Georgia Strait Alliance is the only citizens' group focused on protecting the marine environment in and around the whole Strait of Georgia – Canada's most at-risk natural environment, and the place where 70% of British Columbians live, work and play. We are committed to a future for our region that includes clean water and air, healthy wild salmon runs, rich marine life and natural areas, and sustainable communities.

May 27, 2010

Don't worry, it's just a seepage

Sometimes listening to an interview can be more like watching someone tap dance than providing information. This is the impression I was left with this morning as I listened to the answers from a Chevron representative being interviewed on CBC regarding how oil and/or gas is now seeping into Burrard Inlet from the Chevron plant. I shook my head at the efforts being made to downplay oil and gas spills ... even going so far as referring to them a 'hydrocarbons' to make it sound less harmful and by saying it's just a small sheen on the water, a tactic the interviewer did not let them get away with.

While I listened, there were also two words that popped into my head: ignorance and mistrust.

Just as BP is doing down in the Gulf of Mexico, Chevron seems to be completely ignorant of how oil spills (or seepages) can be devastating to a localized environment. Even small amounts of oil and gas can kill or harm marine plants and animals. The sheen you see on the water's surface can be fatal to the many tiny animals that live in the water's surface layer. Juvenile fish and shellfish also depend on this surface 'microlayer'. In addition, chemicals present in fuel react with sunlight to become up to 50,000 times more toxic, killing plankton and other species that are essential for a healthy marine environment. What is also missing from this assessment is an understanding of the fact that spill is not happening in isolation. There are hundred of small oil and gas spills that happen in Burrard Inlet and in Georgia Strait, from ship to shoreline, each year. In fact, in North America, small fuel and oil spills equal 15x what was spilled by the Exxon Valdez - each year. So to try and minimize it by calling it a 'seepage' does us all a disservice by trying to minimize the harm being done by these types of spills.

From what we're being told, this discharge started last month in an area that had been a concern to Chevron for the last 6 years. Their concern caused them to start monitoring the area, even increasing the monitoring in the last year. As we speak, Chevron is saying it does not know where the oil and gas is coming from which is making stopping it a challenge. I admit, it's a bit hard to fathom that after 6 years of monitoring a source hasn't been found, and more importantly, has been capped.

It's this kind of approach to spills from the oil and gas industry that has us all wondering how we continue to take so many risks with the production, processing and transport of oil and gas. With no real ability to recover what is spilled and a seeming attitude that our oceans can handle the toxins we continue to put into it, this is an industry that is really hard to trust.

And it will only get worse. Today, Enbridge filed an application for the construction and operation of the Northern Gateway Project, which could bring more tankers to our coast if we don't continue to fight it, while the US continues to push for offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.

Our coastline, including Georgia Strait, are heading towards a death by a thousand cuts, and until we made real commitments to build an alternative energy bridge which will move us away from our dependence on fossil fuels, the cuts will keep coming.