The North Coast Oil Tanker Ban
In May, 2017, the Government of Canada introduced legislation to formally ban oil tankers carrying over 12,500 metric tonnes of crude oil from the Great Bear Sea. The ban is the direct result of thousands of people, in B.C. and beyond, speaking up to oppose the very idea of shipping crude oil and bitumen through the Great Bear Sea, most recently and famously in the form of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project. It was a movement led by First Nations communities who were forced to put enormous time and energy into justifying why the project could not go ahead, and into fighting Enbridge and the federal government to stop it. People from all walks of life worked together to oppose it in a thousand diverse acts of resistance.
While a legislated ban means that we will not see another proposal like the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, the wording leaves the door open for supertankers carrying refined petroleum products, Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), as well as tank-barges like the one that ran aground and sank near the Heiltsuk Nation community of Bella Bella in October, 2016. These 10,000 deadweight tonne tug and barge shipments to Alaska continue to transit the B.C. Inside Passage, on average making one return trip every ten days with no stops in Canada. The shipments are approximately four times the volume of the largest domestic fuel deliveries to communities and industry on the central and north coast of B.C., and one third of the volume spilled by the Exxon Valdes in Prince William Sound. Currently they have the greatest potential to cause widespread pollution damage in the Great Bear Sea - please see our Take Action page here to learn how you can help.
LNG in the Great Bear Sea?
Since 2011, twenty Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) terminals have been proposed for the north coast of B.C. While much of the groundwork has been laid for a new LNG terminal in Kitimat, and pipelines to Prince Rupert, B.C.'s market for LNG has never materialized and no project has been completed to date, despite the Province's enormous investments of taxpayer dollars. If plans for pipelines and gas liquefaction plants do go ahead, tankers as long as the Eiffel Tower is high will be trafficking through the Great Bear Sea. These so-called “supertankers” have the potential to wreak havoc with one of our planet's richest and most breathtaking ecosystems.
Three reasons why tankers must not enter the Great Bear:
Deadly ship strikes – Tanker collisions with whales can cause their death or serious injury. The tanker routes of LNG projects plough straight through critical habitat of the threatened humpback whale, as well as important killer whale and fin whale habitats. With the potential for hundreds or even thousands of tanker journeys through the Great Bear Sea per year, these vulnerable mammals would run a daily risk of ship strikes.
Drowning in sound – Supertankers are the loudest marine vessels on Earth. The absence of bulk tanker traffic in the Great Bear Sea has meant that the quiet conditions essential to humpback whales have been preserved. These animals, once hunted to the brink of extinction, have begun to make a recovery in the Great Bear's peaceful waters, where low noise levels allow them to communicate and forage successfully. Thundering tankers could turn the tables on their recovery. Many other species, including threatened killer whale populations, will also suffer from increasing levels of industrial noise. Listen to our audio archives here.
Spill devastation – The biggest threat posed by tankers is that of a large spill of petroleum products. The North Coast Oil Tanker Ban will prevent supertankers carrying unrefined oil products from transiting the Great Bear Sea, but still allows vessels carrying under 12,500 tonnes of unrefined product, diesel and other fuels. Smaller leaks and spills (which occur frequently already) and the introduction of invasive, exotic species also pose a threat to the waters of the Great Bear.