EDITORIAL: What about wildlife?
The world’s thirst for oil is poised to turn the current trickle of crude through Vancouver’s harbour into a gusher.
Kinder Morgan Canada announced this month that it will seek to twin its Trans Mountain Pipeline between northern Alberta and Burnaby, increasing its current 300,000-barrel-per-day capacity to as much as 850,000. That means the number of tankers filling up in Burnaby could hit 360 in 2016 – five times more than the record 69 crude tankers in 2010.
Good for the economy, yes. But the question on many people’s lips involves a frightening scenario: What if there is a spill?
Certainly, many safeguards are already in place. Oil tankers must be double-hulled and are required to sail with two pilots – highly trained experts on local waters who are familiar with any hazards that need to be avoided.
In addition, all oil tanker vessels that sail into Canadian waters must have an arrangement with a spill response organization which, on the West Coast, is the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC).
If there is a spill, and the ship’s owner walks away, the vessel would be seized and WCMRC would tap in to the insurance tanker companies are required to purchase – Canada’s Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund. If that insurance runs out, a similar international fund is used for clean-up.
But there’s a hole in the prevention and remedy protocols big enough to sail a sizable ship through. What about wildlife?
According to Coleen Doucette, vice-president of the Oiled Wildlife Society of B.C., there are no laws compelling companies to clean up birds and animals impacted by a spill.
“The way policies are written in Canada, wildlife is not part of the environment. No one has to clean up wildlife,” Doucette says.
Oil spill response usually involves containing spills with booms and collecting the oil using skimmers. If the responsible party requests a wildlife rescue response, WCMRC may manage it or hire a professional organization to perform it.
The problem is, not all responsible parties choose to respond to oiled wildlife.
This loophole is particularly troubling in light of recent news that marine mammals are making a comeback in the Salish Sea after decades of decline. Thanks to conservation efforts, sea lions, seals, orcas, humpback and fin whales, dolphins and elephant seals are dramatically increasing in numbers.
Our pristine coastlines and their animal inhabitants are among B.C.’s most precious resources. If the province does agree to open its shores to more tanker traffic, protection for our marine animals and waterfowl must be part of the equation.