My motion came as a result of a letter council received from Kinder Morgan, the company that wants to twin its pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver in order to ship 'dilbit' products from the tar sands to China and the United States.
After about half an hour of rigorous debate at North Cowichan -- ultimately the motion failed. There were many different reasons and I won't attempt to speak for any individual councillor on why they voted they way they did.
The opinion was expressed that the issue should be left to senior governments to decide on, that it didn't really belong at a local table.
I take a different view. Local politicians are elected where they live, by their neighbours, to look after our commons. Sure looking after roads, garbage and sewer, zoning, policing, fire protection and development are a large part of our job.
North Cowichan's 40 + km of oceanfront, its river deltas and deep sea ports represent substantial assets that require special attention and management as they are of significant importance to us all. And to tourism businesses that depend on them as an attraction as well as commercial businesses that depend on them to provide much needed local jobs.
Stewarding the environment we all depend on is one of my personal passions. Charged with helping my six colleagues and district staff steward and protect the environment in North Cowichan, I take any issue that might affect our ability to do so as part of our 'business'. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on it.
If you want to read the rationale behind my motion, (my talking points) I include them below this post.
As we head into what promises to be a beautiful thanksgiving weekend, I'd like to wish you all a wonderful celebration. We are blessed with so many natural bounties here in North Cowichan -- I hope you get a chance to get out and enjoy some of them over the next few days.
In recent weeks, before the UBCM convention, we received numerous letters from constituents asking us to support resolution A8 -- calling for a moratorium on tanker traffic.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exxon_Valdez_oil_spill Twenty-three years after the Exxon Valdez spill the area has not yet recovered.
Just two years ago the Deepwater Horizon spill caused extensive damage to the ecosystem as well as the fishery and tourism industries -- affecting Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and Florida. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepwater_Horizon_oil_spill Most of that 5 million barrels of oil is still on the Gulf of Mexico’s seabed.
Kinder Morgan’s proposal for a second pipeline to Vancouver would more than double present capacity -- to 750,000 barrels a day. Some estimate it could go to a million. At least 300 tankers a year would traverse the narrow waters of Burrard Inlet -- a 13-fold increase since 2005. Economist Robyn Allan, former CEO of ICBC, suggests that added pumping stations could increase traffic to 475 crude oil tankers a year through those waters.
Longer than Vancouver’s tallest skyscrapers, [Aframax tanker 220m - tallest bldg 201m] this tankers would carry heavy, thick, contaminated bitumen -- not oil -- through an area at the edge of the proposed National Marine Conservation Area Reserve.
Vancouver’s harbor area presents unusual challenges and risks. The shallow waters of Second Narrows, which ebb and flow through the heart of the city, are only 120 metres wide -- the proposed tankers are more than 32 metres wide. In places, there is a little as 1.35 metres between the bottom of the oil ships and the rocky ocean floor. Dredging the ocean floor would destroy the natural habitat.
After the Gulf of Mexico disaster, the Vancouver City Council held a public hearing. Mind you, this was to address concerns about the present level of tanker traffic. A marine biologist from North Van, Peter Baker, gave a detailed presentation on the risks. He stressed that with larger tankers, there is less room for error. A worst-case scenario involves a tanker grounding in the Second Narrows as the tide rushes out, taking the oil with it.
Collision is another major risk factor. According to the BC Ministry of Environment, the Kinder-Morgan proposal would add at least 600 tanker trips a year (one in and one out for each ship) to the already heavy traffic in the Vancouver-Juan de Fuca Strait area -- where there are already nearly half a million vessel movements each year.
And these tankers would carry bitumen mixed with surfactants -- what has been dubbed “tar sands crude.” It is definitely not the oil that fouled Alaska, or the Gulf Coast.
Bitumen is a thick, sticky, rarely-used fossil fuel. In mining it, large amounts of fresh water and heat are needed to melt and separate it from the surrounding clay and sand, and to remove some of its sulphur and heavy metal content.
Bitumen is also hydrogen-poor -- so it must be mixed with natural gas to become a viable fuel. A barrel of “oil sands crude” is 2-3 times more carbon intensive than a barrel of conventional oil (Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada).
I won’t get into the hazards of the chemicals, often proprietary, that are added to make the bitumen viscous enough to flow in a pipeline.
A bitumen spill on the southern BC coast would be a game-changer.
If just one tanker collided with another ship, or ran aground -- as a Shell oil ship did this summer in Alaska -- the leaking “tar sands crude” would unleash a cloud of toxic fumes that could envelop metro Vancouver and force a mass evacuation.
Bitumen is also heavier than oil, and more likely to sink. After it has been “scrubbed” -- and then diluted for pipeline transport -- it contains more contaminants than crude oil, and presents a greater environmental threat. (“Requirements for BC to Consider Support for Heavy Oil Pipelines,” Ministry of Environment, 2012).
A bitumen spill in BC’s coastal waters would trigger a massive kill-off of fish, shellfish, marine mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds and plants.
Light crude oil -- what most tankers carry -- kills wetland grasses and other plants, causing root structures to decay and soil to erode, destroying whole plant communities. In animals -- including humans -- it is known to cause cancer, liver decay, tumours, ulcers, respiratory failure and narcosis.
“Tar sands crude” is even more toxic.
It is also harder to recover, particularly once it sinks into the water column and into marine soils. Light crude remains in the substrate after 30 years. Researchers estimate that bitumen, once spilled, may persist for a century.
In the area where the Exxon Valdez spilled, only six of the 26 most-impacted species and habitats have recovered, and some continue to decline. This is due, in part, to the persistence of spilled oil in the environment and the food chain.
Then there are the economic impacts.
Several years ago, the state of Washington’s Department of Ecology conducted a study and found that a major spill in the Washington-BC inland waterway would cost 165,000 jobs and $10.8 billion dollars.
Canada has a “limits of liability” rule, which means that the company responsible for such a spill would not have to spend more than about $1.3 billion cleaning it up. The lion’s share of the costs would fall to local, BC and federal governments -- as well as local businesses and residents.
These would include clearing the thick oily waste from beaches and disposing of it; rehabilitating damaged coastlines and wildlife; salvaging wreckage; rebuilding businesses, and many other costs.
Depending on when and where a spill occured, and the weather conditions, experts estimate that a full-scale response may recover less than 10% of the spilled material. Even in a best-case scenario, perhaps only 25% of spilled toxic oil may be recovered.
In 2008, Stafford Reid, a marine risk expert with 20 years experience, wrote a report www.bcwaters.org/LOS_marine_vessels_report.pdf highlighting the fact that BC was unprepared for a marine emergency. Recent cuts to Environment Canada and DFO have further weakened our emergency preparedness.
In 2012, the BC Ministry of Environment warned that our capacity for handling crude oil spills – everything from training to equipment – may not be appropriate for a bitumen spill. They called this “a major gap” in preparedness.
Don’t think a Vancouver spill will affect us here?
A large spill would spread for up to 3 days before the full emergency response could get underway. That’s 12 tide changes -- enough for the currents in this region to carry even heavy “tar sands crude” far and wide.
That puts the whole Salish Sea at risk -- including North Cowichan’s 40 kilometers of coastline, our river deltas, our marinas, and our deep-sea ports.
I would like to see North Cowichan Council take a position to protect this precious and irreplacable eco-system.