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Canada’s plan to protect oceans fails to quell tanker criticism in BC

Jan 30, 2017 04:38 PM
Fuel escapes containment booms after the grounding of the tugboat Nathan E. Stewart, top center, in October off the coast of British Columbia. Tanker opponents fear the area is vulnerable to further spills.

Courtesy Heiltsuk Nation

Fuel escapes containment booms after the grounding of the tugboat Nathan E. Stewart, top center, in October off the coast of British Columbia. Tanker opponents fear the area is vulnerable to further spills.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced an oceans protection plan in November amid the outcry over a fuel spill off British Columbia, uncertainty about a proposed tanker ban in the region, and a highly contested pipeline expansion that will increase the flow of oil there.

Earmarking $1.5 billion ($1.1 billion USD) to fund the plan, Trudeau said his goal was to arm Canada with “one of the best marine safety and emergency preparation systems in the world” within five years.

During the Nov. 7 announcement in Vancouver, Trudeau called attention to the Oct. 13 grounding of the tugboat Nathan E. Stewart near Bella Bella, B.C., which resulted in up to 25,000 gallons of fuel spilling. Trudeau called the incident “unacceptable” and pledged aggressive precautionary measures going forward.

“This robust, national plan will protect our oceans and coastlines from the damage that comes from shipping and pollution,” Trudeau said, with the ultimate goal being “to meet or surpass the world-leading marine safety practices of Alaska and Norway.”

Provisions of the plan, defined in full on Transport Canada’s website (www.tc.gc.ca), include:

  • Increasing marine safety information for mariners and improving hydrography, charting and e-navigation products. More than 20 of the highest-traffic commercial ports and waterways in Canada, covering two-thirds of the nation’s total cargo vessel traffic, will get updated navigational information.
  • Installing eight new radars — six in British Columbia, one in Newfoundland and Labrador, and one in Nova Scotia.
  • Upgrading Canadian Coast Guard assets to better respond in the event of a spill. This includes booms, small response vessels and cleanup technologies.
  • Purchasing vessels capable of towing commercial ships and large tankers.
  • Modernizing the ship pilotage regime. The government will review the Pilotage Act, starting in 2017, to deliver “safe, efficient and environmentally responsible pilot services into the future.”
  • Launching a comprehensive plan to address abandoned, derelict and wrecked vessels, including making vessel owners responsible and liable for vessel cleanup.
  • Improving the flow of marine traffic information to indigenous and coastal communities. The government will work with the communities to design new systems and platforms so they have access to real-time information.

Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett of the Heiltsuk Nation — an indigenous group directly affected by the Nathan E. Stewart spill — told reporters that the plan was “an important step.” For it to succeed, however, she said the arrangement required the direct involvement of coastal indigenous groups “at the nation-to-nation level in the design and delivery of marine safety and shipping management in (tribal) territories.”

While the announcement of the plan met with overall support, Trudeau did not address his earlier commitment to place a moratorium on tanker traffic in the ecologically sensitive areas surrounding the Nathan E. Stewart oil spill. “Formalize a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic on British Columbia’s North Coast,” Trudeau wrote in his mandate letter to Minister of Transport Marc Garneau shortly after taking office in October 2015.

Nathan Cullen, a member of Parliament and unwavering advocate of the tanker ban, expressed his dismay over Trudeau’s lack of response to questions about his moratorium proposal.

“We have a prime minister who has quickly forgotten what got him elected,” Cullen told reporters after the event.

Adding to the ambiguity surrounding the tanker ban was the fate of a highly contested application by Kinder Morgan to expand a pipeline between Edmonton, Alberta and Burnaby, B.C., which the National Energy Board (NEB) had concluded “met the requirements” regarding marine preparedness and response planning.

Despite opposition to the project from Canada’s indigenous groups and environmental organizations, and ongoing legal battles over NEB’s application review process, the federal government approved the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion on Nov 29. The project will increase Canada’s oil production from 300,000 barrels per day to a purported 890,000 barrels per day, the bulk of which will be loaded onto tankers transiting the Salish Sea and Puget Sound.

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