Canada's Original Think Tank

Second reading of Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Bill

Second reading of Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Bill

Second reading of Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Bill

Hon. Jane Cordy: 

Honourable senators, I will speak today to Bill C-48, An Act respecting the regulation of vessels that transport crude oil or persistent oil to or from ports or marine installations located along British Columbia’s north coast.

Honourable senators, on October 16, Senator Neufeld addressed this chamber regarding a new liquefied natural gas megaproject in Canada. He spoke about the importance of this unprecedented investment in LNG for our resource workforce, the families they support, and our national economy. In discussing the single largest private-sector investment in Canadian history, Senator Neufeld said:

Two weeks ago, a business consortium announced its final investment decision for LNG Canada, a $40 billion project that will help Asia get off coal and replace it with the world’s cleanest LNG. This is a great story for Canada, but you may have missed it.

Honourable senators, Senator Neufeld makes a great point. LNG Canada’s historic investment in Canadian energy has, I think, been under acknowledged, and the LNG project in the Pacific Northwest is proof positive that economic development and environmental protection can go hand in hand.

This is particularly so as we think about LNG in the context of Bill C-48, the proposal to formalize the 1985 oil tanker moratorium on B.C.’s northern coast after more than three decades of effective safeguards. Bill C-48 would give this long-standing environmental protection the strength of law, providing for community and industry resupply of persistent oils but prohibiting shipments of over 12,500 metric tonnes.

Bill C-48’s purpose in this regard is to minimize the risk of a catastrophic oil spill along this ecologically extraordinary, pristine and remote region, which contains the Great Bear Rainforest, the islands of Haida Gwaii, and many important species and wildlife populations.

As we debate Bill C-48, including the appropriate balancing of economic and environmental factors, we should keep in mind that the bill will allow LNG tanker exports in the affected region — that is, from the northern end of Vancouver Island to the Alaskan border. And, of course, we should keep in mind that Bill C-48 does not restrict tanker transport of persistent oils farther south than British Columbia, such as those emanating from the Trans Mountain pipeline.

This geographic distinction for crude oil transport is critical to Bill C-48 because spills — which are very unlikely, but always possible due to human and mechanical failure — can be more effectively prevented and, if they do occur, contained farther south due to the resources located in the region.

So, with LNG, what kind of economic development are we talking about?

Canada is currently the fourth-largest producer and fifth-largest exporter of natural gas in the world. As senators know, in October, LNG Canada announced a $40 billion investment in major liquefied natural gas export projects in northern British Columbia, including a terminal in Kitimat, giving Canada the fastest route to Asia for North American gas. This will allow Canadian gas to reach Tokyo from Kitimat in eight days versus 20 days from the United States Gulf. These LNG production, pipeline and marine terminal facilitates will create approximately 10,000 jobs at the peak of construction.

The project will eventually generate billions of dollars in direct government revenues, and this investment in the energy sector will include hundreds of millions of dollars in construction contracts for Indigenous businesses.

However, this development will be balanced with environmental interest. No extraction or shipping industry is without its environmental footprint. But this project will have the lowest carbon intensity of any large-scale LNG facility globally. And perhaps most exciting, it will enable the export of cleaner energy to Asian markets to replace fuels like coal, thereby helping to reduce carbon emissions globally. This international shift to cleaner fuels is of critical importance to mitigating the disastrous effects of climate change.

Bill C-48 will allow tankers to transport liquefied natural gas from the terminal at Kitimat. LNG will be permitted because it does not have the same devastating effect on the environment, as it dissipates quickly through evaporation.

However, the transport of heavier oil products, categorized as persistent oils, will be prohibited to provide protection to the marine environment. This means that in such an ecologically sensitive, pristine and remote area of Canada, Bill C-48 allows less risky energy transport activity with LNG on a large scale. This makes good sense and supports regional and national economic development.

But the bill does not allow a higher risk activity with persistent oils because of geographical obstacles to spill prevention and response, as well as the acute risk to the area’s extraordinary ecosystems. These conditions do not exist on the southern British Columbia coast, which is much more developed, and also close to the response capabilities of Washington State. This is the reason why Bill C-48’s regional restriction on persistent oils in the north minimizes and is intended and designed to minimize the risk of a catastrophic spill.

Indeed, Bill C-48 seeks to minimize the risk of a disaster like the grounding of the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound in Alaska in 1989. Many of us may remember those devastating and unforgettable scenes of coastlines and wildlife covered in crude oil. For senators looking to downplay the small but ever-present risk of a catastrophic spill in oil transport at sea, we would do well to remember the effects of the Exxon Valdez disaster that linger to this day.

