He’s right to oppose tankers in coastal waters west of Terrace

A debate over whether Mulcair's desire to keep the coast tanker-free makes sense

Dear Sir:

A Sept. 3, 2014 letter to the editor criticizes Tom Mulcair’s opposition to oil tankers in Douglas Channel but the federal NDP leader is right to be opposed.

The writer points to the Bosphorus Straits in Turkey as one of the world’s busiest shipping channels, which is less than half the width of the Douglas Channel at their narrowest points.

What is not mentioned is that the confined channel length of the Bosphorus is a mere 31 kilometres in comparison to 100 kilometres and 200 kilometres for the proposed Northern Gateway southern and northern routes respectively.

There is only one sharp turn on the shipping route in the Bosphorus compared to three in the Northern Gateway routes. The Bosphorus does not have the extreme tides and extreme riptides that exist in the Douglas Channel. Nor does the Bosphorus experience the same extreme weather and arctic outflows as are common in northern B.C.

Most of the oil tankers in the Bosphorus are less than 100,000 tons with a maximum permitted size of 200,000.  Compare that to the proposed 300,000 ton tankers for Northern Gateway.

Another key difference is that the Bosphorus is densely populated with many human observers to report shipping difficulties. Compare that to the sparsely populated Douglas Channel where apart from the First Nations settlements, the only observers would be the marine wildlife in the area.

In 1999 a Russian tanker grounded in the Bosphorus spilling 1500 tons of oil into the sea.

A small oil spill by world standards, cleanup took at least two years. The spill wasn’t the problematic diluted bitumen that Northern Gateway intends to ship. Between 1995 and 2010, 115,000 tons of oil spilled into the Bosphorus.

In 2011 the Turkish transport minister organized a drill for a hypothetical collision of an oil tanker and a passenger ferry. Asked for his motivation, the minister replied, “In all accidents (in) the world, whether (by) sea or plane …, the human factor (causes) 80 per cent of them. You could deploy every sort of device, but nothing can replace a human being.” A case in point is the recent grounding and resultant hull damage to the coal carrier Amakusa Island south of Prince Rupert due to human error.

Human error combined with the inevitable mechanical breakdown on either tanker or tugboat, and oil tanker traffic on the north B.C. coast is a recipe for disaster.

As part of its TERMPOL analysis, Transport Canada concluded that escort tugs and improved navigation aids, including radar, are unnecessary for Northern Gateway. Addressing a meeting of government officials and energy companies in 2010, the Turkish environment minister said, “Oil tanker transportation through the Bosphorus is not sustainable anymore.” We should heed his words and take the same stand with the Douglas Channel.

Tom Mulcair is justified in being “categorically opposed” to oil tankers in the Douglas Channel.

Dave Shannon,

Terrace, B.C.