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CONTRIBUTION · 30th April 2010
MP Nathan Cullen - Skeena
Days after the Deepwater Horizon offshore oilrig blew up off the coast of Lousiana killing 11 workers, British Petroleum assured the public that they would contain the leak quickly. They were wrong. The leak has now quintupled to almost one million litres a day. This is an environmental and economic disaster beyond even that of the Exxon Valdez.

Efforts to shut off a well 5,000 feet below the ocean surface with remote-controlled submarines have failed. Worried that the rig’s operators can’t contain the spill, President Obama is deploying “every single available resource at our disposal” to deal with the growing crisis. Best estimates from the company are now saying it may take up to two months to stop the flow, or a spill into the Gulf of at least 60 million litres of crude oil.

Obviously digging a hole 5,000 feet under the ocean is filled with risk. But the petroleum industry confidently promised that with modern technology nothing could go wrong.

The Deepwater Horizon was a brand new, high tech rig built with all the latest safety and monitoring technology and designed to operate in up to 8,000 ft of water. It failed catastrophically just seven months after drilling its first well.

When companies apply for a permit to drill or carry oil, they boast about the technologies available both to avoid and contain spills. ‘Advances in practices,’ they say, ‘have made previous spills a thing of the past.’ Public fears are softened, politicians want to appear ‘pro-business’ and the company gets the green light.

Despite the industry’s claims that their operations and technology are safe, this – and many other spills – are proof that industry can’t guarantee safety. The truth is that drilling and transporting petroleum is a risky adventure. Even with the latest technology and most sincere promises, we must accept the very real possibility of a spill like the one in the Gulf.

This story is being played out in the south but it has obvious lessons for us in the Northwest. Like the Gulf Coast, we have a sensitive marine environment and rely heavily on our fisheries. Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline would transport 525,000 barrels of oil a day 1,110 km across two mountain ranges and dozens of rivers from the Alberta oil sands to Kitimat, BC, where it would be loaded on super-tankers. An estimated 225 tankers would navigate the rugged Douglas Channel and Hecate Strait every year.

In a promotional video, Enbridge says the Douglas channel is “ideally suited to ship traffic”. But the channel is an important spawning area for salmon, halibut, and other fish species in addition to being an important migratory route for whales and dolphins. A fragile environment where more than a million sea birds breed is not by any stretch of the imagination “ideally suited” to ship oil.

Evidence of this was recently manifested when the freighter Petersfield crashed into a rock in the Douglas Channel after losing steering last September, and the tragic sinking of the Queen of North in 2007.We must contemplate the long and devastating impact of a major spill from the pipeline or super tankers in these places.

First Nations, business groups, environmental organizations and ordinary everyday citizens have been raising concerns about Enbridge’s proposal. They were dismissed by pro-oil interests as fear mongering. The National Energy Board is now charged with protecting the public but the process is rigged from the start. With a history of approving virtually every project they’ve ever seen it will be in the court of public opinion and not the NEB that this decision ultimately rests.

The crisis in the Gulf of Mexico is sending the world a clear warning – playing with petroleum is dangerous. We can create jobs without exposing our environment and way of life to such risks. For the sake of our environment and future, let’s hope Canada is listening.
If oil spills, does it make a sound
Comment by Shawn Ksisiiaks on 4th May 2010
Your wrong Alex – I am putting thing into perceptive into as a society. There are too many accidents but yet people are not willing to accept the risk of the resource and absolve themselves if the spill happens elsewhere. Maybe one day you may be able to stand on you soapbox and say “ I stopped Enbridge” while ground in being broken in the Yukon. I’m not at fault says Alex, I just pull up to the pump and fill up my little pickup truck like tens of thousands of others while oil spills onto the Great Barrier Reef.

To Bruce: read... Douglas Channel approved to handle VLCC-320,000dwt vessels.

To Nathan: Thanks for the revision.

One of my original comment points is I believe we can make a difference here, by allowing a project such as this here while creating a very high and strict standards by which they must operate. If they don’t like it – pump it elsewhere. If they can meet our standards, lets work together. Let us show the world how its supposed to be done. If you are going to opposed every oil and gas project based on the risk of a spill, then you could start by following Carrie’s lead.
Not everyone supports petroleum use
Comment by Carrie La Porte on 2nd May 2010
In response to the commentary "We are at fault" the writer apparently has not seen the videos or read the books and articles which Nathan, I, and others have seen on the topics of Enbridge's environmental track-record, their proposed pipeline project and the Oil Sands and which are based on solid fact, and not "propaganda".

Nathan and many of his supporters have elected to walk, ride bicycles, and/or car pool while leaving our fuel-efficent cars parked at home.

Nathan and the NDP are in support of Green, alternative energy development, unlike the Liberals and Conservatives (who seem to have become interchangeable).

For myself, I do not use herbicides or pesticides on my garden or lawn. My husband walks to work each day. We recycle and we shop at thrift stores, thereby reusing as well. I would venture to say that we are typical of most NDPers in those regards.

