The moratorium on oil tanker traffic in British Columbia is under threat, which could potentially be a precursor to oil and gas drilling and exploration. There are no tankers transiting B.C.'s north coast now and a few tankers transport oil from Metro Vancouver's harbour. However, oil and pipeline companies have proposals to export vast amounts of oil sands bitumen from Alberta to Asia.
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A decade ago, when the B.C. government supported oil drilling on the West Coast under the argument of creating jobs, the David Suzuki Foundation reinforced the relevance of the moratorium with public education events. "We support investment in clean-energy jobs, which don't threat B.C.'s economy and ecosystems and don't intensify climate change," says Ian Bruce, science and policy manager at the Foundation.
To export oil to Asia, it would be necessary to lift B.C.'s moratorium and build a pipeline from Alberta. Even with the most modern technology, we're not immune from human error. In case of a major oil spill, the ocean currents would spread the oil quickly, putting at risk all three of B.C.'s coasts: Haida Gwaii, the Mainland Coast and Vancouver Island. This could endanger marine habitats in the West Coast, known as the Galapagos of the north.
"People come from all around the world to experience B.C.'s coast, which is one of the most globally significant biological and cultural wonders in the world. The existing economy of our coastal communities is founded on this uniqueness where fisheries and ecotourism play a major role," Bruce says. Coastal and First Nations communities' livelihoods depend on the health of the ocean. "We can't put at risk the existing jobs and our sustainable economy."
According to economic analysis of the pipeline proposals, most companies interested in exploring oil sands in Alberta are foreign-owned and won't create long-term jobs for British Columbians. "Even knowing the government receives royalties from these companies, the revenue is not worth the risks," says Bruce, referring to studies of the long-term and ongoing impacts caused by the 1987 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.
Oil sands have high carbon content and produce more greenhouse gases than conventional oil. One of its components, benzene, has been associated with some types of cancer in humans. Trapped in the beach, the oil carries toxic material dangerous to marine species and humans—many of its toxins can be absorbed directly through the skin and lungs. Can you imagine the meaning of oil spills for the species that live in the ocean?
In the past, the B.C. government lobbied the federal government to lift the ban on oil and gas exploration and tanker traffic in the province. Because most British Columbians supported the moratorium, a panel recommended upholding protection for B.C.'s coast. The B.C. government has since abandoned the push for oil drilling and exploration in B.C.'s coastal waters — for now.
Accidents and oil spills occur often in the energy industry and the damage they cause to marine plants and animals can persist for many generations. Keep informed and help us preserve our coast, which stretches almost 30,000 kilometres and is one of the richest and most diverse marine environments on the planet.