Open letter to BC Premier and Environmental Minister on the tar sands, pipeline and tankers
Former American president Harry Truman had a sign
on his desk saying, “THE BUCK STOPS HERE”, referring to the passing of
responsibility and blame. It is a statement of leadership.
The American and Canadian people say to their
elected leaders, “Put your money where your mouth is.” This is a requirement
of trustworthiness and accountability.
All peoples of the world elect their leaders for
their courage and wisdom, not cowardice and stupidity.
We the people of British Columbia expect our
elected leaders to be responsible, trustworthy, accountable, wise and
courageous in discharging their duties to British Columbia and British
Columbians. We expect the Environment Minister to take full responsibility
of the environment, and the Premier to take full responsibility of the
To give one specific example, an oil spill in
British Columbian waters is not only the responsibility of the BC
Environment Minister, but more so that of the BC Premier, and ultimately
that of the Canadian Prime Minister, regardless of who is in office or which
party is in power.
The BC Environment Minister, and the BC Premier and
the Canadian Prime Minister should all be aware that given tanker traffic in
British Columbia waters, the probability of an Exxon-Valdez-level oil spill
has been determined by scientists to be once every 16 years. “Just a
probability”? Bear this in mind: the sinking of the ferry Queen of the North
135 kilometers south of Prince Rupert in March 2006 has a much lower
probability than a tanker oil spill, yet the ferry did sink. And since the
Exxon Valdez accident happened 19 years ago, the next one is 3 years
But there is no oil tanker traffic in BC waters,
you say? True, for now. As we speak, however, a pipeline is being planned to
be built across northern British Columbian to drain the crude oil from the
Alberta tar sands into tankers to be docked at Kitimat, BC, destined for the
United States and China.
If this pipeline is to be built, there will be
precarious oil tanker traffic in BC waters. Conversely, if the British
Columbians allow lumbering oil tankers that require kilometers just to slow
down to prowl the treacherous waters of the unforgiving BC coast, the
pipeline will be built, which will damage huge swaths of pristine
wilderness. And both tanker and pipeline will support the environmentally
disastrous Alberta tar sands, about which the Premier of BC himself, a
pioneering champion in North America of the carbon-tax, has expressed
disapproval. Which begs the question: Is this trustworthiness?
Is it money? Canada paying BC to support Alberta ?
Alberta itself paying BC for support? BC somehow extracting a fee for the
service? BC, the gateway to the Pacific – dollar? If so, take a look at the
downside of money.
To name a front-line example. While the ecological
effects of the Exxon Valdez 11-million-gallon spill is still felt today,
back in 1989, the cleanup effort cost to Exxon alone was upwards of $3.5
billion, equivalent to $25 billion in 2008. Although it was Exxon who paid
the bill, the size of the bill reflects the enormity of the environmental
and health damage. The death toll in terms of wildlife along the effected
470-mile Alaskan coast was staggering; but the full impact we’ll never know.
The Exxon spill has precipitated health problems in wildlife and humans
alike. In terms of impact on humans and cultures, the impact is inestimable.
The University of Florida reports:
“Refusal to Accept Responsibility In addition to
its slow response and insufficient communication, the company's attempts to
remedy its damaged reputation fell short of their intended goals. Initially,
Exxon blamed state and federal officials for the delays in containing the
spill. When asked how Exxon intended to pay the massive cleanup costs, one
Exxon executive responded by saying it would raise gas prices to pay for the
incident. These attempts to evade responsibility and defer blame angered
consumers. Ten days after the spill, Exxon spent $1.8 million to take out a
full-page ad in 166 papers. In the ad, the company apologized for the spill
but still refused to accept responsibility. Many saw this approach as
insincere and inadequate.
