A Call for a Royal Commission Into Tanker Traffic on the B. C. Coast
In terms of environmental issues on the west coast, oil tankers are among the most controversial. What is clearly needed is a Royal Commission into oil tanker traffic up and down the 27,000 km-long coastline. At the moment, there are just too many often conflicting marine environmental issues related to the shipment of oil by sea- from Enbridge's Northern Gateway project out of Kitimat in the north, to Kinder Morgan's planned expansion of its Trans Mountain pipeline to Burnaby in the south. If Kinder Morgan gets its way, a supertanker oil terminal could eventually be built at Roberts Bank in the Salish Sea, to support Very Large Crude Carriers ( VLCCs ) laden with tar sands bitumen destined for Asia. The rationale for building such a terminal is that only relatively small tankers can navigate Burrard Inlet, where Kinder Morgan's current tanker terminal, the Westridge facility, is located, whereas supertankers would be de rigeur on the China run to make shipments en masse economical. Roberts Bank could potentially handle such large tankers. If Enbridge's Northern Gateway project for the North Coast is rejected on environmental grounds, or because it is not deemed to be in the public interest, then attention will shift to the South Coast for shipment of tar sands bitumen, with potentially devastating impacts on the endangered southern resident killer whales whose critical habitat straddles the area. Thus, ruling out tankers up north is clearly an unsustainable, beggar thy neighbour policy. What is needed instead is a coherent, overarching strategy with respect to tanker traffic up and down the coast- whether it is permitted at all, and if so, where, how and to what extent. Also important is the issue of how the sector is regulated and administered, especially from the perspective of oil spill prevention and response. The current response regime, involving a complex relationship between industry, the Coast Guard and the Province of B.C., is completely dysfunctional.
Only a Royal Commission can properly sort all these issues out, with the benefit of public input and scientific studies. An ancillary matter for the commission to examine would be the considerable threat of oil spills from other commercial traffic, i.e. the bunker fuels used by cargo vessels, container ships, ferries, etc.