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Tanker traffic in an oil-spill-sensitive world

David Parkins/ The Globe and Mail/David Parkins/ The Globe and Mail

The story so far:

The risks of oil tanker traffic in B.C.'s fragile northern waters rose to the federal agenda in the 1970s, after the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was completed. Seeing increased supertanker traffic in the Pacific Northwest, Pierre Trudeau's government established an informal ban on oil tanker traffic in Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound in 1972 that kept tankers about 100 kilometres from shore. Today, pressure to open the area to tankers is mounting, spurred on by the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project - a plan to build a pipeline capable of bringing 525,000 barrels of oil a day from Edmonton to the remote port of Kitimat, B.C., where supertankers would load up and sail to Asia. The Harper government maintains there is no moratorium in B.C.'s coastal waters, only a voluntary exclusion zone, making future tanker traffic a possibility. In June, federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said he'd make the ban official. Two NDP MPs have already introduced private members bills in support of a ban.

Political calculations:

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Supporters of the Northern Gateway Project claim it will safely rejuvenate B.C.'s northern economy. Enbridge maintains the pipeline, and its attending tankers, would pump thousands of jobs and millions in property tax revenues into the region. The company has also promised safeguards around supertankers operating in B.C. waters, including reduced speed and local marine pilots to guide the ships into harbour. But locally, the risk to the environment seems to trump the economic promises. Natives and environmentalists fear tanker traffic in the treacherous shipping route will inevitably lead to an oil spill that would devastate sensitive coastal ecosystems. Nine native groups have issued a declaration against the pipeline and tanker traffic. Eighty per cent of B.C. residents support a ban on oil tankers, according to a 2010 poll commissioned by the environmental group Dogwood Initiative. Provincially, the NDP support a tanker moratorium, while the Liberals reject a ban and trust the environmental assessment process to ensure projects can be built and operated safely.

The players:

While the Conservative government has left our coastal communities and oceans vulnerable, the Liberal Party is proposing innovative, decisive action that will make Canada a world leader in protecting our oceans and coastal communities. Michael Ignatieff, June 21, 2010

It is the Government of Canada's position that there is presently no moratorium on tanker traffic in the coast waters of B.C. A federal review panel examining the Enbridge proposal, December, 2009

The debate (click the headlines to read each argument):

Lift the moratorium

Make it permanent

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