Today, Canada’s House of Commons approved a motion calling for a permanent ban on oil tankers off British Columbia’s coast. The passed NDP motion introduced by MP Nathan Cullen urges the government to immediately propose legislation to “ban bulk oil tanker traffic” through the Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound, off the north coast of B.C. The bill received Parliamentary support in a tight a vote of 143-138, with all opposition parties supporting it and Conservatives opposed.
British Columbia is now one step closer to having a full legislated ban on supertankers off its north and central coasts. The opposition is sending a clear message to the Conservatives to legislate a formal moratorium.
Today’s ban could seriously impact Enbridge, who has plans to develop a $5.5 billion 1,170-kilometre pipeline to carry dirty tar sands bitumen to Kitimat, B.C., where it would be loaded onto supertankers bound for growing energy markets in Asia.
Enbridge has already been hard at work to ensure that the ban did not succeed today. According to information secured by the Prince George Citizen, Enbridge is footing the bill for a northern front group to create community support for its pipeline project. The Northern Gateway Alliance is the brainchild of Enbridge who fear opposition to their profitable pipeline project. The chair of the astroturf Alliance, former Prince George mayor Colin Kinsley, is even on Enbridge’s payroll.
According to estimates by Environment Canada, 100 small, 10 moderate and 1 major spill is predicted every year based on current levels of tanker traffic in Canada. In addition, one catastrophic spill is predicted every 15 years. If the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proceeds, oil tanker traffic on the BC coast will increase from only a few tankers per year to as many as 220. That will significantly impact the possibility of oil spills off BC’s coast. Each supertanker is longer than the Eiffel Tower and holds hundreds of millions of litres of oil.
An oil spill of any size is devastating environmentally, and an supertanker spill of this magnitude could spell game over for fragile coastal communities, First Nations communities, and the 20 species of marine mammals, 120 species of marine birds, and many species of fish that call B.C.’s coast home.
If Enbridge’s track record is any indication, we have serious cause for concern. They are responsible for the recent Michigan Kalamazoo spill which spilled over three million litres of tar sands crude into Michigan waterways (nearly 4 million litres, according to the EPA). Enbridge tried to conceal the fact that the spill was tar sands crude. Compared to traditional oil products, tar sands crude is infused with more heavy metals, sulfur and pollutants.
Though the propaganda pipeline has hit a potential hurdle today, the motion is not binding, and the Conservative government maintains that a ban is unnecessary since a long-standing, informal moratorium on oil tankers off B.C.’s coast has already been in effect since 1972. Without a legislated ban, however, the Tory government could allow tanker traffic in order to profit from new Asian markets for Alberta crude.
The National Energy Board is currently assessing the environmental impacts of the proposal. Only once have they rejected a major project under their review – that being the Sumas 2 energy plant near the B.C.-Washington border. Despite this, there is no doubt that the Enbridge-funded Astroturf will ramp up their efforts to ensure the pipeline project is successful. Though the will of Canadians and and House has been articulated today, now we must play the waiting game to see if a bill will be introduced. And of course, despite today’s decision by the lower house, we can never discount the ability of our unelected Senate to employ its infinite wisdom and strike down environmental legislation in the name of progress.