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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tankers on our Coast: Public risk vs. Private Gain

Once in a while, a video comes along that explains, in a few minutes, everything you've been trying to say for years. Two days ago such a video was released by filmmaker Ben Gulliver: Tipping Barrels – Journey into the Great Bear Rainforest. With beautiful footage by Ben Gulliver and Ian McAllister, Tipping Barrels follows surfers Arran and Reid Jackson on a trip into the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest.

[Unfortunately, the video is no longer available online]

I love this film because it beautifully illustrates everything that we stand to lose from oil development on this coast. The film's release also coincides with that of a report (PDF copy) by the Living Oceans Society, National Resource Defense Council and Pembina Institute, which outlines the considerable risk to local communities, salmon-bearing rivers and coastal ecosystems associated with transporting bitumen along the Northern Gateway Pipeline and connecting tanker route.

The bottom line for projects like the Northern Gateway Pipeline is that the economic benefits go to international oil corporations, but the tremendous environmental costs (such as those associated with climate change, oil spills, and toxic wastes) are felt by those who live in the areas where the projects are built.

For example, who pays for the damage that would result from this oil, spilling say, into the stormy waters of Hecate Strait? Not the company who owns the oil - under Canadian Law, they are no longer liable once the oil leaves the pipeline. How about the owner of the tanker? They are responsible for up to $140 million CAD, according to another report commissioned for the Living Oceans Society (PDF copy). By comparison, the total cost of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 was 3.5 BILLION USD, plus a 2.8 billion USD loss to local industries such as fishing and tourism.

Taxpayers would likely foot the bill for the bulk of any major oil cleanup on the coast, not to mention the long-lasting social and ecological costs. But don't worry, the industry assures us that it has an airtight Oil Response Plan and that these types of major accidents don't happen anymore (except in New Zealand, of course).

Projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline are gold mines for a handful of tremendously powerful oil corporations. Don't let their slick corporate PR machine fool you: they aren't non-profits that exist to put people to work; and they won't lift a finger to address their environmental impacts if they aren't forced to do so (if you want proof of this, just look at the behaviour of these same companies in countries where they are less regulated). They are in the business of making money, plain and simple.

And that's what this battle is about: the lust of a few international oil corporations for profits against the will of the people who live with and love the land, the air, the water, and the living things that are threatened by that insatiable corporate greed.

To learn more about the Northern Gateway pipeline and the risks to our coast from oil spills, please visit the Tankers section of the Living Oceans Society website and check out our Oil and Water Map.