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NEWS: Harper government says there is no moratorium on oil drilling, tanker traffic off BC coast

The Canwest News Service reports today that, “The Harper government has quietly affirmed that it isn’t legally bound to maintain a moratorium on oil drilling off the coast of British Columbia. The government has also determined that the ban doesn’t apply to oil-tanker traffic, despite the widely held view that such vessels are prohibited from plying the waters along B.C.’s northern coast.”

“The federal government’s position, outlined in a statement issued last year, opens the door to a significant spike in tanker traffic under a $5.5-billion plan by Enbridge Inc. to build two pipelines that would carry (tar sands) oil from the Edmonton region to a port in Kitimat, B.C.”

“The offshore drilling moratorium in B.C. dates back to 1972, when the government of Pierre Trudeau banned tanker traffic through the coastal waters north of Vancouver Island. The moratorium was later extended to include all offshore oil and gas activity, putting a freeze on offshore permits held by various oil companies. In 2004, a panel appointed by the Chretien government completed a public review of the moratoriums. The panel concluded that public opposition was too strong to consider lifting the bans.”

“But last year, Natural Resources Canada attached a correction to the report that takes issue with the former Liberal government’s interpretation of the bans. The correction states that ‘the moratorium on oil and gas activities offshore British Columbia does not apply to tanker traffic.’ It also notes there is no legislation requiring the government to maintain the ban on offshore drilling, which was imposed through cabinet orders that have since expired. And it leaves the door open to converting offshore permits held by oil companies into new exploration licences. ‘There is no statutory impediment to carrying out those negotiations,’ states the correction.”

“A spokesman for Enbridge said ‘both the federal and provincial governments, and their respective departments have confirmed that there is no legislated moratorium on oil tankers entering B.C. ports.’ The Enbridge project, which is expected to break ground in 2013, will cause traffic through the Kitimat port to increase by 220 tankers per year. Tankers will travel through the Hecate Strait, Dixon Entrance and Queen Charlotte Sound, all of which are covered by the 1972 moratorium. The project is undergoing an environmental assessment by a joint review panel of experts under the supervision of the National Energy Board, which regulates offshore drilling off the B.C. coast.”

When asked about the possibility of an oil spill given this amount of tanker traffic, Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel said last month, “Can we promise there will never be an accident? No. Nobody can.” It’s no wonder many First Nations in British Columbia have said they will not allow this project to proceed. The Council of Canadians will be standing in solidarity with them to stop this outrageous project.