In 1974, when my friend Mary Kay Becker’s book Superspill was published, it had only been two years since an oil spill at the Cherry Point refinery in Northwest Washington state had set in motion the genetic mutation and rapid decline of the Chinook salmon’s base feed stock of Pacific herring. A fictional account of a 1978 grounding at Bird Rocks, Superspill added to the clamor for stricter regulations on oil tanker shipping in Puget Sound, leading to the federal imposition in 1977 of size limits on tankers, requirements for double hulls and tug escorts. Now, thirty-five years later, Canada is poised to dramatically increase both the size and volume of oil tanker traffic between Port Metro Vancouver and China. Thanks to the Tar Sands in Alberta — the most carbon intensive industrial project in the world — and the backwardness of the Canadian Government, Puget Sound and the Salish Sea face a disastrous future.
As reported in the June 2, 2011 issue of The Tyee, due to extensive First Nations resistance to a new right-of-way for a proposed oil terminal at Kitimat, British Columbia, Kinder Morgan is planning to expand its pipeline capacity to Vancouver by six-fold. If this is allowed to happen, Oil Sands crude could be the catalyst for an Exxon-Valdez type spill in the Salish Sea. If the Suezmax tankers that carry one million barrels of crude begin calling at Vancouver, that and the proposed ten-fold increase over 2005 tanker transits mean it’s a matter of when, not if, a major oil spill devastates the Salish Sea ecosystem.
Combined with the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal export facility proposed for Cherry Point, the volume of vessel traffic alone would become a nightmare for the Cooperative Vessel Traffic Service managing the already busy Special Operating Area at the intersection of Haro Strait and Boundary Pass, let alone piloting into Vancouver’s narrow Burrard Inlet. While this disaster waiting to happen might avoid Superspill‘s Bird Rocks of Rosario Strait, the devastation would be beyond most people’s imagination. Something to think about.