By Stephanie Goodwin
Imagine kayaking through peanut butter. Except the peanut butter is toxic crude oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Paddling through the marshes of the Mississippi delta with a fellow Greenpeace activist, tar balls float by and our hull is instantly coated in oil. There is an oil boom beached up on the marshy reeds, but what is capturing the oil is nature’s boom—the marshy reeds—and they are choking in oil. Each reed is covered in thick, brown oil. Quickly, we too are covered.
Our safety suits and gloves are not for show—they are separating us from the polluted bayou and globs of oil. Unfortunately, the animals that make up the lush ecosystem don’t have safety suits and gloves on. A crab walks by me using a dirty oil boom as a sidewalk. The future doesn’t look bright for these marshes.
We’ve been in the Gulf of Mexico for nine days. The tar balls that cover popular but empty white-sand beaches look like human waste and stick to our boots like glue. The thick oil in the marshes is like a bad dream, it sticks to everything.
That’s not the whole story though.
As I prepare to return home to Vancouver tomorrow (July 6), I’m still thinking about the people of this area. Now that the oil well has been spilling for 10 weeks with no end in sight—how are they coping?
Our hotel receptionist said to me last night, “The impact of the spill to me personally? Well, it’s our food. We have less food choices. It’s our fishing. It’s our whole way of life really.”
The hotel at a popular beach resort in Alabama was only 10-percent occupied at a time when it should be bursting at the seams with sun- and surf-seeking tourists. The only work for shrimpers these days is using their shrimp boats to move oil booms around. The selection of seafood, once a dominant item on restaurant menus, has shrunk and become more expensive because of its scarcity.
It’s clear people here want to go back to their normal lives, before the spill. It seems though that this is the new normal and communities did not get a choice in the matter.
I feel lucky. In B.C., we still have a choice. We haven’t yet seen the “big one”. The closest we’ve come to a massive oil spill is the Exxon Valdez in Alaska 21 years ago. As Canadians, we need to act quickly if we are to avoid the same fate for our Pacific coast.
Vancouver city council, scientists, oil-tanker experts, and NGOs meet today (July 5) at city hall to discuss oil tankers in Burrard Inlet in light of the BP oil spill catastrophe. In Vancouver, the clearest first step is to stop any further expansion of oil travelling through Burrard Inlet, and then take the steps necessary to reduce and eliminate the more than 100 oil tankers that navigate these waters annually.
Greenpeace is calling upon the Canadian government to learn from the mistakes of our American neighbours and not allow Kinder Morgan or Enbridge to become the BP of B.C. The only way to do this is to legally ban oil tankers and offshore oil and gas development on Canada’s West Coast.
We can eliminate the dirtiest and most dangerous energy sources, like offshore oil development and the Alberta tar sands. Our addiction to oil can be replaced by an energy revolution based on renewables.
In a city where so many people enjoy kayaking and the beauty of our marine environment, it would be tragic if kayakers in Vancouver had to paddle through thick, toxic oil to reach one of our beaches. The more likely alternative is that we would no longer see kayaks in the water, period.
We still have a choice. We cannot let Enbridge or Kinder Morgan become the BP of B.C.
Stephanie Goodwin is the B.C. director for Greenpeace Canada.