After the Minerva Gloria transported the first-ever supertanker shipment of Alberta bitumen down the St. Lawrence River, the Council of Canadians urged the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to intervene to protect the Lac-Saint-Pierre World Biosphere Reserve which finds itself on the sea route.
In the past, UNESCO has intervened to protect world heritage sites. In one instance, they determined that mining close to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef would damage the site.
“These shipments of Alberta tar sands oil travel too close for comfort to one of Quebec and Canada’s natural wonders,” says Maude Barlow, National Chairperson for the Council of Canadians, “We are very concerned about what a spill would do to Lac-Saint-Pierre and surrounding waterways.”
The Lac-Saint-Pierre Biosphere Reserve, established in 2000, is located on the St. Lawrence River, east of Montreal, between Sorel-Tracy and Trois-Rivières.
On September 24, Suncor shipped 700,000 barrels of heavy crude from the port of Sorel-Tracy past Lac Saint-Pierre to Sardinia, Italy. The vessel, the 250-metre-long and 44-metre-wide Minerva Gloria, carried bitumen from the port – originally transported from the Alberta tar sands to Quebec by rail – through the shallow and narrow inland portion of Lac-Saint-Pierre. A second vessel headed to Sorel to pick up the second load of bitumen was prohibited from departing because of defective fire equipment.
With 90 per cent of its territory in a natural state, Lac-St-Pierre would be devastated by a spill. Mayors along the St. Lawrence River, including the Sorel-Tracey mayor Serge Péloquin, have warned that they do not have the technical and financial capacity to clean up a spill. Despite federal rules that require oil companies to have the ability to deal with a spill of 10,000 tonnes of oil, the Minerva Gloria carried 15 times that amount on the river.
The letter, written by National Chairperson Maude Barlow and Executive Director Garry Neil, warns that any accident threatens Lac Saint-Pierre’s World Biosphere and Ramsar site recognition.
The letter states: “We urge you to intervene and to stop Suncor’s tar sands vessels in order to protect the Lac Saint-Pierre Biosphere Reserve. We have called upon Canadian and Quebec officials to conduct a thorough environmental assessment and conduct community consultations.”
Read the letter here.
Photo: Lac St-Pierre, Axel Drainville, Flickr Media Commons