Oil spill consultant speaks out against Enbridge pipeline

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A B.C. oil spill expert who was hired to consult in the wake of the infamous Exxon Valdez spill says the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is too risky to proceed.

“The consequences of a major oil spill along B.C.’s north coast could be catastrophic and irreversible,” Gerald Graham wrote in his submission to the Joint Review Panel studying the Enbridge proposal. “With a 14.1 per cent probability of such a potentially disastrous spill occurring, the overall threat level posed by Northern Gateway is unacceptably high.”

Graham has been examining oil-spill issues off the B.C. coast since the late 1980s and now runs Worldocean Consulting Ltd. Using numbers provided by Enbridge, he estimates there is a one in seven chance that a small, but still significant spill (roughly 31,500 barrels) will occur over the life of the pipeline project.

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“It’s not a question of whether the benefits outweigh the risks,” he said. “If a project such as this could have significant adverse environmental effects, then it should not proceed.”

In addition to the loss of habitat and animal life, Graham is concerned about the impact an oil spill would have on First Nations communities. Even a small spill could result in a kind of “cultural genocide,” he said.

“We’re talking about the way of life of several coastal First Nations communities. An oil spill on the coast could completely destroy their way of life. Nothing can compensate them for that.”

Should there be a spill, Graham worries that water conditions, climate and the isolated nature of the B.C. coast would hamper the response time.

“The conditions there can be very severe, even at the best of times,” he said. “You might not even be able to get boats out there on the water to respond to a spill.”

Enbridge has refuted concerns about the project and defended the safety record of the region. In a prior interview with Metro, Enbridge spokesperson Ivan Giesbrecht said 1,560 vessels carrying petroleum products sailed into Kitimat between 1982 and 2009 without incident.

“There’s some assumptions that have been made that there is going to be a spill, and we would disagree with that,” Giesbrecht said.