Speaking in Vancouver, where British Columbians have recently witnessed the failure of existing marine pollution responses to contain even a small spill of diesel fuel from a sunken tugboat, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $1.5 billion Ocean Protection Plan he claimed would “make Canada a world leader in protecting the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans.”
Funding to create a new marine safety system, beef up response fleets, restore marine ecosystems, and research new methods to clean up oil spills, will begin to flow in 2017-18 and run for five years.
“The ongoing incident at Bella Bella is unacceptable. I know this, you know this, Canadians know this,” Trudeau said, referring to the coastal town near where a U.S.-owned tug went aground last month. “We must make sure we protect all of our coastlines. This robust national plan will protect our oceans and coastlines from the damage that comes from shipping and pollution.”
The investment responds to heavy criticism over the absence of a credible capability to contain a marine oil spill in light of the possibility of increased tanker traffic through Vancouver if the government approves Kinder Morgan’s C$6.8-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The decision is due by December 19.
“The federal government’s current marine response capacity is inadequate for existing levels of marine traffic, never mind factoring in potential pipeline expansion,” B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said in a statement ahead of the Prime Minister’s announcement.
This spring, the province sent Ottawa a detailed list of what it considers necessary to protect its coastline. The list included three new heavy-duty salvage tugs that could, if properly stationed, reach a grounded oil tanker within three hours in the worst conditions, the province said. B.C.’s wish list also included a new Coast Guard station at Prince Rupert and additional training and tracking systems.
“The 11-item list was sent to Ottawa as recently as May,” the Vancouver Sun writes, “and defines what B.C. would accept as a ‘world-leading’ response regime for an ocean oil spill as a condition of the province’s potential support for the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline expansion project.”
Trudeau came up with the Prince Rupert base but only two tugs, the Vancouver-based Tyee notes, and was silent on last year’s election campaign promise to clearly ban tanker traffic on the northern B.C. coast, the region where the Nathan E. Stewart sank last month. (Transport Minister Marc Garneau said last month that the ban would be instituted this year, Reuters reported at the time, citing remarks on CBC radio.)
Nonetheless, the Prime Minister’s announcement “created the conditions to approve Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion,” the Financial Post asserts. “Though Trudeau didn’t tip his hand about his plans for tripling the capacity of the Edmonton-to-Vancouver pipeline, he said the ocean protection plan meets the highest global marine safety standards.”
But the Prime Minister’s announcement, as well as the B.C. government’s demand and the Financial Post comment, continued to conflate terms like “highest global… standards” and “world-leading” with an actual capability to remove all the residue of a petroleum spill from the environment, or to restore the ecological damage done. Neither capacity in fact exists anywhere in the world.