Nearly 30 years have passed since the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground and spilled 40 million litres of crude oil spill into Alaska’s Prince William Sound — an environmental catastrophe with lingering effects.
The spill affected 2,100 kilometres of shoreline and killed approximately 250,000 sea birds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbour seals, 250 bald eagles and 20 orcas. It also wreaked havoc with the reproductive cycles of salmon and herring.
Imagine a disaster like that striking British Columbia’s northern coast.
To avoid such a disaster, a voluntary tanker exclusion zone has been in place since 1985. However, this protection is not yet enshrined in law, despite the fact that oil spills are far more difficult to control and clean up in this remote and pristine region.
That’s why I am proud to sponsor Government Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, which will formalize the long-standing crude oil tanker moratorium on B.C.’s northern coast.
The act would prohibit large tankers carrying crude and heavy oils from stopping, loading or unloading at ports in northern B.C. The area covered by the proposed ban would extend from the Canada-Alaska border to the northern tip of Vancouver Island.
If Bill C-48 passes, the new law would protect Haida Gwaii, Queen Charlotte Sound, Kitimat, Prince Rupert and many other areas from the risk of a major spill.
Such protection is essential. The beauty of this coastal region and the abundance of wildlife have made it a world-renowned ecotourism destination, where visitors can see natural wonders like Kermode bears, old growth rainforests, iconic orcas, bald eagles and flourishing kelp beds. This ecological wealth has created jobs and opportunities for sustainable economic growth. The wilderness tourism industry in British Columbia is estimated to be worth more than $782 million annually and employs some 40,000 people.
A spill would also harm coastal First Nations communities economically and culturally, and Bill C-48 has strong support from those communities most at risk. Over 12,000 Canadians, including members of Indigenous nations, have petitioned the House of Commons to pass Bill C-48.
The fact is that shipping oil is a risk, especially in the rough waters of the northern B.C. coastline. Unfortunately, on the remote northern coast of B.C., there is simply no capacity to respond quickly enough and on a sufficient scale.
Mitigating the risk of oil spills is the bill’s purpose. Still, the legislation recognizes that coastal communities depend on some of these crude oils and therefore allows for the continued shipment of smaller quantities.
Furthermore, energy products that dissipate more quickly through evaporation, such as liquefied natural gas, would be exempted from the ban under the proposed law. As such, Bill C-48 is in line with the recent announcement that final approval has been given for the $40 billion LNG Canada project for a liquefied natural gas plant and pipeline in northern B.C.
The Oil Tanker Moratorium Act has already passed the House of Commons and is at second reading in the Senate. In a speech I gave in June in support of the bill, I argued that this bill strikes the right balance between a clean environment and a strong economy.
Ports in southern British Columbia, where the marine safety system is more robust, will, as before, remain open to tanker traffic and smaller tankers will still be allowed to service B.C.’s northern communities to resupply existing industry and residential needs.
British Columbians are very aware of the risk of oil spills and the need to work together to protect our Pacific coast. As the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act makes its way through the Senate, I look forward to working with you to make Bill C-48 law.
Senator Mobina Jaffer is the sponsor of the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act. She represents British Columbia.