By Iona V. Campagnolo, P. C., O. C., O. B. C.
From my childhood on Galiano Island, through my years at a salmon cannery near the Skeena River, to my retirement near Discovery Passage on Vancouver Island, my home has been on the BC coast. Like a majority of BC coastal residents, I am concerned about the proposal to transport oilsands bitumen from Alberta to Asia by way of BC’s north coast inland waters.
This is not a new concern. In the late 1970’s, as Member of Parliament for Skeena and a Cabinet Minister in the Canadian Government, I helped stop a similar proposal to use Douglas Channel as an oil tanker highway – only then, the proposal was to import rather than export oil. I worked with my colleagues to establish a moratorium banning oil tankers from BC’s north coastal waters. That moratorium is now, regrettably, deemed null and void. And today, the battle for the future of our coast rages again.
I urge you to take an objective look at the proposed oil tanker route: through Hecate Strait, past North Danger Rocks, past the community of Hartley bay and the opening of Grenville Channel, up the narrow, winding Douglas Channel to Kitimat. Picture a Very Large Crude Carrier – an oil tanker as long as the Empire State Building is tall – negotiating this treacherous route, with the added challenges of marine traffic from cruise ships to kayaks, as well as extreme weather, strong currents, rockslides and even potential earthquakes.
The dangers are greater now than they were 40 years ago. Diluted bitumen contains more toxins than conventional crude oil, and is even more difficult to clean up – as we have witnessed with the reports from Enbridge’s 2010 oil spill in the Kalamazoo River. In an inevitable spill, cleanup efforts may well be hampered by the emission of toxic gases from condensate. By the time the gases are dispersed, much of the tarry bitumen will have settled to the sea floor, leaving behind a lethal legacy for British Columbia. The burden of risk falls on our province, from today’s taxpayers to tomorrow’s fishermen and generations to come.
This summer, take up this challenge yourself. I urge as many people as possible to travel by water this year. Get to know the spectacular but demanding geography of the North Coast. Stop in for a visit with the Gitga’at people at Hartley Bay, and meet the people of Kitimat, including those of the Haisla First Nation. Experience at first hand the coastal wonders of the Kitlope and the ‘Great Bear’ region. Make up your own mind about the proposal to bring oil tankers to these inside waters.
This summer, make your voice heard. Public involvement remains part of our innate responsibility as citizens: simply stated, we are to protect the priceless inheritance from our ancestors for the benefit of our descendants. This is neither a radical nor a regional matter. It is a human obligation for all of us. WWF-Canada and the Coastal First Nations seek your support. They have mine.