Soon after closing the Vancouver Coast Guard station and the Vancouver Marine Traffic Control centre, Stephen Harper has come out with a new plan for tanker safety. Of course we need the best safeguards available to deal with the increased tanker traffic we are already facing in the time since Kinder Morgan bought the Trans Mountain pipeline but this doesn't replace the Coast Guard stations.
When Kinder Morgan bought the Trans Mountain pipeline in 2005 there were approximately 20 tankers a year in the Vancouver harbour and most of them were carrying oil that would ultimately be consumed in B.C. after being refined in California. Since then annual tanker traffic has increased to approximately 80 tankers per year.
In early 2013, Harper's government closed the both the Kitsilano Coast Guard station and the Vancouver Marine Communication Terminal in the Vancouver harbour, shifting responsibilities to stations in Richmond, B.C. and on Vancouver Island.
This looks to me like Harper is trying to save face after closing the Kitsilano Coast Guard station. It's a shame that it takes the strong opposition to new pipeline proposals to get the Harper government to put in place the kind of safety measure we should have had already, given Kinder Morgan's quiet increases to tanker traffic in the Vancouver harbour. Frankly they should start by re-opening the Coast Guard stations and admitting they made a huge mistake closing them in the first place.
Kinder Morgan's new proposed pipeline would bring over 400 tankers a year to Burrard Inlet. Each one carries 600,000 barrels of tar sands oil, three times as much as was spilled by the Exxon Valdez.
The Enbridge pipeline proposal would bring 225 larger supertankers carrying up to two million barrels of tar sands oil. These vessels are much bigger than what can fit through the shallow narrows of Burrad Inlet in the Vancouver Harbour where the Kinder Morgan terminal is located.
I think our prime minister is missing the point. The people of B.C. are making it clear that we don't want the West Coast to be sacrificed to be a tar sands export zone. This is a question of more tar sands oil tankers or less tar sands oil tankers, more risk or less risk, new pipelines or no new pipelines. It's about trajectories.
Prime Minister Harper can make all the safety announcements he wants but it doesn't change the fact that the people of B.C. are moving in the opposite direction he is. We are saying less tar sands oil not more, thank you very much. The truth is the safest thing we can do is say no to the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines.
The refining or upgrading of the tarry bitumen which lies under the oil sands consumes far more oil and energy than conventional oil and produces almost twice as much carbon. Each barrel of oil requires 3-5 barrels of fresh water from the neighboring Athabasca River. About 90% of this is returned as toxic tailings into the vast unlined tailings ponds that dot the landscape. Syncrude alone dumps 500,000 tons of toxic tailings into just one of their tailings ponds everyday.
This area, located in the extreme northwest of British Columbia, marks the western boundary of the Boreal region. On the border of the Yukon and Southeast Alaska, the western flank of these mountains descends into Alaska's Tongass Rainforest and British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest. Far from the oil sands, the greatest remaining coastal temperate and marine ecosystem is imminently threatened by the proposal to build a 750-mile pipeline to pump 550,000 barrels per day of oil sands crude to the coast. Once there, it would be shipped through some of the most treacherous waters, virtually assuring an ecological disaster at some point in the future.
Even in the extreme cold of the winter, the toxic tailings ponds do not freeze. On one particularly cold morning, the partially frozen tailings, sand, liquid tailings and oil residue, combined to produce abstractions that reminded me of a Jackson Pollock canvas.
Photographed in late autumn in softly falling snow, a solitary spruce is set against a sea of aspen. The Boreal Forest of northern Canada is perhaps the best and largest example of a largely intact forest ecosystem. Canada's Boreal Forest alone stores an amount of carbon equal to ten times the total annual global emissions from all fossil fuel consumption.
Twenty four hours a day the oil sands eats into the most carbon rich forest ecosystem on the planet. Storing almost twice as much carbon per hectare as tropical rainforests, the boreal forest is the planet's greatest terrestrial carbon storehouse. To the industry, these diverse and ecologically significant forests and wetlands are referred to as overburden, the forest to be stripped and the wetlands dredged and replaced by mines and tailings ponds so vast they can be seen from outer space.
In an effort to deal with the problem of tailings ponds, Suncor is experimenting with dry tailings technology. This has the potential to limit, or eliminate, the need for vast tailings ponds in the future and lessen this aspect of the oil sands' impact.
So large are the Alberta Tar Sands tailings ponds that they can be seen from space. It has been estimated by Natural Resources Canada that the industry to date has produced enough toxic waste to fill a canal 32 feet deep by 65 feet wide from Fort McMurray to Edmonton, and on to Ottawa, a distance of over 2,000 miles. In this image, the sky is reflected in the toxic and oily waste of a tailings pond.
The Caracajou River winds back and forth creating this oxbow of wetlands as it joins the Mackenzie flowing north to the Beaufort Sea. This region, almost entirely pristine, and the third largest watershed basin in the world, will be directly impacted by the proposed Mackenzie Valley National Gas Pipeline to fuel the energy needs of the Alberta Oil Sands mega-project.
Oil sands pit mining is done in benches or steps. These benches are each approximately 12-15 meters high. Giant shovels dig the oil sand and place it into heavy hauler trucks that range in size from 240 tons to the largest trucks, which have a 400-ton capacity.
The Alberta oil sands are Canada's single largest source of carbon. They produce about as much annually as the nation of Denmark. The refining of the tar-like bitumen requires more water and uses almost twice as much energy as the production of conventional oil. Particularly visible in winter, vast plumes of toxic pollution fill the skies. The oil sands are so large they create their own weather systems.
Located just 70 miles downstream from the Alberta oil sands, the Athabasca Delta is the world's largest freshwater delta. It lies at the convergence of North America's four major flyways and is a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl and considered one of the most globally significant wetlands. It is threatened both by the massive water consumption of the tar sands and its toxic tailings ponds.
This network of roads reminded me of a claw or tentacles. It represents for me the way in which the tentacles of the tar sands reach out and wreak havoc and destruction. Proposed pipelines to American Midwest, Mackenzie Valley, and through the Great Bear Rainforest will bring new threats to these regions while the pipelines fuel new markets and ensure the proposed five fold expansion of the oil sands.
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