Accident Confirms Fears About Proposed Enbridge Tanker Traffic

By Lloyd Dolha

A Kitamaat Chief Councilor says the recent shipping accident in the Douglas Channel confirms the Haisla’s worst fears about the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateeway project. Chief Councilor Delores Pollard of the Haisla First Nation reacted quickly to the news that a large ship leaving Kitimat, BC had struck the shore, causing significant damage to the ship. “This confirms our concerns around the Enbridge Northern Gateway project and the need to address the ‘real’ risks involved to our livelihood,” said Pollard.

On October 1st, a 187-metre 40,000 ton Bahama-registered freighter named the Petersfield suffered a catastrophic steering failure while running at full maneuvering speed in the Douglas Channel just south of Grant Point (approximately two hours south of Kitimat). “We are thankful that no one was hurt and that no oil or other contaminants were spilled, but this accident clearly demonstrates why northern First Nations and communities require a more adequate process to address the risks involved with shipping of any potential contaminants that will detrimentally affect our way of life,” said Pollard.

In a letter to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and Enbridge, the Haisla First Nation expressed their objections to the plan for a new twin pipeline system from the Edmonton area to a marine terminal in Kitimat, stating “the potential impacts of oils spills associated with the proposed project are of significant concern.” Pollard said the Haisla have not been meaningfully engaged in the review process and have concerns regarding Enbridge’s ability to safeguard the environment. The letter also indicated the Haisla “will take every necessary step, including resorting to the courts, to continue to protection of our people and our rights.”

The Petersfield accident is reminiscent of the of the BC ferry that struck Gil Island three years ago and sank. “This is exactly why the citizens of Hartley Bay don’t want tanker traffic going through our area. This is the most obvious foreshadowing we have had,” said Gitiga’at First Nation Councilor Cameron Hill. “If that freighter had hit any harder, it could have spilled its fuel, and it would have been catastrophic for our area.” The Gitiga’at Nation is still dealing with the effects of the Queen of the North sinking.

The Enbridge Gateway pipeline would transport 700,000 barrels of oil and condensate between Alberta and Kitimat, requiring use of about 225 ships annually. Steve Greenway, Enbridge VP of Public and Governmental Affairs, said safety measures would be in place if the proposed terminal in Kitimat were realized. Greenway said an escort tug would be tethered to the tanker to maneuver vessels in situations similar to the Petersfield accident.“The tethered tug model isn’t going to be cheap, but it’s absolutely critical, and we wouldn’t consider moving tankers up the Douglas Channel without that,” he said, adding that their tankers would be double-hulled.

A number of First Nations have rejected the Enbridge plan already and are threatening court action as well. Referring to the demand for a public inquiry by other First Nations and community groups, Pollard stated, “The risks of shipping oil through our territories are real, and the impacts of an accident or an oil spill would be devastating to us all.” The Transportation Safety Board is investigating the Petersfield accident.