“The End Result Exxon paid the price for its
actions in several different ways. The cleanup effort cost the company $2.5
billion alone, and Exxon was forced to pay out $1.1 billion in various
settlements. A 1994 federal jury also fined Exxon an additional $5 billion
for its "recklessness," which Exxon later appealed. In addition to the
upfront costs of the disaster, Exxon's image was permanently tarnished.
Angered customers cut up their Exxon credit cards and mailed them to Rawl,
while others boycotted Exxon products. According to a study by Porter/Novelli
several years after the accident, 54 percent of the people surveyed said
they were still less likely to buy Exxon products.”
Double-hulling the tankers will prevent spills?
“Opposing viewpoints have argued that the double
hull is actually more dangerous than a single hull. Most of the collisions
that the double hull prevents are so minor that they would typically spill
little to no oil on a single hull tanker... In addition, there is a much
larger potential for explosive accidents happening due to the increased
element of oil mixing with air during a high-energy grounding, as was the
case with the Aegean Sea oil spill.
“Possibly the most disturbing fact about the double
hull is that it does not protect against major, high-energy collisions or
groundings which is what causes the majority of oil pollution… the damage to
the Exxon Valdez penetrated sections of the hull (the slops oil tanks) which
were protected by a partial double hull. The double hull required by the new
regulations would not have prevented extensive loss of oil from the Exxon
Valdez, though it might have somewhat limited the losses.”
While on Exxon, the Financial Post reported (May
29, 2008) that Rex Tillerson, chairman and chief executive, argued that the
science of climate change was far from settled and that his company viewed
it as its "corporate social responsibility" to continue to supply the world
with fossil fuels. He said that since global warming is “not fully
understood”, we should keep on debating about it, while developing the tar
sands at all speed, “rather than acceptance that it is occurring, with the
potential consequence that governments will implement policies that put
world economies at risk.” This is in spite of the fact that Exxon Mobil is
the only oil company which is a member of the United Nations
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Metaphorically, Tillerson is an
officer of the Titanic sailing through thick fog, saying, “Icebergs may
still be a hoax. Full speed ahead!”
A side note is that when Neva Rockefeller Goodwin,
the great-granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller who founded Exxon's
predecessor 125 years ago, proposed that Exxon Mobil prepare a report on the
impact of climate change on emerging countries, and embrace greener energy,
it was rejected by 90% of Exxon shareholders, a stark illustration of “bad
capitalism” in action (vs “good capitalism” as in green investing). They are
the societal root of all evil.
One last note on tankers is that as their size
grows ever larger, so will the magnitude of the disaster when it happens.
Yes, “when”, not “if”, which begs another question:
Has the BC Ministry of Finance taken this inevitable future expense into
account? No. To be paid by whom? Our children’s children, who will already
be suffering the consequences of global warming we are right now
precipitating upon them. Is this what accountability means?
We often miss the obvious while looking for the
unusual. It never ceases to amaze me how financially responsible we have
trained ourselves to be on a personal level, where one day late in credit
card payment will brand us unreliable, when our highest echelon leaders show
such gross irresponsibility on a global level and multi-generational scale.
Our elected leaders may have 20/20 hindsight, but definitely very shallow
insight, and near-zero foresight.
Now, if we step farther back and look at the
greater picture, the hazards of the BC government’s self-conflicting policy
and involvement with the Alberta tar sands has such wider global impact that
makes the Exxon Valdez spill look like mere spilled milk.
We don’t even need to look to our future
generations yet to see this suffering, for it has already begun. Where the
Alberta tar sands are concerned, the native people are the biggest losers.
The Chippewyan people living near the Alberta tar sands are suffering
sky-high cancer rates, and at that with exotic forms of cancer associated
with ingesting deformed fish in the Athabasca watershed. A Chippewyan
saying: “When you see a duck land, do not expect it to take off again.” The
tar sands consume as much water as the whole city of Calgary , and where
does the waste water go? The Athabasca watershed.
And what does the waste water contain? The PAHs
(Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) and other organic compounds, along with a
range of heavy metals, all in all a cocktail of carcinogens.
