Just about the time the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers was rolling out its patriotically themed campaign to win public support for pipelines, one of those rare events happened that undermined all the positive advertising.
A pipeline leaked in California. Oops.
CAPP's Raise Your Hand campaign, which boasts that Canadian pipeline operators have a 99.999-per-cent safety record, features photographs of smiling people who appear to be ready to give you a high five, with the outline of a Maple Leaf imposed over their upraised hands.
The approach (without the national symbol) has been used before. MOSAIC, a B.C. non-profit working with immigrants and refugees, had a Raise Your Hands Against Racism campaign. Rare Disease Day in the U.S. has for years featured a hand-raising campaign. And Plan International's Because I Am A Girl project got more than two million people in 70 nations to raise their hands in support of better educational opportunities for girls in developing countries.
For some reason, CAPP thought if people would raise their hands for such worthy social goals, they might do the same thing to support the petroleum industry.
But CAPP's slogan – "Raise your hand because you are proud of Canada's oil and natural gas" – doesn't quite have the same ring as one that urges you to raise your hand against racism, ignorance or disease.
But still, it might have worked, except for the catastrophe in Santa Barbara. It reminded Canadians – and especially British Columbians where two new oil pipelines are proposed – what happens when one of those .001-per-cent accidents happen.
Images of oil stained beaches and sea birds were flooding the media last week, even as CAPP was running full newspaper-page ads showing people raising their hands for oil.
And as the week progressed, the news out of California worsened.
It turned out the spill was five times larger than had originally been reported by the company, Plains Pipeline, which leaked more than 100,000 gallons of crude onto coastal lands, with 21,000 of that running down a culvert into the Pacific.
Then it was reported the company had inspected the pipeline's integrity two weeks before the accident, but hadn't processed the data yet.
The cause of the rupture wasn't immediately known, but a hint came in a corrective-action order issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation late last week. The order gives a detailed list of corrective actions Plains Pipeline needs to take before it can start transporting oil again. In that order it's noted that an in-line inspection (ILI) done by the company in 2007 showed 13 "anomalies" in the pipe. A second ILI in 2012 found 41 flaws.
The ILI done two weeks ago uses the same kind of advanced technology, known as "smart pigs," that Canadian pipeline companies commonly employ. However, in the May 19 Santa Barbara rupture, the data wasn't seen in time. That's how accidents can happen, through technical or human error.
Hands up all those who think a spill like that could never happen in B.C.
Those afraid it could got increased reason to worry last week when the City of Vancouver released a study showing a spill in the harbour could cost Vancouver's ocean-dependent economy up to $1.2-billion in lost economic activity.
The study also states that Vancouver beaches attract over 3 million recreational users per year, waterfront parks lure 5 million and the seawall pathway gets 2.7 million users.
This is clearly a city that loves its waterfront. So any project that proposes to increase the risk of a rare but catastrophic oil spill is not going to get support in Vancouver – no matter how many hands are raised in CAPP's slick advertising campaign.