Christy Clark warns Canada unprepared for tanker oil spills

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If a tanker were to spill oil off the coast of British Columbia today, the federal government would not have the resources to handle a large-scale disaster, warns B.C. Premier Christy Clark.

In an interview with CBC chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge, Clark sounded the alarm over Canada’s inability to handle a major coastal oil spill now, let alone in the future should new pipelines be approved.

“We are woefully under-resourced,” Clark said.

Her comments come amid a recent video ad campaign by Coastal First Nations in B.C. directed at Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The video shows devastating images from the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska in 1989. The song The Sound of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel accompanies the dramatic pictures.

The video tells viewers a similar oil spill could cost taxpayers $21.4 billion to clean up and notes that 80 per cent of British Columbians oppose oil tanker traffic in the province’s coastal waters.

“British Columbians have spoken. Will Stephen Harper listen?” asks the video ad campaign.

Clark conceded that the federal government is taking some measures to address the danger, but “that’s going to have to happen before any more heavy oil comes off the coast,” the premier said.

“They’ve begun to look at safety on the coast and the coast guard resources, and so that’s a start, that’s encouraging.”

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt recently travelled to B.C. as part of the federal government’s push to woo First Nations into supporting the Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan pipeline projects.

“Part of the reason why we’re going out to the West Coast is to engage and to speak with those groups that are very interested in what we’re doing on the world-class tanker system,” Raitt told CBC News on Sept. 14.

The federal government announced in March a number of steps to develop a world-class tanker safety system, including the creation of a panel to review Canada’s current system and propose further measures to strengthen it.

Joe Oliver, federal minister of natural resources, said the system in place now can handle a fairly large spill off the B.C. coast. He has also set up a panel on tanker safety to look at other measures.

“We’re going to improve it to the extent necessary because … we’re utterly committed to world-class safety, and whatever needs to be done to get us there we will do,” Oliver told CBC News.

Clark made it clear nearly 15 months ago that “world-leading marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery systems for British Columbia” were among the conditions the federal government and the province of Alberta had to meet in exchange for her support of any pipelines running through her province.

The Joint Review Panel into Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline is expected to give Oliver a decision by Dec. 31, 2013.

On Wednesday, an Enbridge official said the company expects the federal government to approve the pipeline, which would move oil from northern Calgary to a tanker terminal in Kitimat, on the north coast of B.C., by 2018.

Senior vice-president Vern Yu said the Calgary-based company expects the federal government’s decision to be challenged by pipeline opponents.

“We expect that there would be some appeals to that decision and that would take us into early 2015 and at that point we would be able to start construction, which would allow for somewhere around a 2018 in-service date,” Yu said.

The full interview with B.C. Premier Christy Clark will be seen in an upcoming broadcast of Mansbridge One on One on CBC Television and CBC News Network.