How likely is an oil spill in Vancouver?

When the Marathassa started leaking bunker fuel into English Bay this April, residents got just a small glimpse into of what an oil spill and an oil spill clean up might look like here in Vancouver.


Last week we got another reminder of the damage oil spills can do when we watched volunteers in Santa Barbara, California rush into the surf to save oiled birds and wildlife as heavy black crude from a pipeline rupture washed up on their beaches.

These events invoked mixed sentiments for me.  Awful as they are, it’s good to see that they are finally getting at least a little attention from mainstream media, because the truth is, leaks and spills from oil pipelines and tankers occur on an almost daily basis.  Enbridge had over 800 leaks spills between 1999 and 2010 - that’s more than one spill a week from a single pipeline company, and the history of our existing Kinder Morgan pipeline is fraught with significant accidents.

Last week, the city of Vancouver released time lapse oil spill projection videos based on the first scientific studies of what would happen if one of the tankers from Kinder Morgan's new pipeline had an accident in Vancouver Harbor.  This video models what would happen if a tanker had an incident while passing under the Lions Gate Bridge and spilled just 1/5 of its oil.

This shows a similar spill under the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge.

These choke points are some of the most risky points in a tankers travels through our harbor.

Furthermore, what these videos aren’t able to convey is that when oil spills happen the toxic cloud that is released can be almost as dangerous as the oil itself.  Another report released this week by Metro Vancouver models air dispersion of toxins from a tanker spill in Burrard Inlet which shows that over one million people in the Lower Mainland could be exposed to airborne toxins and that could result in over 30,000 people having health impacts.

So how likely is an oil spill to happen in Vancouver?  Well, the jury’s still out on that one, but I sincerely believe that the answer truly depends on me and you.  

If we organize, focus our energy on strategic outcomes, and commit to working together until this pipeline proposal is shut down once and for all, a spill like the ones you see here never has to happen in our coastal waters.  But we won’t stop these projects overnight, and we certainly won’t be successful if we sit back and let the flawed National Energy Board review go unchallenged, re-elect a government that prioritizes the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, or become complacent in the hope that a new incoming government will solve our problems without continued pressure and political engagement.

Force of Nature is committed to working with communities in the Lower Mainland to maximize their leverage to on stop Enbridge, Kinder Morgan and any other fossil fuel expansion, using data-driven organizing and electoral voter-mobilization tactics. If you are curious about any of our plans, check out our website or shoot me an e-mail.   Better still, there’s many ways for you join our campaign by taking the vote pledgecontributing funds, or signing up to volunteer.  

Or feel free to drop me a line and tell me what you think of what we’re doing.  We always like to hear your feedback.