The only positive outcome of the tragic sinking of Queen of the North ferry is the illustration it provides of the dangers of operating in the fragile yet treacherous waters of British Columbia’s inside passage.
With little fanfare, Enbridge Inc, Canada’s second largest pipeline company, is proposing twin pipelines that would move oil and petroleum products to, and from, Alberta’s tar sands to Kitimat just up the channel from Gil Island where the ferry sank.
Enbridge’s Gateway Project, if approved, would require dozens of tankers to pass through these same waters on its 90 kilometre journey up Douglas Channel to Kitimat Arm.
The circumstances surrounding the ferry sinking has broadened awareness of the extreme weather conditions and the difficulties navigating in these waters. And of the disastrous consequences of even the smallest errors.
British Columbians were already opposed to tankers off British Columbia’s northern coast before this tragedy. A poll commissioned in January, just before the federal election, showed 3 in 4 British Columbians (75%) wanted tankers banned in these waters.
We expect opposition to tankers, and Enbridge’s proposal, to increase because of the Queen of the North accident.
The ineffective efforts to contain the relatively small oil spill don’t inspire confidence. The oil spill received some attention before it was quickly superseded by the Titanic-like underwater footage of the wreck.
Despite all the “don’t worry, be happy” claims by oil companies and their supporters about improved technology for containing spills, local fishermen from Hartley Bay watched as the relatively small spill evaded cleanup efforts and threatened traditional clam beds.
Watching as the spill invade their clam beds, locals were not amused when a Burrard Environmental employee suggested that “the clams are far enough down not to be affected.”
What would happen if not a few hundred thousand litres of diesel, but a few million gallons of oil were spilled in these waters?
It would be devastating.
Will the raised profile of the threats from tankers scuttles Enbridge’s proposal?
Probably not by itself! But First Nations being impacted by the Enbridge’s Gateway proposal are already organizing their opposition. They are already threatening lawsuits. First Nations opposition will kill the project.
And British Columbia environmental groups are very concerned about the impacts the pipeline and tankers will have on British Columbia’s waters, streams, wildlife, biodiversity and air.
Oh, did I say that the whole Gateway project will produce only 45 permanent jobs in BC. That’s right, fewer people will get permanent jobs than are now working in Rona’s, the hardware store in Terrace.
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