Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Tarsand Tankers and Pipelines on BC's Coast to be Discussed at Victoria Forum


A public forum being held in Victoria on Tuesday, May 22 will examine the impact of oil tanker traffic in B.C. waters.
By Thomas Winterhoff
News staff
May 18 2007

May 22 public forum
will examine tanker traffic off B.C.’s coast

With Alberta’s tar sands fueling Canada’s booming oil industry, domestic and international energy companies are looking for better and faster ways to transport raw petroleum products to world markets.

That activity could have significant repercussions for B.C. in future years, with deepwater ports such as Kitimat and Prince Rupert becoming vital links in the growing export trade between this country and Asian nations. At least a half-dozen large projects are already on the drawing board to build pipelines or enhance existing transportation systems to connect Alberta’s lucrative oil patch to Canada’s Pacific ports.

However, the prospect of oil supertankers travelling through Hecate Strait, the rugged waterways of the North Coast or the narrow sea approaches to Kitimat has environmentalists worried. The Dogwood Initiative – a Victoria-based environmental organization – is hosting a public forum May 22 to discuss the implications of oil tanker traffic and how any changes to current government policy might affect coastal communities. The session, beginning at 7 p.m., takes place at Raincoast Adventure Sports, 1317 Broad St.

A federal moratorium currently prevents Alaska-bound oil tankers from travelling in specified areas of Hecate Strait (between the Queen Charlotte Islands and the B.C. mainland) and west of the Queen Charlotte Islands (see related story on Page A2).

“It’s a policy that’s been respected by eight prime ministers since 1972,” says Dogwood Initiative communications co-ordinator Charles Campbell.

“The difficulty with the moratorium is that it exists in policy, but it isn’t stated in legislation.”

Technically, the moratorium doesn’t apply to ships using port facilities in Kitimat at the northern end of Douglas Channel. Groups such as Greenpeace and the Dogwood Initiative are already sounding the alarm over what they see as a looming environmental disaster if the proposed infrastructure projects get the go-ahead.

“Our reading of the moratorium is that it really doesn’t matter where a tanker is (heading),” Campbell said. “The impact of an oil spill would be horrendous, partly because of the geography of the region.”

He notes that the narrow fjords and inlets on the North Coast would make it difficult for the natural “flushing” action of tides and waves to disperse oil should a spill ever occur.

One of the most prominent infrastructure projects on the horizon is the dual Gateway Pipeline being proposed by Canadian company Enbridge and Chinese energy giant PetroChina. If it gets regulatory approval and overcomes legal challenges by First Nations, the 1,145-kilometre pipeline could come into service as early as 2012. That may be optimistic, however, since a 2006 Ipsos-Reid poll commissioned by the Dogwood Initiative suggested that 75 per cent of B.C. residents support the existing moratorium on oil tanker traffic – despite B.C. and federal government support for expanding the energy sector in B.C. and Alberta.

One half of the Gateway Pipeline would transport heavy oil from central Alberta to Kitimat, where it would then be transferred to tankers headed for Asia or California. The other pipe would allow imported supplies of “condensate” to travel in the opposite direction to Alberta’s Strathcona County. Condensate is a byproduct of natural gas production used to dilute the thick tar sands oil (bitumen) so it will move more easily through pipes.

Kinder Morgan Canada (formerly Terasen Pipelines) has a similar pipeline project in the works to export tar sands crude oil and import condensate, albeit in smaller volumes than Enbridge is contemplating.

Other projects either currently operational or under development on the Central Coast include: a joint Methanex/Encana project to import condensate by tanker and then ship it to Alberta by rail; the Pembina Pipeline, a proposed condensate pipeline from Kitimat to Summit Lake that will link up with an existing pipeline route to the tar sands; WestPac LNG, a planned liquid natural gas (LNG) shipment terminal on Ridley Island just south of Prince Rupert; and the Kitimat LNG Terminal, which could be operational by 2010.

Members of the Dogwood Initiative question the wisdom of allowing more oil tanker traffic off the West Coast.

“Basically, we feel that it’s jeopardizing the entire coastal community and ecology for the sake of very little benefit to British Columbia,” Campbell said. “We feel that if the public were consulted, it would be up in arms.”

The News made several requests to interview Minster of Natural Resources Gary Lunn for this story, but received no response from the Saanich-Gulf Islands MP.


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