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Georgia Strait

Major spill would devastate a marine ecosystem.

Why are we risking all to promote addiction to tar sands oil?

Last Wednesday I put the finishing touch on this column, then zounds! as I was quickly making my way through Thursday’s Vancouver Province, there was an article by local oceanographer Peter Baker on the risks of rising oil tanker traffic, with bigger ships, out of Vancouver. The same day I found a similarly themed article here in The Tyee by Mitchell Anderson, building on his reporting of the previous week.

I’ve known plagiarism before — indeed have indulged in myself — but here are two guys who read my mind! In all seriousness I suggest you read the columns by Baker and Anderson.

Let me start with a truism. Governments and industry lie through their teeth. In fact, they’ve done it and got away with it for so long that it’s second nature. When the object of your existence is to get re-elected, the truth is not even considered. Governments want votes so they will say or fail to say what works; corporations want profits and employ high-priced public relations companies to sugar-coat every utterance.

With that in mind, let’s deal with the shipping of sludge from the tar sands through B.C. waters for tanker transport abroad. In doing that, remember that nothing said by the Campbell government or industry can be trusted.

A couple of days ago, I saw an old ad for Camel cigarettes where a dignified chap, looking for all the world like kindly Doctor Brown, is saying, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” Does anyone doubt that if permitted to do so, the RJR Nabisco would run that ad today?

Oil companies have a long connection with ads showing fish in babbling brooks unfazed by oil companies’ activity. You can go back decades and read millions of words about oil companies with not one syllable setting out the risks they cause. Need I say more than “British Petroleum” or “Exxon” to make the point that for all their experience, oil companies err and when they do the results are catastrophic?

Tankers on steroids

The oil industry, the pipeline industry and the governments of B.C. and Canada come together to take the muck out of the Tar Sands and send it by pipeline to be shipped by tanker overseas. What you should know is that it’s already being shipped overseas by two large tankers per week, to be raised to daily, from near Port Moody, where the Kinder Morgan pipeline terminates.

We’re talking about two types of tanker. One, Panamax, carries 500,000 bbls. It’s 229 metres long and 32 metres wide.

The second, called Aframax, has a capacity of 700,000 bbls and is 243 metres long and 42 metres wide.

When the enterprise is in full operation 700,000 bbls a day will be shipped.

In order for these tankers to proceed from the pipeline out of the harbor they must pass under the Second Narrows railway bridge which, as any who have sailed will know, has a vicious tide. The gap between the two supporting pillars depending on the tide (the pillars taper outwards the further down you go) is 500 feet or about 150 metres. A little ‘rithmetic, carry the one, and you have about the width of the tanker between the hull and the bridge on each side.

The port authorities say that tankers will have one tug on either side which, they say, makes the risk minimal.

Let’s pause here. What’s a minimal risk? It’s a question that must be posed in light of the fact that a serious accident would have monumental consequences.

Russian roulette

This takes me back to the Kemano II project, in which Alcan and the federal government said that the risk to fish from taking more than 90 per cent of the river out was an “acceptable risk” to migrating salmon. The fact is that if you continually take a chance without any time limit, it’s no longer a risk but a certainty waiting to happen. If you have a revolver with 100 chambers and one bullet and you hold it to your head, you can assess the risk, but if you say you’re going to keep pulling the trigger forever, it’s no longer a risk but a certainty, and that certainty could happen just as easily on the first pull as the two-thousandth.

But the problem doesn’t end there, because you must also assess the result when the gun goes off. If it just knocks you unconscious for a few minutes, that’s a very different thing than having your brains blown out. Would anyone play Russian roulette even if there were 20,000 chambers, meaning the odds against blowing your brains out were long? The same question applies to tanker traffic.

Now the really bad part. We’re not talking of refined product here; we’re not even talking about crude oil; we’re talking the sludge, the sandy, oily mess that’s coming out of the tar sands.

The consequences of a catastrophe would be enormous. The Vancouver harbour would be closed indefinitely — that’s the only word one can use, because as demonstrated by the Exxon Valdez and British Petroleum, you simply don’t know until you try to clean it up.

Moreover, even if the ships all get out of Vancouver, the consequences of a disaster from there until they hit the high seas after traversing Juan De Fuca are incalculable. The spillage would be aggravated by the large tides, which move four times a day, and by the wind with the effect of the Fraser River added to it. The entire Georgia Strait, including Vancouver, are at risk, and the results could well move out of the Strait to northern communities.

Assuming that the accident happened out of Kitimat, the on-going and all but indeterminable consequences could well go all the way from Alaska to Northern California. That’s a discussion for another day, only because the pipeline has yet to be built to Kitimat while it already exists in Vancouver.

Unstick ourselves from tar sands

Why would we accept any risk at all with the consequences so alarming? Why, especially, if all the rewards are going to offshore companies and nations?

Permit me a little silly question — why are we doing anything in the tar sands? Aren’t we supposed to be weaning ourselves off fossil fuels? Isn’t it fair to say that the longer we postpone this weaning process, the higher escalating costs of oil will go and the more it will cost us to come up with sufficient alternative energy?

We must not only stop an increase in tanker traffic, we must stop what we’re doing immediately and ban all tanker traffic out of B.C. ports.

Congrats to Alexandra Morton

Last Wednesday I was at Simon Fraser University to see Alexandra Morton get a Doctor of Science honoris causa; for the many there who know what a contribution she has made there was nary a dry eye. I’m sure all of you join me in giving the heartiest congratulations to Alex, and to SFU who, as they do so often, demonstrated that they don’t care a fig for what is or isn’t politically correct. Similar congratulations to Gordon Gibson who was honoured last Thursday.

As Alex received her honour, I couldn’t help musing that we are a strange country that would give Brian Mulroney an Order of Canada and threaten Alexandra Morton with prison.

One Response to “The Tanker Threat to Georgia Strait and Vancouver”

  1. Julie says:

    The dirty oil tankers from China, combined with the off shore drilling for gas and oil fields. The spill is just a matter of time. There is still oil collecting on the rocks, from the Valdez spill 21 years ago. It is said, the sea is too treacherous to navigate, the huge oil tankers through. There are small earthquakes that occur, so, off shore gas and oil wells, would be a risky business. However, Campbell, Hansen and the BC Liberals, are so desperate for money, they will pollute the entire province to get it. They want to dump toxic mine waste into Fish Lake, every bird, animal and fish, that use that lake will perish. Campbell, is also destroying the best farmland in the Peace region. Seems, Arnold S from California, is desperate for hydro. Only a fool like Campbell, would flood, prime farmland. He is planning to pollute, our lakes, land, rivers, sea, and air was knowingly polluted in Prince George, however, the people were left to breathe the poison, irregardless of how many people were getting ill. Campbell, Hansen and the BC Liberals stance, on going green, are the objects of ridicule and contempt. Campbell should not be recognized as a premier. To stoop so low and lie, deceive, and use dirty tactics, to be re-elected, is no premier. BC people consider Campbell, as a criminal, in more ways than one. He should have been fired instantly, when he committed the fraud, of selling out the BC Rail. He should have been forced to resign, when he was convicted of his DUI. His lie to the people about, the HST, is the last straw. The BC citizens, do not want Campbell’s dirty oil tankers from China, in our sea, nor, off shore oil wells. But, Campbell is a dictator, who never listens to the citizens. Corruption and greed, is what governs this province. Campbell gets $2 million pension per year, seems as though, his greed is insatiable, that is a sickness.

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