Of marine reserves and tanker traffic
A Chinese coal carrier run aground in Australian waters could sow seeds of worry on B.C.'s west coast
Proponents of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline project, as well as those backing the Kitimat LNG Terminal on B.C.’ s west coast ought to pay close attention to a developing story on Australia’s Gold Coast.
Images of a Chinese bulk coal carrier precariously stuck on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – offer a stark reminder of the myriad things that can go terribly wrong on international shipping routes.
A major leak hasn’t occurred, but the Chinese tanker is carrying 950 tonnes of oil and there is growing concern that the ship could break up on the fragile reef. The disaster-in-waiting has overtones for Canada’s west coast.
The Northern Gateway scheme involves a twin pipeline system running from Edmonton, Alberta, to a new marine terminal at Kitimat, B.C. The plan is to export petroleum and import condensate.
The Kitimat LNG Terminal will draw natural gas via a pipeline from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (think Horn River in northeast B.C.) and export it to Asian markets using “specially-designed marine vessels” that boast “full-containment tanks.”
Such precautions bode well. Still, all the technology and safeguards in the world cannot eliminate the possibility that a ship will run aground.
Witness the fate of the Queen of the North. The B.C. ferry sank in 2006 135 kilometers south of Prince Rupert despite being equipped with the latest in navigational aides. Two passengers died. Had it been a tanker, the resulting spill would have devasted the coast’s delicate ecosystems.
Funneling Western gas to Asian markets is an ambitious undertaking. Persuading Canadians and coastal communities to buy into export schemes along the pristine coastline will be harder still, given developments in Australian waters, and the presence of a new marine reserve on the Queen Charlotte Islands.