Tar Sands, Tankers & Pipelines

For decades a federal moratorium has protected British Columbia’s sensitive northern waters from crude oil tankers. All that will change if currently proposed oil pipelines are built from the Alberta tar sands to the coast of BC’s Great Bear Rainforest.

For example, the Enbridge Northern Gateway project proposes two parallel 1,150-kilometre pipelines across northern BC – crossing hundreds of important fish-bearing rivers and streams. One pipeline would carry an estimated 525,000 barrels a day of crude oil from the Alberta tar sands to Kitimat, BC; the second pipeline would carry 150,000 barrels a day of condensate in the other direction (a chemical and petroleum mixture used to dilute tar sands crude oil extracted so that it can travel by pipeline) from Kitimat to the Alberta tar sands. Despite safety measures, oil pipelines leak – and a leak into BC’s rivers could bring terrible consequences for fish, animals and birds, and communities that rely on those rivers for food sources and water.

If these pipelines are built, about 225 oil tankers, including massive supertankers, would carry their loads to and from BC’s Pacific North Coast every year. The waters of the north coast are notoriously dangerous and difficult to navigate. With that much tanker traffic carrying tar sands oil to Asian markets, BC can likely expect many small spills every year and a catastrophic spill of over 10,000 barrels every 12 years (figures based on a report from Simon Fraser University). British Columbia would be vulnerable to an oil spill disaster on the scale of the Exxon Valdez, which could devastate the coastal environment and way of life for generations.

While oil pipelines and tankers threaten to have potentially devastating and long-term environmental impacts, the economic benefits of the Enbridge pipeline are limited, and most of the employment will be short-term. West Coast Environmental Law is working with allies to strengthen the long-standing federal moratorium on oil tanker traffic by having it protected through federal legislation. This would put an end to all plans for oil tankers and pipelines in the Great Bear Rainforest. West Coast’s goal is to limit the expansion of tar sands infrastructure in BC and protect our watersheds, marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and the human communities that rely on them.

The proposed pipeline and tanker routes pass through the territories of many First Nations. Numerous BC First Nations oppose these plans. West Coast Environmental Law has been providing strategic legal advice to a number of First Nations in relation to the issues of oil tankers and pipelines in their waters and on their lands.