There are reasons why oil contamination in the Gulf of Mexico is a particularly important story to residents of British Columbia. First is the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal for super tankers to carry Alberta oil from Kitimat through Douglas Channel. The second reason is the energy industry’s persistent aim of drilling for oil and gas in coastal waters.
Northern Gateway is a controversial project that would allow export of product from the Alberta oil sands but environmentalists worry that the pipeline and tanker traffic present substantial risks to the west coast ecosystem. A poll of BC residents suggests that 75% object to tankers plying inside coastal waters. The Canadian Government is arranging a Review Panel to consider the environmental threats. However, it appears that the Government of China is already certain that the project will proceed. That country recently announced its third major investment in Alberta oil sands production. With additional deals under discussion, the Chinese investment in oil sands will soon exceed $10 billion, a sum that indicates this oil hungry nation expects to burn more oil sourced in Canada.
The BC Liberals have already indicated support for the Kitimat super port and the federal Conservative Party is unlikely to erect barriers. The only issue they worry about is avoiding political damage from approving a project that is broadly opposed. First Nations people, other residents of the north coast region and the province’s environmental lobby are unhappy with a major oil port. Campbell’s Liberals will not care about a little more political damage because, despite being in the midst of self-destruction, they remain reliable servants to big business.
Calgary oil industry consultant Dr. Henry Lyatsky has been a leading proponent of ending the west coast exploration moratorium, which exists not as law but simple policy that could be changed without legislation. Dr. Lyatsky speaks of about 10 billion barrels of oil and huge natural gas reserves in the Queen Charlotte basin, from northern Vancouver Island to Haida Gwai. If government is proceeding with the Northern Gateway port, they are not likely to ignore a trillion dollars of petroleum assets under the west coast ocean floor, particularly when they allow dangerous deep water drilling off the east coast.
Were I a strategist for the oil industry, I would be confident that regulatory barriers could be overcome but I would worry about public opinion, which does not now favor either super tankers or oil rigs in BC waters. BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster is a near fatal blow to the industry’s hopes for Canadian west coast action. The Gulf Coast, where more than a quarter of U.S. oil production takes place, has vast resources serving the drilling industry. Yet, they have not the ability to deal with the BP spill, now in its second month.
The oil industry is following a strategy to minimize negative public relations caused by the oil spill. As ProPublic reported:
When estimates of the size of BP’s oil spill in the Gulf quickly shifted from no leak to 1,000 barrels a day to 5,000 barrels a day—with BP telling members of Congress the daily flow could rise up to 60,000 barrels—it was pretty obvious the estimates weren’t entirely reliable.
Additionally, while oil gushed, BP kept the flow of information to a trickle, according to ProPublica. BP prohibited experts from estimating the oil flow but when video was finally released, observers soon determined that the initial estimates were far too low.
For those who might rely on Vancouver television as a source of news and information, we examine a May 21 report on the Gulf of Mexico oil contamination. Pay attention to the introduction by Emmy Award Winner Chis Gailus on Global’s TV “flagship news broadcast.”
From the Gulf coast, all the way up the U.S. east coast, frustration is growing tonight over the hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil that have poured into the Gulf of Mexico. As more and more of that oil from the sunken rig hits the coastline, soiling at least ten locations now, critics are blasting BP for not providing enough information about what it’s doing to handle the disaster.
There are two possibilities that led to that report. Either Global TV’s newsroom is incompetent, unable to assemble a factual report, or this is another example of shaping the news to fit an objective other than accurately delivering news. They report a spill of hundreds of thousands of gallons that has soiled ten locations along the Gulf Coast. In fact, by BP’s lowball estimate, about seven million gallons of oil have entered the Gulf of Mexico. According to Purdue Professor Steve Werely’s estimate, the flow has been closer to 100 million gallons of crude. The statement that only a handful of locations are soiled by oil will come as a shock to residents of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and the many Gulf Coast families who earn their livings by fishing and tourism.
The Gulf oil spill may be the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history and that will not be relieved soon. Riki Ott, a toxicologist who wrote two books about the Exxon Valdez spill, says she believes the scenario is far worse than officials are presenting to the public. Ott added that the continental shelf ecosystem and open ocean ecosystem are linked very closely:
“The shrimp that depend on wetlands and marshes for nurseries, when they migrate offshore, they become food for red snapper and grouper. It’s too much oil, too fast, not to have a pretty big impact on generations of wildlife that’s in the water column. Birds eating shellfish getting sick and dying marine mammals, land mammals getting sick and dying. You have birds feeding oiled fish to their chicks, the chicks have stunted growth.”
Again, could Global TV be so wrong without having an intention to mislead? Is this part of the corporate agenda that aims to minimize the risk of the oil industry gaining free license to carry on business as they wish?