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Stewart Muir is executive director of Resource Works, a non-profit research group focusing on environmental protection and responsible development in B.C.

In the debate about the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, B.C. Premier John Horgan is right about one thing – protecting our ocean environment must take precedence. Everyone involved in the project shares that ethic and has put it at the centre of their work. A reasonable review of the facts shows that the risk of an oil spill resulting from the project is not only small, but that the proponents and federal regulators are both taking every reasonable action to bring that risk as low as possible.

Here’s my basis for that claim. There’s a lot of rhetoric about oil tankers on Canada’s West Coast. To cut through that and get to the facts, I worked with an independent team of researchers and authors to evaluate the real risks and our ability to deal with spills. To make sure we got it right, we asked the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport North America’s Pacific chapter to review our work. Friday, we published our findings in the Citizen’s Guide to Tanker Safety & Spill Response on British Columbia’s South Coast, the first time all the facts have been brought together in one comprehensive, accessible document. Our research finds oil tankers present legitimate risks.

None of us want an oil tanker to spill into the waters off of Canada – it would be devastating. However, we also found those risks have been identified by the industry and the government bodies charged with spill prevention and response, and actions have been taken to manage them down to as close to zero as is possible. Ottawa approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion only after an exhaustive review and with 157 stringent requirements. One key obligation is that Trans Mountain will invest $150-million in the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC), which is responsible for responding to oil spills on the coast. As for tankers themselves, they will all be double-hulled, move slowly, have local pilots on board and be guided by local tugs.

Also, the federal government recently announced a $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan, which will further enhance spill-response capabilities. It will also open up venues for dialogue, identifying risks and continual improvement in a collaborative manner.

That will continue the long tradition of Canada’s marine regulators working with industry and holding them to account in order to protect our environment, not just at the local level, but also at the national and international levels. Canada has always been an ocean nation. A key part of that work with this project has been to consult with First Nations along the pipeline route to ensure their local knowledge and concerns are taken into account in order to strengthen marine governance and ensure all stakeholders benefit.

As a result of this work, 43 First Nations along the Kinder Morgan pipeline’s route have publicly endorsed it. Canada is also a trading nation. We pay for our social services, infrastructure and other government services in large part through taxes paid by businesses and workers involved in trade. Ninety per cent of the world’s trade is carried by sea, making maritime shipping the conveyor belt of the world economy.

In order to get our resources to the world market, we have to be able to get them to a port. That’s really what this pipeline expansion project is all about – getting Canada’s oil to the world market so we can maximize the return on our commodities. As it is, Alberta’s oil is being extracted from the ground and sold, but at a steep discount, to U.S. customers because they are the only ones we can reach.

If Canada is to thrive in the 21st century, we must look beyond reliance on the U.S. as a trading partner and open up pathways to trade with nations around the world. That will require a robust shipping and port infrastructure – with all the environmental and safety measures in place that requires. We should always strive to get better at protecting our environment, and we are. Today, Canadian mariners and regulators are working on important issues including underwater noise and air emissions. Solving those challenges starts with Canadians coming together to seek solutions, and not standing firm in acrimony and endless debate even after decisions have been made and approvals granted by the appropriate authority.

This pipeline project is important. It will help ensure our prosperity and will do that in a way that protects our environment for future generations. So, I say to B.C. Premier Horgan – we all agree with you that protecting the oceans is critical. That’s what the federal review process was all about. That’s been done, so it’s time to set aside politics and move forward as a nation.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this column stated 51 First Nations endorsed the Kinder Morgan pipeline. In fact, that number is 43.