When Oil and Water Mix

The Macdonald Laurier Institute, a Canadian policy think tank, released a report today ominously titled “When Oil and Water Mix,” in which three essays essentially argue that oil tankers are safe, good for Canada, and shouldn’t be banned from our Pacific north coast.

Dr. Philip John, the Marine Fleet Manager of the Woodward Group of Companies of Newfoundland and Labrador, wrote the essay on the safety and environmental impact of oil tankers.

In it, he presents numerous illustrations and statistics showing that the number of oil tanker spills in Canada and worldwide has decreased. This is good news for our oceans and an incredibly bad reason to take our coast to the casino. Safer than things used to be is not the same as safe. Accidents will always happen because sometimes humans make mistakes and machines break.

The author goes on to assert that in the event of an oil spill, British Columbia’s northwest coast would be protected by “rigorous control systems.” This statement is pure aspiration. The reality of oil spills, as stated by the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation is that “containment and recovery at sea rarely results in the removal of more than a relatively small proportion of a large spill, at best only 10 – 15 per cent and often considerably less.”

Bonus: 5 Reasons shipping oil to Asia is not in Canada’s economic interest

What this means is that if a tanker accident occurred at sea, if “oil and water mixed,” the best protection at our disposal would leave at least 85 per cent of the spilled oil on our coast.  And that’s if we were actually prepared.

It turns out we’re not. In 2010, Canada’s Office of the Auditor General definitively found that the Government is “not ready to respond to a major oil spill.”

John goes on to list statistics on the number and size of marine protected areas in Canada, apparently in an attempt to argue that Canada is doing a good job at protecting the marine environment so we don’t need to worry about tankers.

Marine Protected Areas are great news for our oceans and we should create more of them and manage them properly. For example, we shouldn’t expose them to increased risk of catastrophic oil spills. Oil spills, unfortunately, don’t stop at boundaries drawn on a map.

All in all, John’s essay serves up little more than platitudes that do nothing for our marine environments or the communities and jobs that depend on them.

That’s why the Liberal, NDP, and Green party of Canada, and 100,000 British Columbians and Canadians support banning bulk crude oil tankers on Canada’s Pacific north coast.

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