Oil Tanker Moratorium Act worth celebrating, and can be strengthened
November 2, 2017
Sierra Club BC traveled to Ottawa this week to present to the Transport Committee about Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act for BC’s north coast. There is nowhere else on earth like the north coast – and so we commend the government for introducing a legislated tanker ban.
The fact that we have reached this point is due to the hard work of our supporters over the years who have spoken up against Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal and in defense of the coast – thank you.
The Oil Tanker Moratorium Act isn’t perfect, but it’s worth celebrating. Our friends at West Coast Environmental Law did a useful blog that outlines the good and the not-so-good of this Bill.
Campaigns Director Caitlyn Vernon traveled to Ottawa to let government know that Sierra Club BC strongly supports the Bill, and that they have broad-based public support for protecting the Great Bear Rainforest from oil spills with a permanent, legislated oil tanker ban. We applaud the government for introducing this Bill.
We also made it clear that to truly protect the coast and all who depend on it, the Bill must be strengthened in four key ways:
- Limiting the Ministerial exemption to emergency circumstances.
- Including refined oil under the scope of the Bill.
- Decreasing the tonnage threshold to 3,200 tonnes, which according to a recent Transport Canada report is the maximum needed for community fuel supply.
- Expanding the geographic scope to prohibit vessels above 3,200 tonnes from transporting crude or refined oil through Hecate Straight, Dixon Entrance and Queen Charlotte Sound.
We believe these amendments are necessary because oil spill clean-up is effectively impossible and because BC’s north coast, the Great Bear Rainforest, is a global treasure worth protecting. For more details, check out the written brief that we submitted to the Committee.
Bill C-48 won’t stop articulated tug barges
In October 2016 the Nathan E. Stewart ran aground in Heiltsuk territory. This was an Articulated Tug Barge that transports petroleum products between Washington State and Alaska. Fortunately, the fuel barge was empty.
Even so, the sinking of the tug spilled over 100,000 litres of diesel, contaminating an important harvesting and cultural site. The response was slow, uncoordinated, and completely ineffectual for the wave and currents. Booms broke and waves crashed over the booms. Fisheries are still closed.
The Nathan E. Stewart provides a sobering reminder of the challenges of spill response in remote locations, and that the social, economic and environmental impacts can be very severe, from even a small spill of refined petroleum products.
By decreasing the tonnage threshold to 3,200 tonnes, and prohibiting vessels above 3,200 tonnes from transporting crude or refined oil through Hecate Straight, Dixon Entrance and Queen Charlotte Sound (rather than simply limiting vessels from docking at port, as outlined in the Bill as currently written), these amendments would prevent articulated tug barges from traveling the inside passage and putting coastal communities at risk.
Refined oil poses threat
Bill C-48 prohibits vessels carrying crude oil and persistent oils. However there are currently two refineries undergoing environmental assessment in northern BC that would result in supertankers carrying refined oil.
Refined, non-persistent oils are considered acutely toxic to marine organisms, and so we advocate that the scope of Bill C-48 be extended to prohibit transport of refined oils also.
What about the south coast?
This government has broad-based public support for a tanker ban. However the expectation is that the Bill prohibit all tankers, not just some tankers.
This can be done through the amendments outlined above that continue to allow for community fuel supply but prohibit articulated tank barges and tankers carrying refined oil.
And while Bill C-48 focuses on the north coast, oil tankers also pose a huge risk to the economy, communities and wildlife on the south coast of BC. And LNG tankers are a safety hazard.
True coastal protection would ban oil and gas tankers in both the north and the south.
And then instead of investing in spill response, we could support the wild salmon economy and expand renewable energy production that can generate jobs without damaging our climate or putting the coast at risk of spills.