Greenpeace sails with First Nations to oppose Arctic oil tankers

Candace Campo Audrey Siegl Taylor George Hollis Greenpeace Esperanza Prystupa
Candace Campo, Audrey Siegl and Taylor George Hollis in front of the Greenpeace vessel Esperanza that was docked in North Vancouver on Friday. Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa.

A massive Greenpeace ship will depart the Port of Vancouver on Tuesday with a cross-Canada Aboriginal delegation. The delegation seeks to raise alarm about the potential surge in U.S. oil tankers set to ply past British Columbia’s coastlines in the future, should Shell's Arctic oil drilling plans go full steam ahead.

For ten days, the international environmental organization, active in 40 countries, will sail its largest ship —the Esperanza —to B.C. coastal communities such as Haida Gwaii to spread the word about the increased oil spill risks to the province's coastline that could result from Arctic drilling.

Audrey Siegl (ancestral name sχɬemtəna:t), of the Vancouver-area Musqueum Nation, will be among the indigenous participants.  The First Nations drummer is well known for her anti-oil rally activities, from Burnaby Mountain to Northern Gateway marches.  

“We have bitumen tankers looking to come through already —and now American Arctic oil drilling tankers?  No. I say no to this the same way I say no to LNG, no to Kinder Morgan, and no to the tar sands. They’re all connected,” she said.

Greenpeace Esperanza 03/18/2015 Vincenzo Floramo

Esperanza ship at sea on March 18, 2015.  Photo by Vincenzo Floramo / Greenpeace.

The Greenpeace voyage comes just as Shell receives a key U.S. approval this month to start exploratory drilling in July off the coast of Alaska in the Chukchi Sea. The northern area is bursting with marine mammals, such as polar bears and belugas, but also contains massive petroleum riches.

Shell Oil is investing billions of dollars in the Arctic, and says the polar region contains 13 per cent of the world's undiscovered oil, and 40 per cent of its yet-to-be-found natural gas. 

In Alaska, Shell proposes to drill into a sea bed 42 metres below the waves at a drill site 112 kilometres from the village of Wainwright, using its drill ship, Noble Discoverer, and submersible Transocean Polar Pioneer. 

"The recent approval of our Revised Chukchi Sea Exploration Plan is an important milestone and signals the confidence regulators have in our plan,”  Shell spokesperson Jeff Mann said in an email.

Hundreds of Arctic oil tankers passing B.C.'s coast?

But for those aboard the Greenpeace vessel, the concern is that Arctic drilling could result in hundreds of new oil tankers sailing past British Columbia's coastlines. Shell declined to say exactly how many there would be.

Energy analysts expect Alaskan waters could produce one million barrels of oil per day. The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, by comparison, would pump half that, and calls for four hundred tankers annually.

Greenpeace believes the oil tankers would pass the entire B.C. coastline on their way to U.S. terminals in Washington, California and Texas. And if any of the tankers ran aground, like the Exxon Valdez did in 1989, it would have devastating environmental consequences, the group says.

Polar Pioneer Port Angeles April 17 2015 Greenpeace Tim Aubry

Polar Pioneer being passed by Greenpeace activists in Port Angeles on April 17, 2015.  Photo by Tim Aubry / Greenpeace.

Candace Campo, of the Sechelt First Nation (shíshálh), was a young adult when the Exxon Valdez disaster occurred.  She doesn't want more oil tankers nearing B.C.'s shores.

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