still count, or we’ll end up with a an oil sands catastrophe on our land and on our coasts, whether we like it or not.

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