In his recent column, Conservative MP Dan Albas questioned why Bill C-48 (Oil Tanker Moratorium Act) applied only to B.C.’s North Coast (June 7).
He notes that a Senate committee concluded that the bill is “a cynical, intentional bid to cripple the economy of prairie provinces.”
Albas also feels the tanker ban infringes on aboriginal rights and restricts their ability to develop export facilities. However, there appears to be nothing in the bill that suggests any government could arbitrarily do either of the above.
A more considered view is that oil transport has inherent risks, regardless of location. Therefore risk management requires considering probability, consequences, and incident response capabilities for each potential export route.
Technically, the south coast appears to present lower transportation risks because of more favorable weather and sea conditions relative to the north coast. Moreover, response capabilities in the South Coast (Port of Vancouver, Coast Guard and Marine Response Authority) are more robust.
Also, a south coast port benefits from the protection Vancouver Island affords.
A north coast port location entails crossing Hecate Strait (dubbed “the Poor Man’s Cape Horn”) with its major tides (24-26 feet), and then navigating a winding coastal channel. It could alternatively involve passing near Cape St. James, which has recorded Canada’s highest wind speeds. Moreover, response and rescue capabilities are comparatively limited on the north coast.
While more might be said, overview evidence supports a moratorium on north coast tankers. That includes evidence of response difficulties such as those observed at the Exxon Valdez incident and a more recent mid-coast incident where an oil barge ran aground.
A short but rigorous, independent, factor- by-factor assessment of oil transport options may be required to help government respond to Senate concerns. However, contrary to MP Albas’s opinions, it is valid to consider coastal locations differently because they present different combinations of advantages and risks.
I trust these points will help Albas to appreciate the significant differences in risk and response considerations between B.C.’s north and south coasts.