The Trouble with Tankers (and Pipelines)
A new report released this week shines a light on the dangers associated with transporting tar sands oil by Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway project, both along the pipeline pathway and on B.C.’s sensitive coast, which massive oil tankers would be navigating for the first time.
Published by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Pembina Institute and Living Oceans Society, and endorsed by nine British Columbia organizations including Sierra Club BC, the report,warns that the diluted bitumen, dangerous pathway and treacherous seas make Northern Gateway an unnecessary threat.
to download the full report and
Diluted bitumen—bitumen extracted from the tar sands and then diluted with natural gas liquids so that it can flow through pipes—differs from conventional crude: it is thicker, more acidic, more sulphuric, and more abrasive. Translation: diluted bitumen is more likely to cause corrosion in the pipelines through which it flows, as well as in the tankers that carry it through marine ecosystems. It is also harder to clean up. Conventional oil spill clean-up responses—which focus on containing and recovering oil floating on the surface of the water—are largely ineffective in the case of a bitumen spill, because bitumen will sink below the surface.
The report also outlines the limitations of leak detection systems and Canadian regulations that permit potentially significant leaks to remain undetected on high capacity pipelines. For a pipeline the size of the proposed Northern Gateway, meeting Canada’s federal standards would allow a spill of over 11 million litres a week (45 million litres a month) to remain undetected!
The report details the dangers of bitumen transportation and the risks of spills to the environment and the economy in a region that depends on healthy fisheries, lands, and waters. At risk from an oil spill would be the approximately $250 million annually from commercial fishing, $550 million annually from recreational fishing, and hundreds of millions of dollars from nature tourism. The wild salmon economy of the Skeena River alone has been valued at $110 million annually. The pipeline would cross over 780 streams and rivers (including some of the best recreational salmon and steelhead fishing in the province), through terrain prone to landslides.
The dangers of oil tanker traffic are highlighted in the report as well. In addition to the challenges posed by the corrosiveness of the diluted bitumen, the tankers would have to navigate narrow inlets, dotted with rocky outcroppings and underwater hazards. B.C.’s north coast is often battered by gale to storm force winds, with 10-metre waves and reduced visibility due to precipitation and fog. Hecate Straight, the shallow body of water between Haida Gwaii and the mainland that lies along the proposed tanker route, is considered the fourth most dangerous body of water in the world due to quickly changing winds and sea states.
The remoteness and inaccessibility of the Great Bear Rainforest would make an oil spill clean-up difficult. This would be compounded by the poor weather and rough seas which frequently make marine vessels and aircraft inoperable.
First Nations have declared that they will not allow the Northern Gateway project to proceed, using their own laws to ban oil pipelines and tankers through B.C. The report stresses their concerns while highlighting sensitive and beloved landscapes threatened by the pipeline and supertanker traffic.
“Pipeline and Tanker Trouble” makes recommendations for provincial and federal policies associated with this project, calling for rejection of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and a ban on large oil tanker traffic off of British Columbia’s coast.