More than I wanted to know about oil tankers

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Bill Brassington
I suppose I’m like most people when it comes to assessing the risk of shipping oil by tanker.

I want to know as much as I can about it, but it isn’t always easy to find information or, in the case of opinion editorials, a different viewpoint. Notwithstanding, I have learned some truths about oil tankers over the past year or so.

I’ve learned the federal government has infrastructure that is capable of dealing with an oil spill of up to 10,000 tonnes.

I’ve learned that currently about 90 tankers a year are loaded at the Burnaby pipeline terminal and that each carries more than 10 times that amount of oil.

I’ve learned we are woefully unprepared to deal with a major oil spill.

I’ve learned that the term “oil spill clean up” is misleading; at best, a clean up operation will capture about 10 per cent of the oil.

I’ve learned that the distance to and the weather conditions at a spill site are significant factors in terms of response time and cost.

I’ve learned the existing insurance coverage limit for an oil tanker spill is $1.3 billion.

I’ve learned the clean up cost of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill was in excess of $2 billion.

I’ve learned that neither man nor money could repair the damage to the Prince William Sound marine ecosystems.

I’ve learned—after more than 20 years—neither can mother nature.

I’ve learned bitumen is heavier and more toxic than conventional oil and that the longer it is in water, the more likely it will sink. I’ve learned that most spills occur when oil is transferred to or from tankers.

I’ve learned that the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion will pump enough bitumen to fill a tanker a day. I’ve learned that 365 tankers a year increases the risk of an oil spill by a factor of four.

I’ve learned that I’ve learned more about oil tankers than I want to.

Bill Brassington