Opinion

B.C. VIEWS: Oil spill study misinterpreted

Oil tanker exits Second Narrows with Alberta crude from TransMountain pipeline terminal at Burnaby. An oil port for 100 years, Vancouver sees occasional tankers loaded with diluted bitumen, but the vast majority of tanker traffic off the B.C. coast is Alaska crude oil. - Black Press files
Oil tanker exits Second Narrows with Alberta crude from TransMountain pipeline terminal at Burnaby. An oil port for 100 years, Vancouver sees occasional tankers loaded with diluted bitumen, but the vast majority of tanker traffic off the B.C. coast is Alaska crude oil.
— image credit: Black Press files

VICTORIA – The release of the B.C. government’s detailed study into oil spill response capability off the West Coast created the usual brief wave of media shock and horror.

This just in! If crude oil spilled in the Dixon Entrance, the storm-tossed sea lane north of Haida Gwaii, the combined resources of Canadian and U.S. containment and collection response could only recover an estimated four per cent of it. And that’s in the summer! The winter recovery rate would be more like three per cent.

Talk radio and website headlines set the narrative in minutes. How could anyone even consider running oil tankers through that pristine B.C. coastal area? It’s crazy!

Here’s the big fact clearly stated in the study by U.S.-based Nuka Research and Planning Group, and ignored by most of the media and public. There are hundreds of tankers filled with crude oil sailing through these stormy seas every year. It’s been going on since Alaska North Slope crude was developed in the 1970s.

Six of the seven oil spill simulations run by Nuka are based on Alaska crude, because that’s overwhelmingly what has been shipped along B.C.’s North Coast for 40 years. This lack of crude oil spill response capability has existed the entire time, without a whisper of protest or media attention, even after the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster near the oil’s point of origin.

The current narrative, hammered home by U.S.-controlled environmental groups and their aboriginal partners in the “Great Bear Rainforest,” is that only Canadian oil is a threat.

How much Alaska crude is shipped down the B.C. coast? According to Nuka’s analysis, it’s currently about 38 million cubic metres each year. That’s enough to fill B.C. Place stadium to the roof – 15 times.

The Sierra-Greenpeace-ForestEthics-Dogwood gang, a sort of billionaire-bankrolled green Team America, has worked hard to promote the falsehood that “tar sands” oil is vastly worse than that nice fair-trade Alaska stuff. Their claims about acidity and abrasiveness of diluted bitumen didn’t hold up, and it’s still hotly contested whether the heavy oil in diluted bitumen would float, emulsify or sink in actual sea conditions.

When the federal government announced a study to determine what spilled bitumen would do in North Coast waters, that too was attacked by the Green Party as a secret scheme to prop up Enbridge’s pipeline proposal. So it’s a scandal when you don’t know the answers, and it’s a scandal when you try to find them.

Another question that gets little attention is whether it’s better for spilled oil to sink rather than wash up on beaches.

Crude oil is, if you’ll pardon the expression, organic. Spills produce a huge spike in oil-eating bacteria that leads to an increase in fish populations at a certain stage. This was documented in a 1994 book called Degrees of Disaster, written by an expert who stayed on in Valdez for four years, long after the TV cameras and grandstanding politicians went home.

Victoria-based Dogwood seized on a 2012 Nuka study done for the Haisla Nation at Kitimat, which found that in ocean conditions that are present more than half of the time, there would be no immediate way to respond to a spill at sea.

Dogwood’s “no tankers campaign director” hinted that this information was intentionally left out of the B.C. government study, and the media ate it up.

No tankers? Better check again.

Dogwood’s mission is clearly not to protect the B.C. coast from oil spills. If it were, they would be protesting the ongoing risk from Alaska tankers.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalNews.com. Twitter:@tomfletcherbc

 

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