In our willingness to sign petitions and to march in protest against things which threaten our environment anad our civil liberties, not only are we again representative of our party, but we have often had occasion to walk beside Nathan, who is never one to shirk a conflict. I suggest that you join us at the next rally and see for yourself.

The other thing that is being ignored here is that we are not merely extracting oil for our own use but are sending most of it outside of our borders, especially to the south of them. Why are we allowing the US to stockpile their resources while raping our country of its oil, natural gas and water and ravaging the land and threatening our aboriginal people's culture in the process? There is only one way to stem the negative tide. Take back control of our economy and our resources from the hands of the multinationals.
Fail to connect!!!!!!!!!!!
Comment by Jim Ippel on 1st May 2010
I fail to see what the grounding of the Queen of the North on Gill Island had to do with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and for that matter the grounding of the Peterfield in Douglas Channel because of loss of steerage. The oil rig, Deepwater Horizon did not fail, there was an explosion, an intense fire, the rig collapsed and we have an oil spill-not good, but possibly?? human error??
We have had ocean going vessels plying the waters of Douglas Channel since Alcan first came to Kitimat delivering Bauxite and taking outn finished aluminum products. The came the ships to Eurocan and Methanex. ONE mishap (the Petersfield) in 60 years---a pretty good record, and to the best of my recollection, no environmental damage.
What all the naysayers bring up are the negatives. There are positives, including short and long term jobs.
Mr Cullen previously stated that we would be exporting raw materials overseas for refining, and he is against this, but only it seems when it comes to oil from the Alberta Oil Sands. He refuses to critisize the Coast Tsimsian Resources company, Native owned, for exporting logs daily. Why Mr Cullen? Could it possibly be because such a large block of your votes come from the Native population in the northwest, and without, your job would be in jeapordy? For your information they have been shipping only 14 truckloads aday, but rumour has it that this will be bumped up to 50 loads aday within short order. Our resources refined elsewhere, and not a peep from our MP.
Comment by Nathan Cullen on 1st May 2010
Really appreciate the criticism and supportive quotes. The companies are careful to never say there is a 0% chance of an accident - they continually downplay the risk and over-emphasize they're ability to clean up the mess. This leads to the public seeing the technology as benign.

I feel for the people on the south coast for the nightmare they're going through and for the difficult days to come. We will inevitably reflect on what this means for us in the northwest and the serious energy questions we have to ask ourselves.
Not just words of a politician
Comment by Karen Dedosenco on 1st May 2010
Shawn, you should be savy enough to know that the oil industry will say almost anything to get their projects approved. When they have billions of dollars at stake they will make all kinds of statements and count on luck to keep them from experiencing a disaster.

'In its 2009 exploration plan and environmental impact analysis for the well, (British Petroleum) suggested it was unlikely or virtually impossible for an accident to occur that would lead to a giant crude oil spill and serious damage to beaches, fish and mammals.'

Read more:

'British energy company BP Plc. said it was "unlikely that an accidental surface or subsurface oil spill would occur" from the well it was proposing to drill 80 kilometres off the Louisiana shore.'

'And if such a spill did occur, the company said, "due to the distance to shore and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse impacts are expected." '

Read more:

To Shawn
Comment by Barry English on 1st May 2010
Two major points Shawn;

"If you use it, need it or want it you must be willing to accept the risks"

Even if we did need it (questionable), this oil is destined for the Chinese market, and we will not see a drop of it unless we have to clean it up.

"The Douglas Channel is ideally suited for ship traffic"

The Douglas Channel is okay for fishing vessels, and Small freighters, but even they run into problems. The Channel, and the Hecate Straight are NOT suited for the immense size of the Supertankers that are being promoted for this enterprise. Compare a subcompact car to two B-train Freight trucks, driving around a mall parking lot full of cars.

The Texas Gulf oil spill just re-iterates the dangers we have been afraid of all along, the dangers just don't justify the risk.
We are at fault
Comment by Shawn Ksisiiaks on 30th April 2010
Nathan I have to be honest, I have supported you in the past but this latest release has crossed the line to propaganda. To imply a promise was made by industry that nothing could ever go wrong because of technology is ludicrous and I challenge you to provide a reference to this an others from a meaningful representative of the oil and gas industry. More likely these are the words of a politician.

You are correct is saying “industry can’t guarantee safety” just like a five star crash rating can guarantee you’ll survive an accident. Oil and gas is a risk, we are a society that is for the moment driven by this risk. Objecting to a project on your back door does not absolve from these risks. Think about this - Every time we fill up our tanks we are responsible for the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Douglas Channel is ideally suited to ship traffic. Would it make any difference if was exported from Gill Island?

Industry meets, or so they claim exceed, the industrial standards (safety, environmental, etc.) of the day set forth by government regulation and people in positions like yourself. I feel it is our responsibly not to oppose projects that supply a product you, me and we so heavily rely on but dictate the standards by which these people must operate. If the standards cannot by met, go elsewhere.

If you use it, need it, or want it you must be willing to accept the risk of it in your own backyard.