On Friday, October 1, 2010, at the delegates at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) Annual General Meeting in Whistler, voted resoundingly in opposition to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline and oil tanker traffic on the province’s North Coast. In a press release, Leslie Johnson, a councillor with the Village of Queen Charlotte, stated, “I am overwhelmed and very grateful to the delegates of the UBCM for standing up for coastal communities on an issue that has provincial and national significance.”
Delegates from municipalities across the province passed two separate motions against the proposed Enbridge project. The first resolution opposed the introduction of oil tanker traffic through Queen Charlotte Sound, Dixon Entrance and Hecate Strait, while the second objected to a tar sands oil pipeline across northern B.C. The Village of Queen Charlotte forwarded both resolutions, which passed with minor ammendments (the full text of the original resolutions is included below).
Enbridge has proposed the construction of two pipelines and a marine terminal in Kitimat to send tar sands oil to export. The 1,170 kilometers of pipeline will carry an average of 525,000 barrels of oil per day west from Bruderheim, Alberta. It will also transport 193,000 barrels per day of condensate east to thin oil for pipeline transport. From the marine terminal, the tar sands oil would be loaded onto approximately 225 oil tankers yearly for export to foreign markets.
Communities in the north remain concerned about the potential impacts of the pipeline and introduction of tanker traffic. The proposed pipeline crosses steep, mountainous terrain and crosses sensitive salmon spawning grounds. Tankers loaded with the oil would navigate hairpin turns in the Douglas Channel before negotiating around the coastal archipelago to the sea. Memories of the 1989 Exxon Valdez in Alaska, considered one of the worst environmental disasters in history, still haunt the North Coast. Recent oil spills by BP in the Gulf and Enbridge in Michigan have only served to retrench these fears.
Earlier in the week, signaling the mounting opposition to the Northern Gateway Pipeline across the province, activists in Whistler organized a protest of a reception Enbridge organized for delegates of the UBCM convention. Enbridge had maintained a presence at the meeting in recent years in an attempt to build support for their proposed pipeline.
Sara Jennings of Whistler Watch stated, “the B.C. government is backing this initiative to have tankers ply through fragile coastal eco-systems to carry oil south to the United States and West to China. This is an environmental disaster waiting to happen and a risk we don’t want the Province to take.”
While the B.C. Liberals have been recently touting their environmental credentials, Harjap Grewal, BC-Yukon organizer for the Council of Canadians objected to the B.C. Liberals’ simultaneous support for environmentally devastating industrial mega projects. “We need to stand up to Gordon Campbell’s government that tries to paint itself green while supporting an energy corridor that would carry dirty oil from the most environmentally destructive and greenhouse gas intensive project in the world, the Alberta tar sands,” said Grewal. “We must stop the Enbridge pipeline from being developed.”
Organizers of the Enbridge protest highlighted their support of northern communities fighting the project, particularly the Indigenous peoples whose unceded territories the pipeline would cross. Mel Bazil, a Wet’suwet’en grassroots organizer, issued a statement in solidarity with the protesters. “We stand beside our brothers and sisters fighting the tar sands, carbon markets as a false solution, and all the proposed and active pipelines, tankers and refineries.”
The protesters emphasized their complete opposition to the full scope of the tar sands infrastructure projects and the tar sands themselves. Grewal suggested, “people are beginning to recognize environmental impact of these projects locally, in Alberta and globally.”
While the municipal councilors at the UBCM convention did not take a stance on the full breadth of issues presented by the protesters, they clearly opposed to the Enbridge proposal. In a press release related to success of the anti-pipeline and anti-tanker resolutions brought forward by the Village of Queen Charlotte, Carol Kulesha, the community’s mayor, stated that “understanding of the issue is growing, and that is leading to stronger opposition across the province.”
