"I think the assurance we can provide is that we will use the most up-to-date of technologies and the best practices anywhere in the world to minimize the likelihood of any kind of an incident." — Enbridge CEO Patrick Daniel
The cruise ship Costa Concordia used "the most up-to-date of technologies and the best practices anywhere in the world." These "best practices" probably didn't include the ship's captain, Francesco Schettino, deciding to wave hello to a friend on shore. We humans are an unpredictable bunch.
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Mother Nature might be even more unpredictable. The engineers who built the Fukushima nuclear reactors didn't anticipate that an earthquake and tsunami would undermine the backup cooling systems, or that radioactive debris would be washing ashore here in Canada and the U.S. a year later.
Closer to home, an unpredictable chain of events led to the Queen of the North running aground at Gill Island (which just happens to be along one of the proposed tanker routes into Kitimat Harbour), killing two people and leaving 200,000 litres of fuel on the sunken boat — an underwater disaster waiting to happen. Even though B.C. Ferries had the most up-to date technologies and best practices, unexpected human behaviour caused that crash, undermining their best laid plans.
If "best practices" means building a pipeline that pumps thick bitumen across 800 fish-bearing rivers and streams, and sending several tankers a week down narrow fiords with extreme weather and six-metre tides, then we need to rethink what "best practices" means. Are wearing a helmet and shoulder pads while car surfing, or putting on your seatbelt while street racing, "best practices"?
Building the dual Northern Gateway Pipeline and sending tankers through Douglas Channel is like Capt. Schettino wanting to get close enough to wave hello to his friends on shore. He placed his 4,200 passengers at major risk just to confer a minor benefit to himself. It ended in catastrophe, with people struggling to get off the ship while the captain organized his own safe passage onto a life raft. At least 11 people died, and more are still missing. What sort of risk does Enbridge CEO Patrick Daniel personally face when his pipeline springs a leak or a tanker runs aground? Not even as much as Capt. Schettino did, and certainly nothing compared to residents along the pipeline route or along the coast.
Building a pipeline through the Great Bear Rainforest and sending supertankers full of bitumen around place names like Terror Point, Calamity Bay and Grief Point is the kind of human behaviour that we will likely look back at and wonder, "What the hell were they thinking?"
Just 40 years ago, Japanese citizens protested building the Fukushima nuclear plants in a high seismic area. They saw the risks in ways engineers didn't. That's because they would continue to live next to the plant, bearing the unbearable consequences. Again, the most up-to-date technologies and best practices were employed.
We're simply not equipped to deal with a nuclear meltdown or a bitumen spill in our oceans and streams. Something will happen, in ways not predicted today.
Thankfully, thousands of Canadians are speaking out against the pipeline and tanker traffic. It will be a test of our regulators and our democracy to see if Canada pays more attention to the interests of the passengers, or the captain.
Today's weather report for Douglas Channel, the waterway that leads to Kitimat, includes both gale and freezing spray warnings.
Search Google maps for Douglas Channel to see the route tankers will take.