Why should people in Campbell River care about a possible oil pipeline and tankers streaming into the port of Kitimat?
“The only thing in it for Campbell River would be an oil spill,” said Mike Holland, the federal Liberal candidate for North Island.
Holland joined up with Liberal MP Joyce Murray on Wednesday to support her bill to formalize the oil tanker ban on the North Coast.
“Is there or isn’t there a moratorium? There never has been a law,” said the member for Vancouver Quadra, during a small gathering at Banner’s Restaurant.
The news rattled Leona Adams of the Campbell River Estuary Protection Group who thought the moratorium on tanker traffic – for the North Coast as well as the Inside Passage – had some legal clout.
But, according to Murray, the federal Conservative government does not recognize an “official moratorium,” enacted by former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1972.
“We need it to be a law,” Adams replied.
But North Island MP John Duncan disagreed.
“I don’t comprehend the practicality of what they’re trying to accomplish,” the Conservative member said Thursday during a phone interview. “We can’t support it. I think it’s quite a backwards move. It’s not consistent with the Asia-Pacific gateway and it penalizes the B.C. and Canadian economies.”
Duncan noted that tankers carrying natural gas and liquid propane already come and go from ports in Kitimat and Prince Rupert. He said the government’s objective is to ensure tanker safety and oil tankers would need be double-hulled to help prevent a breach.
Tankers already carry oil out of Vancouver and Cherry Point in Washington State, and in all the years, there’s never been an incident, Duncan added.
MP Murray spent this week touring Island communities to gather public support for Bill C-606 which would “ban oil tankers on the dangerous waterways of B.C.’s North Coast.”
“I’ll need help with my bill,” she said. “The legislators need to hear from their voters.”
Murray is raising the issue now due to the ongoing controversy over the proposal by Enbridge to build a 1,170-kilometre pipeline to carry crude from the Alberta oilsands to Kitimat, where it would be transferred to huge tankers.
“Today’s tankers carry eight times more oil than the Exxon Valdez did,” Murray pointed out, referring to the Alaskan oil tanker which ran aground in 1989 and spilled nearly 40 million litres of crude oil into Prince William Sound.
Last year’s BP oil rig explosion and spill of more than 750 million litres of crude into the Gulf of Mexico is a more immediate reminder of the environmental and economic damage oil spills cause.
“There’s always the risk of human error and technological error,” said Murray. “A major spill (on the North Coast) at the wrong time of year could foul beaches to the south end of
Murray isn’t against economic development on the coast, but a new pipeline and a flotilla of tankers wouldn’t be good for existing businesses, she said. The pipeline proposal, if approved, would create economic uncertainty for fishermen, fish farmers, seafood growers, tourism operations and others who rely on the sea for a living.
Murray also noted that her bill would have no effect on existing operations or on tankers carrying natural gas.
“I consider my bill to be sustainable economic development,” she said.
Murray acknowledged there should be better environmental protection for coastal waters. In 2007, a decrepit barge took on water and dumped logging equipment – loaded with diesel fuel and oil – into the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, located north of Campbell River in Johnstone Strait.
The area is renowned for its “rubbing beaches” used by killer whales. But is was Canadian taxpayers, and not the company at fault, who were saddled with the $2 million clean-up bill.
Murray said her bill focuses on a “larger scale of risk” and is intended to avoid a worse-case scenario. She added that most of her fellow Liberal MPs, as well as members of the Opposition, are supportive of the bill, but it has only gone through first reading in Parliament.
“Bills don’t often pass first reading,” she said, as she urged the public to support her cause. “Our coast is a national jewel.”
Murray is asking supporters to express their concerns to their MP or to log onto her website: joycemurray.ca/support-c606