06 June 2012

Northern Gateway and ghosts of the Exxon Valdez

I have been reading Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power by Steve Coll, and was captivated by the prologue, which reviewed the Exxon Valdez tragedy. As I read the story, I began to get an uneasy feeling that we may be witnessing history about to repeat itself.

Precisely what sent the Exxon Valdez into Bligh Reef and environmental infamy is still not known with certainty. What is known is that all the relevant parties were at fault. Exxon had been laying off thousands of employees with the result that the ship was undermanned, the sailors tired and their ability to detect and deal with dangers compromised; and the American government had been instituting budget cuts such that the Coast Guard lacked the radar ability to monitor the ship past Bligh Reef.

Now we Canadians have a government that is determined to see the construction of the Northern Gateway pipeline which will result in tankers carrying a lot nastier stuff than was aboard the Exxon Valdez through a passage that is much more tortuous. And as this government enthusiastically promotes the pipeline, it just as enthusiastically budget-cuts environmental monitoring of all kinds. How can we possibly trust such a government to ensure that the tanker traffic will be conducted safely?

A government that should be establishing a foundation of trust on environmental matters in order to convince us it is committed to responsible stewardship of tanker traffic is doing just the opposite: pulling out of Kyoto, resisting appropriate environmental regulation, closing research facilities, muzzling scientists, McCarthyizing environmentalists, etc. The evidence is clear: this is not a government that can be trusted to put the environment ahead of economic activity. For this reason alone, the Northern Gateway should be denied.

1 comment:

  1. Our centre-right newspaper, the Victoria Times-Colonist, has run a series of brilliant exposes into the coastal bitumen supertanker threat.

    They have convincingly made out that -

    - it's not a question of "if" but "when" we have to deal with a major tanker catastrophe

    - bitumen, unlike the conventional crude loaded on the Exxon Valdez, doesn't float nor does it break up as oil does. It congeals and sinks to the bottom which, in the proposed routes, means 600 feet down, perhaps deeper. There the bitumen would gradually release the carcinogens, heavy metals and other embedded toxins into the marine ecosystem - for decades.

    - Enbridge has an oil spill response fleet but it can only operate in calm conditions (a rarity in the Hecate) and can only tackle conventional oil spills. It can do nothing, not a damned thing, about a bitumen spill.

    - EnviroMin Kent admits his department has no idea how to deal with a bitumen spill but says they're "working on it."

    - the bitumen supertankers are many times larger than the Exxon Valdez.

    - in a bitumen spill, the sludge quickly separates from the condensate. The condensate evaporates into a toxic and explosive smog. The Kinder-Morgan supertanker traffic transiting the Vancouver inner harbour via the treacherous Second Narrows could not only contaminate the harbour for generations but release a toxic cloud that could force the evacuation of Vancouver and other nearby municipalities for a number of days.

    - supertanker operators have a liability cap. When their insurance runs out, they're off the hook. Enbridge is similarly protected by a liability cut out. That means that virtually all of the economic losses and environmental costs would have to be borne by the British Columbia taxpayers or the victims themselves. Neither Alberta nor the oil industry bear any liability.

    This is the work of a fiend and his minions.