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Oil Spills and Oil Tankers

While most of the world has been watching the recent fluctuations in oil prices due to unrest in Libya and the Middle East, many Canadians are raising alarms about oil production closer to home. Canada is fortunate to have the world’s third largest crude reserves, behind only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, but development has met resistance from political, environmental, and community groups.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made it clear that he wants to position Canada as an “energy superpower” through increased development and export. The Northern Gateway project from Enbridge is one of several disputed projects. If completed, it would provide infrastructure to pipe crude oil from Albertan tar sands to the Port of Kitimat in British Columbia and then out to Asia via off-shore tankers. To get out of the port, the tankers would have to navigate the inlets of the Great Bear Rainforest, a journey that could easily be environmentally disastrous if a spill were ever to occur.

Oil PipelineEven without considering the possibility of an oil spill, many concerns exist over potential leaks from oil pipelines. Just recently, a 45 year old pipeline spilled 4.5 million litres of crude oil into Albertan boreal forest and wetlands, prompting a letter from the Alberta Wilderness Association to the Minister of Energy. This was followed by a spill near the community of Little Buffalo in Alberta which resulted in a spate of nausea, eye irritation, and headaches in the populace.

Hoping to prevent such disasters from reaching British Columbia, the Sierra Club is one of many organizations declaring opposition to the use of off-shore tankers on BC’s coast. Along with community groups, Liberal, NDP and Bloc Quebecois MPs, they support a ban on off-shore oil tankers, warning that a single spill could endanger an entire ecosystem as well as the lives of coastal communities and First Nations groups. With the recent Canadian federal election giving Harper and the Conservatives a majority government, it is unclear how effective these objections will be.

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