Oil tanker explodes in Japan, stirs worries in B.C. (BREAKING)

On eve of a Northern Gateway decision in B.C., an oil tanker explodes off the coast of Japan

Japan oil tanker explosion - Vancouver Observer - Associated Press
Black smoke and flames rising from an oil tanker that exploded off Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan on May 29, 2014. AP photo used with permission.

An oil tanker explosion Thursday morning off Japan's coast is stirring fears on this side of the Pacific, where British Columbia is facing multiple oil and LNG gas proposals to rapidly increase tanker traffic.

A petroleum-soaked environmental disaster will likely be avoided this time in Japan's waters, because the tanker was not filled with oil at the time.
 
"Thank goodness the tanker in Himeji wasn't loaded," said Kai Nagata, Energy & Democracy Director for the Dogwood Initiative in Victoria.
 
The Japanese tanker burst into billowing flames, prompting the rescue of its eight-person crew.  The captain is still missing, and four people are seriously injured, according to several news reports.
 

Hundreds of oil and gas tankers proposed for B.C.'s coast

While oil tanker accidents have been rare off North America's western shorelines, the risk is expected to rise.

British Columbia on the eve of a major federal decision regarding the Northern Gateway Alberta-to-Kitimat oil sands pipeline, which would add 220 oil tankers per year.  Kinder Morgan's Edmonton-to-Burnaby expansion pipeline would increase tankers to 403 per year, said a spokesperson Thursday.

Many environmental groups say the spill risk is too high.

"Every month, five loaded oil tankers leave the Kinder Morgan terminal in Burnaby, sail through the Vancouver harbour and out past the Gulf Islands and Victoria. Are we ready to deal with an accident? The people who work on the spill cleanup boats will tell you we're not even close," said Nagata. 

"Now Kinder Morgan is asking to triple the capacity of that pipeline, which would triple the existing risk. Enbridge wants to build a whole new tanker facility in Kitimat. The majority of British Columbians are asking, 'why should we swallow those additional risks just so pipeline companies can ship more of our oil to refineries overseas?'"

If an oil tanker spill were to occur off B.C.'s coast, the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) would respond.

"If there is a marine spill, we have the ability and capacity to respond immediately 24/7 and we have been doing so for nearly 40 years. Our crews train constantly for this type of event,” said WCMRC spokesperson Michael Lowry on Thursday.
 
LNG tanker - WikiCommons
LNG tanker - WikiCommons
 
The province is also heavily pushing LNG proposals -- there are now nine coastal LNG facilities that have been granted export licences, for the Kitimat, Prince Rupert and the Sunshine Coast areas.
 
The District of Kitimat recently said if current LNG proposals and the Northern Gateway pipeline were to go forward, tanker traffic would spike to to 900 per year in the Douglas Channel.
 
The Harper government recently announced federal measures designed to improve marine oil spill cleanup and prevention, and to involve First Nations expertise in these matters.
 
Kitimat port tankers - Mychaylo Prystupa
Vessels in the Port of Kitimat - April 2014 - Mychaylo Prystupa

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