Oil spills — the 10 lessons we must learn

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Today is the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. To help remember the spill, and to provide a dose of reality in the face of millions of dollars of advertising for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, here are 10 truths about oil spills that every British Columbian should know:

1. Oil spill cleanup is a myth: Once oil is spilled, the battle is lost. Exxon spent more than $2 billion trying to clean up its Alaska spill, but recovered less than seven per cent. BP spent $14 billion on the Deepwater Horizon spill, but recovered only three per cent from the sea surface and beaches. Rarely is more than 10 per cent of a marine spill ever recovered.

2. Oil spills cause long-term environmental damage: Twenty-five years after the Alaska spill, scientists are finding oil on the beaches that in some cases is just as fresh and toxic as if it had been spilled only a few weeks ago. Only 13 of 32 monitored populations, habitats and resource services are considered fully “recovered” or “very likely recovered.” Some populations, such as Pacific herring and the AT1 killer whale pod are “not recovering.”

3. Oil spill restoration is impossible: Once a coastal or marine ecosystem is “broken,” it cannot be “fixed.” All the money in the world can’t repair a destroyed ecosystem or the human communities that depend on it.

4. Taxpayers are on the hook: Oil spill “cleanup” costs are covered by international cleanup funds up to only $1.4 billion. Taxpayers would be on the hook for as much as $22 billion if an Exxon-sized spill occurred in B.C.

5. Enbridge has zero liability: If there’s a spill outside its marine terminal, Enbridge is not responsible. This lack of responsibility is compounded by the fact that tanker companies use numbered companies to reduce their liability and financial risk in the event of a spill.

6. Double-hull tankers do not eliminate the risk of oil spills: Enbridge has acknowledged that approximately 30 double-hull tanker incidents have been reported over the past 20 years. At least one of these, the Volgoneft, spilled 1,300 tonnes of oil into the Black Sea after suffering a structural failure during a storm.

7. Government officials play down the risk of an oil spill: Seeking approval to build the Trans Alaska Pipeline in the 1970s, industry and government promised oil would be shipped safely from Alaska, and “not one drop” would be spilled thanks to fail-safe technologies. BP and Shell made similar promises before their drilling rig accidents in 2010 and 2012. We’ve heard the same “world-class” promises in Canada, at a time when coast guard resources and environmental emergency response centres are being cut in B.C.

8. The coastal economy would be destroyed: An oil spill would have devastating impacts on B.C.’s marine economy. Marine sectors on the north and central coasts and Haida Gwaii generate $386.5 million in revenue and provide 7,620 direct, indirect, and induced jobs.

9. Coastal First Nations have already banned oil tankers from their traditional territories: In upholding our ancestral laws, rights and responsibilities, the Coastal First Nations have declared that oil tankers carrying crude oil will not be allowed to transit our lands and waters. It is a sacred duty to pass our territories and culture on to following generations in good order.

10. Oil spills will be an issue in the next federal election: The Conservatives are the only political party that supports the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and oil tankers project. British Columbians will have a chance to vote against those who put our coast at risk of an oil spill in October 2015.

If we care about B.C.’s north coast and the people that live there, then we will reject the Northern Gateway pipeline and oil tankers project. The Coastal First Nations invite all concerned citizens to support our oil tanker ban by signing a declaration of support at: www.oilspilltruths.com

Art Sterritt is the executive director of the Coastal First Nations.

Rick Steiner was a marine conservation professor with the University of Alaska from 1980 to 2010, and a marine adviser for the Prince William Sound region during the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Rick established the Regional Citizens Advisory Councils and the Prince William Sound Science Center.

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