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10 Truths About Oil Spills Every British Columbian Should Know

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This year is the 25th Anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. To help remember the spill, and to provide a dose of reality in the face of millions of dollars of advertising for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, here are 10 truths about oil spills that every British Columbian should know:

1. Oil spill cleanup is a myth.

Once oil is spilled, the battle is lost. Exxon spent more than $2 billion trying to clean up its Alaska spill, but recovered less than 7 percent. BP spent $14 billion on the Deepwater Horizon spill, but only recovered 3 percent from the sea surface and beaches. Rarely is more than 10 percent of a marine spill ever recovered.

Lingering Exxon Valdez oil in shoreline sediments on Eleanor Island, Pr. Wm. Sound on Feb. 19, 2014 by DJanka

This photo was taken on February 19, 2014 on Eleanor Island, Prince William Sound.
Photo credit: David Janka

2. Oil spills cause long-term environmental damage.

Twenty-five years after the Alaska spill, scientists are finding oil on the beaches that in some cases, is just as fresh and toxic as if it had been spilled only a few weeks ago. Only 13 of 32 monitored populations, habitats and resource services are considered fully “recovered” or “very likely recovered.” Some populations, such as Pacific herring and the AT1 killer whale pod are “not recovering.”

3. Oil spill restoration is impossible.

Once a coastal or marine ecosystem is “broken,” it cannot be “fixed.” All the money in the world can’t repair a destroyed ecosystem or the human communities that depend on it.

A woman weeps over the loss of wildlife caused by

A woman weeps over the loss of wildlife caused by the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

4. Taxpayers are on the hook for cleanup costs.

Oil spill “cleanup” costs are only covered by liability and cleanup funds up to $1.6 billion dollars. In fact, the federal Conservative government recently ignored the recommendation of its own tanker safety expert panel that companies should be responsible for the full costs of a spill. This means that taxpayers would likely be on the hook for close to $22 billion if a major spill occurred in BC.

5. Enbridge has zero liability if there’s a spill.

If there’s a spill outside its marine terminal, Enbridge is not responsible. This lack of responsibility is compounded by the fact that tanker companies use numbered companies to reduce their liability and financial risk in the event of a spill.

6. Double-hull tankers do not eliminate the risk of oil spills.

Enbridge has acknowledged that 30 double-hull tanker incidents have been reported over the past 20 years. At least one of these, the Volgoneft, spilled 1300 tonnes of oil into the Black Sea after suffering a structural failure during a storm.

7. Government officials downplay the risk of an oil spill.

Seeking approval to build the Trans Alaska Pipeline in the 1970s, industry and government promised oil would be shipped safely from Alaska, and “not one drop” would be spilled thanks to fail-safe technologies. BP and Shell made similar promises before their drilling rig accidents in 2010 and 2012. We’ve heard the same “world class” promises in Canada, at a time when Coast Guard resources and environmental emergency response centres are being cut in BC.

Tanker Safety

The Conservative government announced “world class” tanker safety measures at the same time it cut an oil spill response unit in BC.

8. The coastal economy would be ruined.

An oil spill would have devastating impacts on BC’s marine economy. Marine sectors on the North and Central Coasts and Haida Gwaii generate $386.5 million in revenue and provide 7,620 direct, indirect, and induced jobs.

Coastal Economy

Harvesting scallops and salmon.

9. Coastal First Nations have already banned oil tankers from their traditional territories.

In upholding our ancestral laws, rights and responsibilities, the Coastal First Nations have declared that oil tankers carrying crude oil will not be allowed to transit our lands and waters. It is a sacred duty to pass our territories and culture on to following generations in good order.

Gitga'at Rally

The Gitga’at First Nation holds a “No Tankers” rally in Prince Rupert.

10. Oil spills will be an issue in the next federal election.

The Conservatives are the only political party that supports the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and oil tankers project. British Columbians will have a chance to vote against those who put our coast at risk of an oil spill in October 2015.

Truth #10 oil spill election 2015
If we care about BC’s north coast and the people that live there, then we will reject the Northern Gateway pipeline and oil tankers project. The Coastal First Nations invite all concerned citizens to support our oil tanker ban by signing a declaration of support at: www.oilspilltruths.com


Art Steritt poses for a Greenpeace portrait
Art Sterritt is the Executive Director of the Coastal First Nations.

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill 15 Years Later
Rick Steiner was a marine conservation professor with the University of Alaska from 1980 – 2010, and a marine advisor for the Prince William Sound region during the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Rick helped establish the Regional Citizens Advisory Councils and the Prince William Sound Science Center.

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