There has been an informal moratorium on large tanker traffic in Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound since 1972. The federal and provincial governments have commissioned periodic studies to reassess whether to lift the tanker moratorium, and each study has concluded that the risk of tanker spills is too high. Additionally, BC residents are generally wary of tanker traffic in the coastal waters, with 80% indicating they are opposed to oil tankers in BC’s northern waters. It is the opinion of many that this project is setting the stage for a disaster that would eclipse that of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.
In November 2011, almost 100,000 letters were sent to the B.C. government and Enbridge asking that the pipeline not be built. The pipeline has also been heavily criticized by First Nations with over 60 groups expressing opposition to the project. First Nations' communities have made it clear that they will not allow the Northern Gateway project to proceed and will use their own laws to ban oil pipelines and tankers in British Columbia. The project has been so controversial that some of Enbridge’s own shareholders have asked that the company investigate the unique risks and liabilities associated with this project.
The project is required to undergo an extensive public regulatory review process, which is being led by the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. There is a currently lack of public trust in this process because:
· Federal assessments have approved 99% of projects previously assessed,
· The three board members responsible for the decision on the pipeline proposal all have ties to industry,
· The board lacks any representation from B.C,
· The current government is focused on energy development and export and can over-ride the decision reached in the review process and push the project through anyway.
The review process will provide an opportunity for all hearing participants to make their views known. It was recently announced that the process will take a year longer than expected because of the sheer volume of people scheduled to speak at herrings beginning in 2012.
“History has shown that oil spills come with oil tankers. It's not a question of if a spill will happen, but when. Northern B.C. waters are known for severe storms and navigational challenges. A major oil spill is inevitable and would devastate the creatures, cultures and communities of our coast for generations to come.” Living Oceans Society
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Summary written by Meaghan Hennessy for the Paddle Canada Environment Committee