The Series: Blog

Disaster in the Gulf: Lesson for Canada

April 22, 2010. The day the oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico was the day I left New Orleans. I was doing research on reef fish bycatch in the Gulf, and I was there conducting interviews with fishermen. But after the oil explosion, suddenly bycatch didn't seem so important. The question quickly became: will there be any fish left to discard?

So far, fishing has only been affected in a small fraction of the Gulf. But the explosion happened on Earth Day, and now, over two weeks since the event, and at a rate of 5000 barrels a day, we still can't seem to find a real solution to stop the oily flow.

What will be the long-term repercussions of this?

While some argue that the number of accidents of this scale is minute when compared to the total number of oil rigs out there, this begs the question: isn't one accident enough? And, if we really do take the Precautionary Principle (aka, common sense) seriously, then we just might reconsider such an energy-extraction set-up (and at the very least, have a plan in place for when things break down).

In an area already so ravaged by anthropogenic forces. And yet we are reminded how much we still stand to lose.

Here, on the coast of British Columbia, we also stand to lose a great deal: Enbridge is building a pipeline that will take crude oil from the Alberta tar sands and pump it west to the coastal village of Kitimat, where tankers would be waiting to transport the oil down through the narrow arm away from Kitimat, out into the Pacific, and over to China. Take one look at a BC map and you'll see why this is a bad idea.

tankerroutes.jpg

Map courtesy of Living Oceans Society

If a tanker hits the BC coast- a very real possibility: again, note the route (see map)- the repercussions would be so thoroughly devastating, that, in the words of wildlife photographer and writer Ian McAllister, "all we've been fighting for will be for naught," referring to all the battles waged over the years to conserve the wild coasts.

The Gulf of Mexico tragedy is still unfolding. The loss of human lives has already been felt. The final environmental consequences have yet to be fully comprehended. What's at stake is too large to be gambled; let us in Canada pay particular attention to the events down south. Let's not repeat history (1989 wasn't that long ago- don't we remember Exxon Valdez?), and instead learn from our costly mistakes, and prevent future ones.

One slip-up is enough. How many strikes will it take?

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