The Alberta government and oil companies boast of
benefiting the Chippewyan by building for them infrastructures not there
before, including modern hospitals equipped with state-of-the-art
cancer-treatment technology. What is wrong with this picture?
Speaking of technology, the way by which oil is
extracted from the tar sands is ridiculous, absurd, wasteful and polluting
in the extreme. It burns one unit of natural gas to produce two units of
crude, which will require even more energy to be transported to distant
refineries through pipelines and tanker transport, where even more fuel is
burned to refine the crude into gasoline, which eventually is all burnt.
What is wrong with this picture?
And where does the natural gas come from? Russia ,
via an already built natural gas pipeline through northern BC. So, Canada
buys natural gas from Russia, to extract crude oil from the tar sands in
Alberta, which will then be shipped by pipeline and tanker to the US and
China, where the crude will be refined into gasoline, some of which being
shipped back to Canada for Canadian consumption. What is wrong with this
These incongruent and almost nonsensical pictures,
though huge, are tiny compared to the biggest picture in climate change and
global warming – how much carbon is currently locked up in the tar sands, to
be eventually all released into the atmosphere when burned as gasoline in
the US and China? Quantitatively, according to Wikipedia, “Oil sands may
represent as much as two-thirds of the world's total petroleum resource,
with at least 1.7 trillion barrels (270×109 m3) in the Canadian Athabasca
tar sands and perhaps 235 billion barrels (37×109 m3) of extra heavy crude
in the Venezuelan Orinoco tar sands. Between them, the Canadian and
Venezuelan deposits contain about 3.6 trillion barrels (570×109 m3) of oil
in place, compared to 1.75 trillion barrels (280×109 m3) of conventional oil
worldwide, most of it in Saudi Arabia and other Middle-Eastern countries.”
If all the carbon in the tar sands goes up in smoke, we can kiss our
children’s future goodbye.
And how much of the carbon in the tar sands do the
oil companies and the Alberta government intend to release into the
atmosphere? All of it, of course.
Oil will become more and more expensive as the
years, months, even just weeks, roll by, so how can these agents of greed
And what will this mean? Runaway global heating,
civilization collapse, global chaos, widespread famine, mass extinction. Is
Now, back to British Columbia , British Columbians
and the BC government. If we permit the pipeline to be built, and allow
tankers into BC waters, not only will we be endangering the ecology of
British Columbia, but the global environment, and our children’s survival,
and life on Earth, and the life of Earth itself.
One small request to the Premier and Environment
Minister of British Columbia . It is not something colossal and global, nor
are we asking you to vigorously oppose the Alberta tar sands. All we are
asking of you is this:
Please guarantee to me and all British Columbians
that there will be no chance, not just a slim chance, but zero chance, of
any major oil spill in British Columbian waters.
Please do not say that there is no way for a 100%
guarantee on anything. There is a very simple way. No oil tanker traffic in
BC waters, period.
Mr./Ms. Environment Minister, if you cannot make
this promise, what good are you to us nature-loving British Columbians as
the person we trust to protect our environment? Mr./Ms. Premier, if you
cannot make this simple yet all important promise, what good are you as our
As I said, we are not asking you to vigorously
oppose the Alberta tar sands, only to end British Columbia ’s support for
it, and association with it. Even this little bit will take courage, but, as
I said, we elected you on grounds of courage and wisdom, not cowardice and
Without tanker traffic, there is no reason for the
pipeline to be built, and British Columbia ’s complicity in the Albertan tar
sands atrocity will be cleared, and the global conscience of British
Columbians will be at peace.
Then and only then will you go down in history as
the responsible, trustworthy, accountable, wise and courageous leaders that
we British Columbians and our future generations require and deserve.
Anthony Marr, founder and president
Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE)
Compassion for Animals Road Expeditions (CARE)
Global Emergency Operation (GEO)
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