Vancouver’s Stanley Park is an urban paradise that is the envy of many cities. I often come here when I visit, to walk along the seawall and stare up at the North Shore mountains.
Any day of the week, you will find countless locals and tourists enjoying the seawall, happy cyclists, awkward first dates, and adorable children playing on the beach. It all seems perfectly idyllic until you learn that one of the peaceful-looking ships in the harbour could be a supertanker carrying over three times more crude oil than was spilled by the Exxon Valdez.
Kinder Morgan has been operating the Trans Mountain pipeline for years, but in 2007, the company started shipping larger quantities of oil. And now Kinder Morgan wants to increase the capacity of their Trans Mountain pipeline and reduce the amount of oil being refined locally, taking us from 50,000 barrels a day of oil that is exported to close to 700,000 barrels a day of oil tanker traffic travelling through Vancouver’s harbour.
The decision to increase the number of tankers and the amount of fuel they carry has been made without any public consultation. There has been no management spill plan presented to the public, no community plan outlining how we will protect our waters when a spill happens.
And a spill will happen. With stories of new pipeline breaches, and oil spills in the news almost every other week, it is clear the question is not if there will be an oil spill in B.C. It is a question of where and when.
The impacts of crude oil spills are extensive and well documented. Crude oil is a thick, black sludge that contains sulfur, paraffins, asphaltics, naphthene, benzenes, and other compounds that have toxic effects on plants and animals.
No one wants to see wave upon wave of dark crude washing onto the beaches of Stanley Park. Seabirds could die of hypothermia or drown from the weight of the sticky crude oil coating their bodies. Marine mammals like seals would be unable to feed because of oil slicks contaminating food. Animals that have ingested oil would experience serious problems such as ulcers, internal bleeding, lung damage, and more. And of course these toxins would be a risk to our health as well to say nothing of the economic impacts.
The threat of an oil spill in the heart of Vancouver is not some distant threat. It is a risk we take as every supertanker sails through the shallow waters under the Lions Gate Bridge, through the rocky outcrops under the Second Narrows Bridge. And it is a risk that will increase exponentially if Kinder Morgan is allowed to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline.
Beyond the immediate threat in Vancouver there are also even more serious international considerations. We now live in the age of awareness about climate change caused by burning fossil fuels. The expansion of the tar sands in Alberta and the associated infrastructure like oil pipelines is a serious concern.
All over North America, people are taking action to say “No” to the expansion of tar sands pipelines. A mass civil disobedience action has been called for the end of August in Washington, D.C., to pressure the U.S. government to stop approval of the Keystone XL pipeline proposed to carry 700,000 barrels a day of tar sands crude oil from northern Alberta to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The action in D.C. already has more than 2,000 committed participants and will include prominent social and environmental activists such as Maude Barlow, Danny Glover, James Hansen, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, and David Suzuki.
Here in Vancouver, we will be making a stand against our own tar sands connections. In solidarity with both the action in Washington and impacted communities around the continent, there will be a rally at Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline terminal in North Burnaby on August 27. We are calling for no new expansion of climate-changing tar sands oil pipelines.
I, for one, would like to continue visiting a spill-free Stanley Park seawall. I want us to help phase out fossil fuel dependence, not increase it. If you would too, please join me on August 27 for the rally starting at 2 p.m. at Inlet Drive and Hastings Street in Burnaby.
Tria Donaldson is the Pacific coast campaigner for the Wilderness Committee. As a youth climate activist, she has been involved with the goBeyond project, the Sierra Youth Coalition, and the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition.