Sunday, June 8, 2008

Open letter to BC Premier & EM on tar sands, pipeline & tankers

Open letter to BC Premier and Environmental Minister on the tar sands, pipeline and tankers

Dear Sirs,

Former American president Harry Truman had a sign on his desk saying, “THE BUCK STOPS HERE”, referring to the passing of responsibility and blame. It is a statement of leadership.

The American and Canadian people say to their elected leaders, “Put your money where your mouth is.” This is a requirement of trustworthiness and accountability.

All peoples of the world elect their leaders for their courage and wisdom, not cowardice and stupidity.

We the people of British Columbia expect our elected leaders to be responsible, trustworthy, accountable, wise and courageous in discharging their duties to British Columbia and British Columbians. We expect the Environment Minister to take full responsibility of the environment, and the Premier to take full responsibility of the Environment Ministry.

To give one specific example, an oil spill in British Columbian waters is not only the responsibility of the BC Environment Minister, but more so that of the BC Premier, and ultimately that of the Canadian Prime Minister, regardless of who is in office or which party is in power.

The BC Environment Minister, and the BC Premier and the Canadian Prime Minister should all be aware that given tanker traffic in British Columbia waters, the probability of an Exxon-Valdez-level oil spill has been determined by scientists to be once every 16 years. “Just a probability”? Bear this in mind: the sinking of the ferry Queen of the North 135 kilometers south of Prince Rupert in March 2006 has a much lower probability than a tanker oil spill, yet the ferry did sink. And since the Exxon Valdez accident happened 19 years ago, the next one is 3 years overdue.

But there is no oil tanker traffic in BC waters, you say? True, for now. As we speak, however, a pipeline is being planned to be built across northern British Columbian to drain the crude oil from the Alberta tar sands into tankers to be docked at Kitimat, BC, destined for the United States and China.

If this pipeline is to be built, there will be precarious oil tanker traffic in BC waters. Conversely, if the British Columbians allow lumbering oil tankers that require kilometers just to slow down to prowl the treacherous waters of the unforgiving BC coast, the pipeline will be built, which will damage huge swaths of pristine wilderness. And both tanker and pipeline will support the environmentally disastrous Alberta tar sands, about which the Premier of BC himself, a pioneering champion in North America of the carbon-tax, has expressed disapproval. Which begs the question: Is this trustworthiness?

And: Why?

Is it money? Canada paying BC to support Alberta ? Alberta itself paying BC for support? BC somehow extracting a fee for the service? BC, the gateway to the Pacific – dollar? If so, take a look at the downside of money.

To name a front-line example. While the ecological effects of the Exxon Valdez 11-million-gallon spill is still felt today, back in 1989, the cleanup effort cost to Exxon alone was upwards of $3.5 billion, equivalent to $25 billion in 2008. Although it was Exxon who paid the bill, the size of the bill reflects the enormity of the environmental and health damage. The death toll in terms of wildlife along the effected 470-mile Alaskan coast was staggering; but the full impact we’ll never know. The Exxon spill has precipitated health problems in wildlife and humans alike. In terms of impact on humans and cultures, the impact is inestimable.

The University of Florida reports:

“Refusal to Accept Responsibility In addition to its slow response and insufficient communication, the company's attempts to remedy its damaged reputation fell short of their intended goals. Initially, Exxon blamed state and federal officials for the delays in containing the spill. When asked how Exxon intended to pay the massive cleanup costs, one Exxon executive responded by saying it would raise gas prices to pay for the incident. These attempts to evade responsibility and defer blame angered consumers. Ten days after the spill, Exxon spent $1.8 million to take out a full-page ad in 166 papers. In the ad, the company apologized for the spill but still refused to accept responsibility. Many saw this approach as insincere and inadequate.

“The End Result Exxon paid the price for its actions in several different ways. The cleanup effort cost the company $2.5 billion alone, and Exxon was forced to pay out $1.1 billion in various settlements. A 1994 federal jury also fined Exxon an additional $5 billion for its "recklessness," which Exxon later appealed. In addition to the upfront costs of the disaster, Exxon's image was permanently tarnished. Angered customers cut up their Exxon credit cards and mailed them to Rawl, while others boycotted Exxon products. According to a study by Porter/Novelli several years after the accident, 54 percent of the people surveyed said they were still less likely to buy Exxon products.”

Double-hulling the tankers will prevent spills? Wikipedia reports:

“Opposing viewpoints have argued that the double hull is actually more dangerous than a single hull. Most of the collisions that the double hull prevents are so minor that they would typically spill little to no oil on a single hull tanker... In addition, there is a much larger potential for explosive accidents happening due to the increased element of oil mixing with air during a high-energy grounding, as was the case with the Aegean Sea oil spill.

“Possibly the most disturbing fact about the double hull is that it does not protect against major, high-energy collisions or groundings which is what causes the majority of oil pollution… the damage to the Exxon Valdez penetrated sections of the hull (the slops oil tanks) which were protected by a partial double hull. The double hull required by the new regulations would not have prevented extensive loss of oil from the Exxon Valdez, though it might have somewhat limited the losses.”

While on Exxon, the Financial Post reported (May 29, 2008) that Rex Tillerson, chairman and chief executive, argued that the science of climate change was far from settled and that his company viewed it as its "corporate social responsibility" to continue to supply the world with fossil fuels. He said that since global warming is “not fully understood”, we should keep on debating about it, while developing the tar sands at all speed, “rather than acceptance that it is occurring, with the potential consequence that governments will implement policies that put world economies at risk.” This is in spite of the fact that Exxon Mobil is the only oil company which is a member of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Metaphorically, Tillerson is an officer of the Titanic sailing through thick fog, saying, “Icebergs may still be a hoax. Full speed ahead!”

