There were two such reports today. One conveyed a warning from Canada's insurance sector that a 9.0 magnitude quake on the west coast could result in losses upwards of $75-billion, a hit that could take down Canadian insurers.
The second story dealt with Port Alberni, a mill town situated at the seismic business end of the roughly 80-mile long Alberni Inlet. British Columbia premier, Christy Clark, has proclaimed Port Alberni to be a perfect site for a major liquid natural gas (LNG) port.
Premier Christy Clark said she’s excited about a proposal to modernize and expand port facilities in Port Alberni, which could include a new deep sea shipping terminal and a liquefied natural gas facility.
..Port Alberni is “geographically just perfectly located” for export, with access to the west coast, the Pacific ocean and on to Asian markets, she said.
Now the Insurance Bureau warning came with the assurance that a major west coast earthquake is a 1-in-500 risk. And that's probably true in a way. Seismologists now know that the Cascadia subduction fault lets her rip about once every three to five hundred years. What the insurance story leaves out is that we're already three hundred years into the count and that this isn't a risk but an eventual certainty. My house is always at risk of a fire but it may never burn down. It may eventually just be torn down to make way for something else, who knows? The Big One isn't a possibility. It's a certainty.
So what does this have to do with Port Alberni? As I said, the port town is right at the business end of the Alberni Inlet. In 1964 there was a massive, megathrust earthquake in Alaska that devastated Juneau and Anchorage and coastal towns in that state. The resulting tsunami swept out across the Pacific and down the west coast. This tsunami entered the Alberni Inlet and swept down the lengthy inlet, gathering force as the waterway narrowed and shallowed. There was enough warning to avoid deaths or injury but the wave that hit Port Alberni tossed fishing boats into the town streets, left 375 homes damaged and washed away another 55. And that was from an earthquake in Alaska.
If or when the Big One hits, some experts warn it could hit right out from the entrance to the Alberni Inlet. It would be tough getting out of town on short notice and it's almost painful to imagine what a major tsunami would do to an LNG plant at water's edge or the people in the vicinity.
I think this is a situation that cries out for the application of the Precautionary Principle. Too bad nobody remembers what that is any more.