Healthy Oceans. Healthy Communities.

Living Oceans Society condemns B.C. Government's Northern Gateway announcement

July 23, 2012

VANCOUVER, B.C. - Living Oceans Society today condemned the Christy Clark government’s long-awaited announcement of its position on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker proposal.

“World-leading marine oil spill response and recovery systems will do nothing for us in the event of a spill of tarsands bitumen,” said Karen Wristen, Living Oceans’ Executive Director. “First, Enbridge needs to establish to the satisfaction of British Columbians that there exists any technology that could clean up such a spill. When diluted bitumen is spilled into water, much of it sinks to the bottom where conventional spill response technology is simply useless.”

Diluted bitumen, or dilbit, contains a much higher proportion of heavy asphaltenes and resins than conventional oil. These components do not float on water and are highly resistant to dispersant chemicals.

“The rest of the components of dilbit may float for some time, giving off a toxic cloud of benzene, toluene and hydrogen sulphide that would make oil spill response hazardous,” Wristen said. “By the time people could actually get close enough to deploy any kind of surface-cleaning technology, any oil remaining on the surface would be widely dispersed by the action of currents, wind and waves.”

Once the heavier components of the dilbit sink to the ocean floor, it is unknown how long they will persist. The bacteria that degrade conventional oils live on the surface of the water. It is expected that the tar-like goo would smother life on the ocean floor wherever it lands.

“The Kalamazoo River spill in July, 2010 gave us clear evidence that the transportation of dilbit is a dangerous experiment that we don’t know how to control,” said Wristen.  “If a spill were to happen in sensitive near-shore environments, such as the Douglas Channel route into Kitimat, it would impact the entire local ecosystem for decades, perhaps centuries, to come.

Living Oceans has been calling for the Province of B.C. to withdraw from the federal Joint Review Panel process and conduct an assessment of the real risks for British Columbia, including the risk of increased supertanker traffic in pristine and sensitive North Coast regions.