The stance on the tar sands pipeline was the first ever taken by UBCM, while tanker traffic has been a long standing concern of the UBCM. In 2003 UBCM resolution requested that the federal Minister of Environment ensure the necessary steps are taken to protect provincial shorelines and fisheries from oil tankers. Then in 2008, UBCM delegated endorsed a resolution requesting the federal government to ban the passage of liquefied natural gas tankers in the waters of the Malaspina, Georgia, Juan de Fuca and Haro Straits, and Boundary Pass.
Presently, a Tanker Exclusion Zone (TEZ) exists along the BC Coast based on a 1988 agreement between the Canadian Coast Guard, US Coast Guard and representatives of the US tanker industry group. It is managed by the Coast Guard and specifically requires that tankers traveling from Alaska to the continental States remain west of the zone. The existing Tanker Exclusion Zone does not apply to tankers traveling to and from northern BC ports.
However, Coastal First Nations, an alliance of the First Nations of the North and Central Coast of British Columbia and Haida Gwaii, has declared a moratorium on oil tankers within their traditional territorial waters. Members of federal opposition parties have further pledged to work towards a legislated ban on crude oil tankers in northern coastal waters.
Recent environmental disasters and increasing environmental awareness has also caused the UBCM to reconsider its stance on potential offshore oil and gas development, another potential source of a coastal oil spill. The delegates voted in support of a resolution (also below) to lobby the provincial and federal government “to maintain the moratorium on west coast offshore exploration and programs.”
This is a marked change from existing UBCM policy. In 2004, delegates passed resolution that supported lifting the moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration in the Queen Charlotte Basin. Subsequently UBCM entered into an Agreement on Offshore Oil and Gas with the provincial government in 2005, establishing a body of coastal communities representatives to discuss potential offshore oil and gas exploration and development. While this agreement was renewed in 2007, UBCM has now shifted to recognize the sensitivity of coastal marine ecosystems and the fisheries that depend upon them.
Resolutions Presented to UBCM Delgates:
B139 BULK CRUDE OIL TANKER TRAFFIC (Queen Charlotte)
WHEREAS the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project will result in increased crude oil tanker traffic and risk of accidental oil spills in northern coastal waters in British Columbia; AND WHEREAS a crude oil spill will have devastating and long lasting effects on the Pacific North Coast area that is recognized for its unique and diverse ocean ecosystems, which provide critical marine habitat and marine resources that sustain the social, cultural, environmental and economichealth of coastal communities, including First Nations communities:
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the UBCM be opposed to any expansion of bulk crude oil tanker traffic on the North Coast of British Columbia; AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the UBCM petition the federal government to establish a moratorium on bulk crude oil traffic through northern BC coastal waters.
B140 TAR SANDS OIL (Queen Charlotte)
WHEREAS the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project proposes to deliver tar sands oil for loading onto crude oil tankers and delivery overseas via northern coastal waters; AND WHEREAS mining of tar sands oil contributes unacceptably to climate change and to degradation of the environment and is contrary to the principles of the BC Climate Action Charter that has been signed by 177 BC local governments and the Islands Trust as a commitment to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2012: THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Union of BC Municipalities oppose tar sands oil being shipped in pipelines across northern BC for loading onto crude oil tankers.
B138 OFFSHORE OIL & GAS EXPLORATION & DEVELOPMENT (Metchosin)
WHEREAS there has occurred an environmental disaster of unprecedented proportions in the Gulf of Mexico due to the unforeseeable difficulties that can be encountered in offshore drilling for petroleum products;
AND WHEREAS the damages to the 2000 km of Alaskan shoreline plus 1300 sq km of ocean habitats from the Exxon Valdez accident are still being felt more than 20 years after that accident;
AND WHEREAS the British Columbia marine waters and coastline could well face an equally enormous environmental catastrophe: THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Province of BC maintain the moratorium on off-shore oil and gas exploration and development for all future time; AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that UBCM lobby the federal government to maintain the moratorium on west coast offshore exploration and programs for all future time.