A side note is that when Neva Rockefeller Goodwin, the great-granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller who founded Exxon's predecessor 125 years ago, proposed that Exxon Mobil prepare a report on the impact of climate change on emerging countries, and embrace greener energy, it was rejected by 90% of Exxon shareholders, a stark illustration of “bad capitalism” in action (vs “good capitalism” as in green investing). They are the societal root of all evil.

One last note on tankers is that as their size grows ever larger, so will the magnitude of the disaster when it happens.

Yes, “when”, not “if”, which begs another question: Has the BC Ministry of Finance taken this inevitable future expense into account? No. To be paid by whom? Our children’s children, who will already be suffering the consequences of global warming we are right now precipitating upon them. Is this what accountability means?

We often miss the obvious while looking for the unusual. It never ceases to amaze me how financially responsible we have trained ourselves to be on a personal level, where one day late in credit card payment will brand us unreliable, when our highest echelon leaders show such gross irresponsibility on a global level and multi-generational scale. Our elected leaders may have 20/20 hindsight, but definitely very shallow insight, and near-zero foresight.

Now, if we step farther back and look at the greater picture, the hazards of the BC government’s self-conflicting policy and involvement with the Alberta tar sands has such wider global impact that makes the Exxon Valdez spill look like mere spilled milk.

We don’t even need to look to our future generations yet to see this suffering, for it has already begun. Where the Alberta tar sands are concerned, the native people are the biggest losers. The Chippewyan people living near the Alberta tar sands are suffering sky-high cancer rates, and at that with exotic forms of cancer associated with ingesting deformed fish in the Athabasca watershed. A Chippewyan saying: “When you see a duck land, do not expect it to take off again.” The tar sands consume as much water as the whole city of Calgary , and where does the waste water go? The Athabasca watershed.

And what does the waste water contain? The PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) and other organic compounds, along with a range of heavy metals, all in all a cocktail of carcinogens.

The Alberta government and oil companies boast of benefiting the Chippewyan by building for them infrastructures not there before, including modern hospitals equipped with state-of-the-art cancer-treatment technology. What is wrong with this picture?

Speaking of technology, the way by which oil is extracted from the tar sands is ridiculous, absurd, wasteful and polluting in the extreme. It burns one unit of natural gas to produce two units of crude, which will require even more energy to be transported to distant refineries through pipelines and tanker transport, where even more fuel is burned to refine the crude into gasoline, which eventually is all burnt. What is wrong with this picture?

And where does the natural gas come from? Russia , via an already built natural gas pipeline through northern BC. So, Canada buys natural gas from Russia, to extract crude oil from the tar sands in Alberta, which will then be shipped by pipeline and tanker to the US and China, where the crude will be refined into gasoline, some of which being shipped back to Canada for Canadian consumption. What is wrong with this picture?

These incongruent and almost nonsensical pictures, though huge, are tiny compared to the biggest picture in climate change and global warming – how much carbon is currently locked up in the tar sands, to be eventually all released into the atmosphere when burned as gasoline in the US and China? Quantitatively, according to Wikipedia, “Oil sands may represent as much as two-thirds of the world's total petroleum resource, with at least 1.7 trillion barrels (270×109 m3) in the Canadian Athabasca tar sands and perhaps 235 billion barrels (37×109 m3) of extra heavy crude in the Venezuelan Orinoco tar sands. Between them, the Canadian and Venezuelan deposits contain about 3.6 trillion barrels (570×109 m3) of oil in place, compared to 1.75 trillion barrels (280×109 m3) of conventional oil worldwide, most of it in Saudi Arabia and other Middle-Eastern countries.” If all the carbon in the tar sands goes up in smoke, we can kiss our children’s future goodbye.

And how much of the carbon in the tar sands do the oil companies and the Alberta government intend to release into the atmosphere? All of it, of course.

Oil will become more and more expensive as the years, months, even just weeks, roll by, so how can these agents of greed resist it?

And what will this mean? Runaway global heating, civilization collapse, global chaos, widespread famine, mass extinction. Is this wise?

Now, back to British Columbia , British Columbians and the BC government. If we permit the pipeline to be built, and allow tankers into BC waters, not only will we be endangering the ecology of British Columbia, but the global environment, and our children’s survival, and life on Earth, and the life of Earth itself.

One small request to the Premier and Environment Minister of British Columbia . It is not something colossal and global, nor are we asking you to vigorously oppose the Alberta tar sands. All we are asking of you is this:

Please guarantee to me and all British Columbians that there will be no chance, not just a slim chance, but zero chance, of any major oil spill in British Columbian waters.

That’s it.

Please do not say that there is no way for a 100% guarantee on anything. There is a very simple way. No oil tanker traffic in BC waters, period.

Mr./Ms. Environment Minister, if you cannot make this promise, what good are you to us nature-loving British Columbians as the person we trust to protect our environment? Mr./Ms. Premier, if you cannot make this simple yet all important promise, what good are you as our leader?

As I said, we are not asking you to vigorously oppose the Alberta tar sands, only to end British Columbia ’s support for it, and association with it. Even this little bit will take courage, but, as I said, we elected you on grounds of courage and wisdom, not cowardice and stupidity.

Without tanker traffic, there is no reason for the pipeline to be built, and British Columbia ’s complicity in the Albertan tar sands atrocity will be cleared, and the global conscience of British Columbians will be at peace.

Then and only then will you go down in history as the responsible, trustworthy, accountable, wise and courageous leaders that we British Columbians and our future generations require and deserve.


Anthony Marr, founder and president
Heal Our Planet Earth (HOPE)
Compassion for Animals Road Expeditions (CARE)
Global Emergency Operation (GEO)

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