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Earthquake near Haida Gwaii and dangers of proposed Enbridge tanker routes

The recent earthquake near Haida Gwaii area (formerly known as Queen Charlotte Island) and tsunami advisory along the BC coast raises some vital questions about tankers amid debate on the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

The current Northern Gateway tanker routes would bring oil tankers near the area where the earthquake and small tsunami waves hit off the BC coast. 

Earthquake location map from Natural Resources Canada 

Northern Gateway tanker route map from Nature Canada.

Given the location, what would have happened if a large oil tanker carrying bitumen oil was in the area at the time that the earthquake struck?

"I'm sure Enbridge and Kinder Morgan were, like many of us last night, thinking about the connection between earthquakes, tsunamis and the dangers of transporting bitumen through our coastal waters," Wilderness Committee campaigner Ben West said. 

"This should serve as yet another reminder that these pipeline and tanker projects represent a very serious threat."

A response from Enbridge is pending at the time of publication. 

Master Mariner Mal Walsh, a marine and oil expert who has over 40 years of experience in international oil exploration and shipping, noted in two previous articles in The Vancouver Observer that while he does not oppose pipelines, the tanker routes proposed by Enbridge pose a serious risk to the BC coast. 

"The Enbridge tanker transport proposal, in its current form, represents too great a risk to a remote and still pristine area of BC’s Central Coast, a region of this coast that is exposed to the most severe winter weather conditions," Walsh wrote in July.

While earthquake risks were not the focus of his argument, he referenced "hostile" weather conditions near the Queen Charlotte Sound that could represent a threat to the coast in the event of a bitumen oil spill.  

"Kitimat operates a port situated over 100 nautical miles from the open hostile waters of the Queen Charlotte Sound and the Dixon Entrance. It is reached through navigationally difficult and narrow channels, and clearly represents a cheaper fix for the pipeline termination point for tar sands bitumen export. It shows again the lack of respect given to the power of the sea and the vagaries of human error or mechanical breakdown."

"Consider that we are talking about at least an additional 250 VLCC (Very Large Crude Carriers) tanker movements a year," he also explained. 

"Residents of the South coast have experienced severe winter gales this year and the central coast gets them in spades. Do we really think that the high level of shipping proposed would operate without problems, year in and year out? And this is not only considering the narrow channels of the port approach, but even more critically in the open ocean of the offshore approaches to the coast."

Ministry of Environment spokesperson Karen Johnston stressed that in the case of any oil spills, the "polluter pays" principle applies.

"Responsibility for all spills rests with the spiller. The provincial Environmental Management Act establishes a polluter-pay model under which spillers are held accountable for costs associated with spills," she told The Vancouver Observer.

During a marine spill event, the province's environment ministry would coordinate a response with with the Provincial Emergency Program and the federal government, she said.

"In the case of [Saturday night]'s earthquake off Haida Gwaii, there are no other reports of any damage received, however, further assessments will be carried out during daylight hours."


The earthquake, Old Masset economic development officer John Disney said, was harrowing: 

"The quake shook pictures etc off the walls in Masset and made the water in our water cooler slosh out onto the floor. The house shook and groaned ... there were many noticeable aftershocks. We all evacuated both Old Massett and Masset because of the tsunami warning... 

"We have the top two earthquake records in Canada now and really we take it in stride. We have earthquakes here all the time." 

Stay tuned to The Vancouver Observer as we update on the north BC earthquake. 

For more, read: 

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