The Valdez disaster was one of the worst oil spills in United States history until the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. As Senator Jaffer told this chamber, the Exxon Valdez spill killed 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbour seals, 250 bald eagles, up to 22 orcas and billions of salmon and herring eggs. We must consider the cumulative effects of the loss of all these fish on interconnected terrestrial ecosystems, which rely on marine resources like salmon to feed bears and other animals, and to fertilize the temperate rainforest. When thinking about the scale of a potential disaster, we also need to be mindful of the potential effects on fisheries, tourism, ecotourism and Canada’s international reputation as a steward of the natural world.

As well, we must keep in mind the effects of a spill on coastal communities, particularly Indigenous communities, which is why British Columbia’s coastal First Nations support Bill C-48 so strongly. Listening to speeches on Bill C-48 to this point, the suggestion from some senators seems to be that oil spills are next to impossible. While we hope an oil spill never happens, we must do what we can to protect our coastlines. Honourable senators, human error and mechanical errors are always possibilities and a long-term disaster would require only one such incident.

The geographic challenges of assisting disabled tankers and responding to spills along British Columbia’s north coast justified Canada’s creation of voluntary tanker exclusion zone in 1985, which was also formalized by the United States Coast Guard in 1988. The zone extends about 100 kilometres offshore and was created in response to the completion of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline system in the 1970s. The size of the area was determined by calculating the worst possible drift of a disabled tanker loaded with cargo, compared to the time required for help from a sufficiently powerful tugboat. Then, of course, there are immense logistical challenges for an effective spill response should disaster strike. This is particularly so in the rough waters of northern British Columbia, where the currents and the tides are strong.

To be precise, Bill C-48 is a risk management decision based on the sound geographic and ecological distinction between coastal regions. Conservation often involves choices of this sort, giving strong protections to some habitats to preserve ecological strongholds. As Senator Jaffer outlined, the ecological features of British Columbia’s northern coast make these strong protections appropriate.

Moreover, the concept behind Bill C-48 is similar to the concept behind national parks or marine protected areas. This is a subject we have been discussing with Bill C-55, which has also been at second reading for quite some time. With the oil tanker moratorium, Bill C-48 seeks to strongly protect one of the world’s greatest coastal habitats as well as the cultures who have relied on and protected this natural wealth for millennia.

To be sure, the moratorium’s protection will extend over a large area, as it has for the last 33 years. However, Bill C-48 also allows for large-scale energy exports in the region with LNG. We do have a balance: major resource development going hand in hand with strong, environmental protections. The LNG project is significant for the region and for the country.

Honourable senators, Bill C-48 had support at third reading in the other place from the NDP, the Green Party, the Groupe parlementaire québécois and the governing Liberals.

Therefore, in addition to the compelling public policy rationale behind the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, I support Bill C-48 and believe restricting crude oil tanker traffic on the north coast of British Columbia strikes the right balance between economic growth and environmental protection.

With that, honourable senators, I hope you will join me in supporting the sending of Bill C-48 to committee soon, as it has been in this chamber since the spring.

Thank you.

Hon. David M. Wells: Would Senator Cordy take a question?

Senator Cordy: Yes.

Senator Wells: Thank you for your speech. I noticed you are supportive of the tanker ban off the northeast coast of B.C. Would you also be supportive — for the same reasons — of a tanker ban off the coast of Nova Scotia, your home province?

Senator Cordy: That’s a really good question. I talked about the pristine coastline of British Columbia. I believe the coastline around Nova Scotia — it’s a peninsula, so there are three sides surrounded by water — is also pristine. We also have to work at balancing the delivering of fuels with the environment.

Senator Wells: Would you take the same question again, Senator Cordy? Would you be supportive of a tanker ban off the coast of Nova Scotia?

Senator Plett: Answer the question; don’t be like Senator Harder.

Senator Cordy: That’s a really good question. I think it’s very important we look at balancing the environmental concerns with delivery of products to the East Coast of Canada.

Hon. Michael L. MacDonald: Honourable senators, I have a question for Senator Cordy.

On the East Coast of Canada, on some days we have probably 500,000 barrels of oil going through to the refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick. All these tankers go through Nova Scotia waters. All the jobs are in other provinces. That’s fine; that’s part of the price of being a Canadian. I’m curious, though, how you can justify shutting down the same type of activity on one coast of this country and allowing it to occur or say nothing about it occurring in your own backyard.

Why is it okay to do this on the West Coast, and where is the balance on the East Coast when all of the oil is coming through on the East Coast?

Senator Cordy: A voluntary moratorium has been in place since 1985, when Prime Minister Mulroney brought it in. All this bill is doing is putting into law what has been happening since 1985.