Letters & Editorials
Coastal tanker traffic is safe, and vital to our economy
Tue 27 May 2008
Trade is vital to our economic well-being and to the quality of life for British Columbians and Canadians.
In British Columbia, our ports provide a critical link between our economy and the markets of the world without which we could not survive. In fact, the paycheques of fully one-quarter of a million Canadians depend on our West Coast ports and the $35 billion worth of goods they move annually.
A reliable and safe maritime transportation system is important not just for the benefits it brings to our economy and to our people, but also for our environment.
The provinal government is not, nor has it ever been, insensitive to this fact. With that in mind, it's unfortunate that some groups have recently tried to overly dramatize the issue of tanker traffic in our coastal waters.
For quite some time there has been a perception that there is an official "moratorium" on oil tanker traffic off our coast. This "moratorium myth" has been perpetuated over the years, unchallenged. It's time to set the record straight and deal strictly with the facts.
Under both federal and provincial laws, tanker traffic in and out of B.C.'s ports, including the transportation of crude oil, condensate, and liquefied natural gas, is legal. It occurs on a regular basis.
Basically, there are two reasons for the "moratorium myth." First, there is an existing 1972 moratorium that specifically prevents offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling along B.C.'s coastal waters. But this federal moratorium on offshore oil and gas work has no bearing on the movement of goods on B.C.'s coastal waters.
Second, in 1988, in response to concerns raised over international tanker traffic off the B.C. coast, a voluntary tanker exclusion zone was established. It prohibits southbound tankers from Alaska from travelling within close proximity of our coast; however, it is important to note it was never intended to prohibit the import or export of petroleum products to B.C. ports.
Tankers continue to move through our coastal waters transporting petroleum products. Last year, for example, more than six million tonnes of petroleum products, including critical commodities such as jet fuel destined for our local airports, were safely shipped through the Port of Vancouver.
In 2006, nearly 600 tankers transited the Strait of Juan de Fuca on their way to refineries in Puget Sound, while others regularly and safely called on the Port of Kitimat.
We can all agree that it is essential to protect our coastal environment. Those protections are there -- they are sensible and they are working.
Measures now include the mandatory use of double-hulled vessels and government-certified pilots to "conduct" the vessels in local waters. In fact, by law, all vessels over 350 gross tonnes are mandated to carry a marine pilot -- arguably the most experienced and well-trained mariners in the province -- when traveling through B.C. coastal waters.
In 2007, the Pacific Pilotage Authority provided marine pilots for 13,012 large vessels and reports that 99.95 per cent of those assignments were "incident free." In fact, in the past 10 years, the Pacific Pilotage Authority has not recorded any Class A incidents, which are the most serious.
At the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and many others around the world, tankers are provided "tug escorts," a safety practice that sees a tanker, as it nears port, tethered to powerful towboats ready and able to assist the vessel should the need arise.
These are just a few modern examples of strict safety standards that have made huge improvements in the shipment of all goods to and from the coast.
It's regrettable, though, that some advocates persist in twisting the facts and perpetuating the "moratorium myth" in an emotional way. In doing so, they're ultimately trying to deny economic opportunities to other British Columbians, particularly those in regions outside the Lower Mainland and Victoria.
The reality is that B.C. has a long history of safely managing tanker traffic and the movement of petroleum products through our ports.
This is a legacy that our province can and will continue in the future.
John Winter is president and chief executive officer of the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce.