For decades we've used the Exxon Valdez incident to define oil supertanker disaster. Yet what Harper is planning for coastal BC, south and north, will make the Exxon Valdez disaster a perversely fond memory.
Let's get one thing straight right now. When you introduce several hundred mega-supertanker sailings through treacherous B.C. waters it's not a question of "if" something goes wrong, but "when" and "how often." As sure as the sun rises and sets we are going to experience supertanker disasters on British Columbia's otherwise pristine coasts. And when that happens you can be damned sure those responsible will fold up their tents and scurry off.
Jack Knox, writing in this morning's Victoria Times Colonist sheds a little light on what shipping traffic and, especially oil supertankers, mean to our coast.
"U.S. government statistics show 548 tankers entered Juan de Fuca Strait bound for Washington state ports in 2010. Another 252 came in bound for Canada.
"Now, depending on whether you're a tanker half-full or tanker half-empty kind of person, you might find those numbers either reassuring or alarming as you consider the Kinder Morgan proposal, which would increase the number and size of vessels from Vancouver.
"Reassuring in that tankers regularly pass by without turning Oak Bay into a Greenpeace commercial. Alarming in that every extra ship ups the odds of one driving into the ditch."
Knox points out that we have had close calls, enough that we created the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force to explore the risks. One of the first crises the Task Force had to deal with was the incident on December 23, 1988 when the tow cable pulling the fuel barge Nestucca parted near Gray Harbor, Washington, causing the spill of 875,000 litres of fuel oil.
"On the U.S. side, tens of thousands of birds died and the oil fouled the shore from northern Oregon to Dungeness Spit, right across Juan de Fuca Strait from Victoria. The gunk also scummed up Vancouver Island beaches from Sooke to Nootka Sound.
And, Knox points out, the Nestucca spill was just 1/50th the size of the Exxon Valdez spill. The new supertankers to carry Alberta bitumen sludge will be several times larger than the Exxon Valdez.
"On Vancouver Island, we're lucky to be getting a free ride from a rescue tug based in Neah Bay, Washington, right at the mouth of the strait. Between 1999 and 2010, it was deployed to help 46 ships that had lost steering or otherwise ended up in trouble, on 11 occasions taking them under tow before they drifted on the rocks."
The City of Vancouver is wrestling with how to stop the Kinder Morgan tanker traffic through its inner harbour. They know how Exxon screwed the victims of the Valdez disaster. In 2010, 21-years after the spill, Exxon was still dragging its feet in court. At that point, 8,000 of its victims had died without seeing a penny in compensation. Vancouver knows better than to trust scumbags like Harper and Alberta's Oil Patch to do any better and the city knows its potential losses would utterly dwarf the damage in Prince William Sound.