The Oil Man and the Sea

Arno Kopecky's profile of the Northern Gateway oil tanker route was shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction.

Arno Kopecky

With Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway proposal nearing approval, supertankers loaded with two million barrels of bitumen each may soon join herring, humpbacks and salmon on their annual migration through the tumultuous waters off British Columbia's Central Coast — a place no oil tanker has been before. The contentious project has aroused intense opposition, pitting local First Nations, a majority of British Columbia's urban population, and environmental groups across the country against an international consortium led by Enbridge and backed by a federal government determined to make Canada an "energy superpower." Arno Kopecky sails into the controversy aboard a forty-one-foot cutter for a closer look at a legendary region with a knife at its throat. Without any prior sailing experience, Kopecky and his sailing companion — photographer Ilja Herb — struggle to keep afloat as they make their way through a volatile labyrinth of fjords, inlets and evergreen islands known as the Great Bear Rainforest. This amphibious ecosystem is among the last great wildernesses on earth, housing a quarter of the world's temperate rainforest and a thriving ocean environment that together host forty per cent more biomass per hectare than the Amazon. But as Kopecky soon discovers, the politics of Big Oil and First Nations can be every bit as treacherous to navigate as the shifting currents and hidden reefs for which the Northern Gateway tanker route is known. In this rich evocation of ecology, culture and history, Kopecky meditates on the line between impartial reportage and environmental activism, ultimately arguing that there are some places oil tankers should never go. (From Douglas & McIntyre)

The Oil Man and the Sea was shortlisted for the 2014 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction.

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From the book

For the last two years, for better and worse, that dream had revolved around the Joint Review Panel's three stone-faced members charged with overseeing the public hearings into the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project. It was the Joint Review Panel's job to visit every town along the pipeline and tanker routes, many of them twice, and listen to thousands of hours of testimony from thousands of individuals; the process resembled a sprawling criminal court case in which the JRP was the judge, Enbridge the defendant, and the public was the prosecutor. Or perhaps those last two were the other way round. It often seemed that Enbridge was the prosecutor, and it was the public who had to defend its right to keep oil tankers out of their backyard. Certainly, the project was innocent until proven guilty, and it was up to a concerned public to convince the panel beyond a reasonable doubt that Northern Gateway's risks outweighed its benefits. The whole process would take approximately fourteen months, after which the panel would submit its report to the National Energy Board with a conclusion: either Northern Gateway was in the public interest or it wasn't.

From The Oil Man and the Sea: Navigating the Northern Gateway by Arno Kopecky ©2013. Published by Douglas & McIntyre.

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