A lot happened on the tankers file over the summer, so it’s no wonder that many of you are asking what all the announcements mean. Here’s our take on your Top 3 questions.

1. Do the five conditions outlined by the B.C. government in July change anything?

The only condition that was really new (and thus gained media attention) was the “fair share” requirement, which played out as B.C. demanding Alberta for a cut of oilsands royalties.

It received the most attention for good reason – the other four (pass the environmental review, “world-leading” marine and on-land oil spill response and First Nations legal requirements) were largely reiterations of conditions that have to be in place no matter what.

So, would a revenue-sharing agreement make oil tanker proposals in the best interests of British Columbians? The short answer is: no.

The basic political decision that needs to be made is whether B.C. is willing to accept this particular category of catastrophic risk at all. The basic facts of the matter are simple: sometimes, despite all precaution, oil spills happen, and because oil spills are so messy and impossible to fully clean up, sometimes no amount of money can make things right again. That’s why so many First Nations and local governments have definitively said ‘no’ to these projects. Many have gone so far as to clarify that ‘no’ doesn’t mean ‘for a price’, rather ‘no means no’. Taking into account that high degree of local, definitive opposition you can re-state the basic political question as: is the B.C. government willing to force the risk of catastrophe on unwilling communities?

The B.C. Liberals’ five conditions don’t give British Columbians a clear answer, which perhaps partially explains their continued slump in the polls.

2. In August the B.C. NDP announced they’d create a “made in B.C.”  environmental review process for the proposed Enbridge pipeline and tankers project. Is this good or bad?

Well, it’s confusing, but it’s probably a good thing. Here’s why: In 2010, the B.C. government signed an “equivalency agreement” with the federal government, which meant the federal environmental assessment of Enbridge’s project would do double-duty by standing in for B.C.’s assessment, too. Essentially we gave our own independent review away. We agree that overall it’s good to avoid duplication, but the problem with the federal Enbridge review is that it doesn’t put B.C.’s interests first, even though we have the most to lose.

What the NDP is saying is that, if elected next May, they’ll serve the federal government with notice to terminate the equivalency agreement, taking back the right for B.C. to hold its own environmental assessment. The confusing part is that this makes it sound like the NDP are backing away from a strong position of ‘No’ and instead saying ‘let’s have more review’. But what the NDP are saying is that this is simply a required step to restore legal powers. We’ve looked into this, and it makes sense. One thing is certain, if the NDP were to ever backpedal from their strong position there would be a political firestorm in B.C.

3. Does David Black’s proposal to build a refinery near Kitimat change Dogwood’s position on Enbridge Northern Gateway?

Actually, Dogwood Initiative’s position is broader than any one given project. Our No Tankers petition asks for the federal and provincial governments to use whatever means are available to halt the expansion of crude oil tanker traffic through B.C.’s coastal waters in order to protect the jobs, communities and environment of our coast. If David Black’s proposal only led to increased tanker traffic carrying refined products, his project would not violate that aspect of our petition.

However, our petition also states that we recognize both the Coastal First Nations and Save the Fraser declarations, and the First Nations authority exercised therein, which combined prohibit the expansion of both crude oil pipelines and tankers to B.C.’s coast. And because the Black proposal would still require the Enbridge Northern Gateway crude oil pipeline, we would stand with the First Nations that are opposed.

So overall, our official oil tanker policy plus our recognition of the First Nations declarations means that Dogwood is effectively opposed to the expansion of crude oil pipelines and tankers through our coast, in whatever form.

Overall, we think Black’s proposal is focused on making a bad project less bad – we’d prefer to start with ideas that are good and improve from there.

Thank you to Ecstatacist on Flickr for the image. Used under a creative commons license.