Private Member’s bill takes aim at B.C.'s North Coast oil tanker ban

·3 min read

An Alberta Conservative MP has introduced a private member’s bill to repeal restrictions on oil shipments from the north coast of British Columbia.

Bill C-229, “An act to repeal certain restrictions on shipping,” was tabled Oct. 28 by Edmonton-Centre MP James Cumming, taking direct aim at Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, passed last year. Cumming acknowledged the bill has little chance of succeeding, but said it was important to send a message on behalf of the Alberta oil industry, a key driver of the Canadian economy.

”[The moratorium] is an overt attack on Alberta’s resource sector,” Cumming said. “Some have suggested that my bill, Bill C-229, is a waste of a private member’s bill, but frankly, given the absolute sorry state of this country, it is anything but a waste. This bill would right a wrong and fix an incredibly discriminatory piece of legislation.”

Over concerns of severe environmental damage to B.C.’s coastline, a voluntary exclusion zone for oil tanker traffic has been in place along the north coast since the 1970s. Last year the Liberal government formalized the measure with the passing of Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, which banned the transport of more than 12,500 metric tonnes of oil between the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaska border.

Bachrach said repealing the bill would place coastal livelihoods at risk, trample Indigenous right and threaten the integrity of the North Coast and Haida Gwaii, what he called one of Canada’s greatest natural treasures.

“Of course, on paper the oil industry continues to promise all manner of technology to respond to every situation and contingency, but … there is very little that can be done when the guy steering the boat falls asleep and runs it into the rocks,” Bachrach said, referring to a 190,000-litre diesel fuel spill near Bella Bella in 2016.

“Indeed, it is striking that this bill comprises only a single clause, which repeals the oil tanker moratorium wholly and replaces it with, wait for it, absolutely nothing. It offers no alternative measures to protect the north coast. It does nothing to consider the views of the indigenous people and the communities in the area that is most affected.”

The moratorium ended plans for $7.9-billion Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, running diluted bitumen 1,170 kilometres from the Alberta oil sands to a proposed shipping terminal in Kitimat.

A proposal by Eagle Spirit Energy for an Indigenous-owned pipeline along the same route was also stalled.

In the House of Commons Cumming devoted a considerable portion of his time to the importance of environmental protections, saying it’s a mistake to cripple energy companies investing heavily in green technology.

“Private sector innovation is what is going to lead us into the future and provide us with the technology we need to shift to global sustainability,” Cumming said.

“[But] by 2019, 100,000 jobs in this [energy] sector had already been lost because of Liberal policies. Capital investment in Canada’s oil and natural gas sector has dropped by over half since 2014. I cannot imagine what these statistics would mean in other industries, and what the reaction of the government would be.”

In October last year Calgary-based Melius Energy got around oil-tanker restrictions by using modified shipping containers to move bitumen by rail from Edmonton to the Port of Prince Rupert. The oil had been processed into a semi-solid form, to the consistency of butter, so it wouldn’t leak or mix with the natural environment if spilled.

The company said the demonstration was proof-of-concept that bitumen could be moved safely and efficiently through B.C., in adherence to Canada’s regulatory framework.

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Quinn Bender, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Rupert Northern View