GUEST COLUMN: Done with care, we can have it both ways

About 500 oil tankers a year visit U.S. refineries just south of the border

By Mark Rushton

When I read last week that the U.S. is sending its Coast Guard to investigate oil tanker traffic coming into Vancouver, due to concerns about possible environmental damage to the San Juan Islands, I thought it a bit hypocritical.

The reason: for the past 40 years, about 500 oil tankers a year visit U.S. refineries just south of the border. No concern it seems about them, but if Canada wants to increase its volume, there’s suddenly an issue about potential oil spills?

Seems I’m not the only one who wonders about the anomaly of protest against Canadian shipment of oil while the massive volumes transported adjacent to our waters are seemingly ignored. While I was mulling over this topic, the Vancouver Sun’s Pete McMartin published a similar piece on Saturday.

Pete points out that not only is there Cherry Point just south of Boundary Bay, but two more refineries in Ferndale and another two in Anacortes, all of which are in receipt of daily tanker traffic from, I’m assuming, Valdez and other Alaskan oil shipping points.

In addition, Cherry Point also receives Canadian crude via pipeline from Kinder Morgan – the evil incarnate to environmentalists in this area.

Point of fact, according to McMartin, we on the Lower Mainland receive 20,000 barrels of gasoline daily from Washington State to keep our cars and trucks and the economy running. And if it weren’t for the jet fuel sent north to YVR, no passenger planes would get off the ground in B.C.

So, are we dependent on oil, and are we dependent on tankers and pipelines? Yes, and yes, and so is our economy that supplies us with such things as health care, education and the ability for an income that allows us the freedom to protest.

Washington State, and the American economy, is willing to take environmental risks … and believe me, there are risks that could irreparably damage the environmental health of the Salish Sea/Georgia Strait/Gulf Islands. Should we add to that risk by increasing tanker traffic out of Vancouver or do we, while the Americans continue to receive and process oil to sell to us, allow ourselves to compromise our economic health?

How is it that we can protest ships sailing out of Vancouver, and pipelines supplying American refineries, while ignoring what’s happening immediately south of our border?

In a perfect world, there would be no mining, no clear-cutting and no burning of fossil fuels – but it would likely be a world with people living in the Stone Age.

Our freedom to move, to build homes, create jobs and develop societies are all tied to exploiting what is loosely termed “our environment.” Should we rape it? No, but until some form of benign energy source is discovered, we have to use it as best we can.

And with billions of people  now on the planet, progress good or bad isn’t going to suddenly come to an abrupt halt because a relative handful of people in B.C. say ‘no’ to any more exploitation.