Learn about oil tankers
Once the oil from the Northern Gateway Pipeline reached Kitimat, it would be loaded onto oil tankers for export to foreign markets. The proposed project would require some 225 oil tankers per year. The oil tanker traffic Enbridge’s pipeline would bring to B.C.‘s pristine North Coast represents the project’s greatest risk to the region’s environment.
The Exxon Valdez revisited?
The idea of bringing oil tanker traffic to the North Coast evokes memories of the Exxon Valdez disaster just north in Alaska on March 24, 1989, when the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker bound for Long Beach, California, struck Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef and spilled 260,000 to 750,000 barrels (41,000 to 119,000 m3) of crude oil. It is considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters ever to occur in history.
» Learn more about the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
The waters Enbridge would have oil tankers travel are the same waters that claimed the BC Ferry Queen of the North in 2006. On March 22, 2006, with 101 persons aboard, the Queen of the North sailed off course, ran into Gil Island near the entrance to Douglas Channel, and sank.
A large marine oil spill on B.C.‘s North Coast would devastate a marine ecosystem that supports a vibrant coastal way of life for thousands of people. This includes commercial fisheries based in Prince Rupert and Kitimat, sport angling lodges, and a wide variety of seafood related enterprises. For First Nations, the North Coast’s rich and diverse marine ecosystems are inextricably tied to their cultures and livelihoods.
An Environment Canada report in 1990 analyzed the likelihood of tanker accidents occurring in Canadian waters. The report states that “based on current  levels of tanker traffic, Canada can expect over 100 small oil spills, about 10 moderate spills and at least one major spill offshore each year. A catastrophic spill (over 10,000 tonnes) may occur once every 15years.”
» View Living Ocean Society’s interactive oil spill simulator to see how an oil spill along the Enbridge tanker route would spread over time.
There is no way to recover oil from a major tanker spill or to keep oil spills from happening. Even with modern technology, industry considers a clean up a success by industry if 15 percent of the oil is recovered. Scientists estimate that the oil from the Exxon Valdez will continue to pollute Alaskan beaches for several more decades.
A history of protecting our coast from tankers
In the 1972, the Trudeau government established that crude oil tankers should not travel through northern B.C.‘s inside coastal waters in order to protect the area from an oil spill.
Today, the issue of oil tanker traffic in B.C.‘s northern waters is a hotly contested issue. A Mustel poll in May 2010 found that 80 percent of British Columbians are opposed to crude oil tankers on the North Coast.
Both the federal New Democrats and federal Liberals support a legislated oil tanker ban for B.C.‘s North Coast. In July 2010, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff pledged to work toward a legislated ban on northern oil tanker traffic.
Today, both Enbridge and the federal government have indicated they plan to ignore the longstanding ban on oil tankers on B.C.‘s North Coast.