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Heavy Oil Pipelines: My Assessment

The threat of a heavy oil spill on the B.C. coast is not a distant possibility. Tankers leave from Vancouver habour ever week and if the Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain pipeline proposals are approved, the number of tankers will increase dramatically.

Some risks are necessary; others are not. While Premier Christy Clark has publicly recognized that B.C. is “woefully” unprepared for a heavy oil spill, the Province’s submission to the Joint Review Panel for the Northern Gateway pipeline has clearly stated that effective spill response is “impossible or severely constrained” in certain regions of the province. Meanwhile, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has made it clear that not enough is known about what would happen to diluted bitumen were it to spill into the ocean.

The chances that a heavy oil spill will occur may be small, but the risks are massive—not just the environmental risks but also the economic risks. What would happen to the tourism or fishery industries if there was a spill in or near Vancouver habour?

The more we increase the number of heavy oil tankers, the higher the chance that a spill will occur. We need to be smart about how we manage this risk and to recognize that, in some cases, if we cannot manage the risk, we should not be shipping the product.

I have therefore proposed two ideas:

  1. I have called for a moratorium on tankers carrying diluted bitumen on the B.C. coast.
  2. I have proposed that if we are going to continue developing the Alberta oil sands, and if that oil is going to cross B.C., then at the very least, we should seriously consider refining it into value-added products prior to transportation and export, in order to increase the economic benefits and decrease the environmental risks.