In the 1970s, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau committed to an oil tanker moratorium that would protect the coast and Haida Gwaii from oil spills. While subsequent governments honoured this commitment, the Harper government’s disregard for it made the limitations of a non-legislative ban apparent. That’s why 45 years later the newly formed Liberal government has resolved to enshrine that commitment in legislation.
The proposed moratorium will encompass the northwest coast from Salish territory in the south to Tlingit territory in the north, including Siigee Dixon Entrance and Kandaliigwii Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound. It will also protect coastal fishing, aquaculture, and tourism industries from economic disaster.
North coast ocean-based industries generate approximately $1.2-billion in revenue each year, providing employment for nearly 30% of the population. This translates into an annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contribution of $700-million. By hosting an oil-shipping facility, coastal people would expose themselves to the danger of a tanker spill, risking their wellbeing and livelihoods. A University of British Columbia study estimated that if there were a high impact tanker spill, then over a 50-year timeline north coast communities could lose up to $300 million in productivity and up to 4,500 person-years of employment. This would cost Canada’s GDP up to $200-million.
These considerations do not include the incalculable loses that an oil spill would have upon the social wellbeing, cultural heritage, and ecological wealth of coastal communities.
It is believed that an oil tanker moratorium will essentially kill Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline project. However, the coast remains wide-open to the potential shipping of fracked gas (Liquified Natural Gas) as well as to the continued condensate tanker traffic which already traverses the coast, as these do not qualify as “crude oil”.
West Coast Environmental Law has published a short document titled Keeping Our Coast Clean: Frequently asked questions about an oil tanker ban on BC’s Pacific North Coast, it is available for download here.