Tag Archives: oil tankers

Watching you Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau;

You will recall that at your book launch in Park Royal you graciously autographed below my comment ‘Watching You!

An autumn of sheer delight over your victory, boosted by a blossoming ’SunnyWays’ atmosphere across the land culminated in Canada’s strong and confident performance at COP21 where you and your team were instrumental in persuading the world of the imperative to hold global average temperature rise to no more than 1.5oC above pre-Industrial Revolution levels. Bravo! Elizabeth May was over the moon!

The letdown began during Spring Break with Cabinet’s nonchalant approval of Woodfibre LNG despite very strong opposition by the people of Howe Sound and in the face of outright rejection by every local government in the region. That was an unexpected kick in the face.

June brought the deeply contentious NEB approval of the Kinder Morgan Expansion. Your TMX Ministerial Panel, hastily assembled as a means of damage control, suffered blatant conflict of interest, professed no mandate but to listen, appeared listless and disinterested, was toothless, and achieved little if anything useful except, perhaps, furtherance of your agenda.

Over the summer I have been watching you with mounting unease as a flurry of MP-organized ‘Democracy Talks’ across BC gave every indication of having been rigged to distract our attention from the stark realities and colossal environmental risks posed by major fossil fuel-to-tidewater projects, aimed instead at softening us up for cabinet approval of one or more projects by year’s end.

As a British Columbian and retired mariner who lived through the 1964 bunker fuel spill in Howe Sound, I cannot overstate my concern regarding the risk of massively expanding diluted bitumen tanker traffic through Burrard Inlet and the Salish Sea. Reaction time, heavy tides, bad weather and human fallibility militate against significant spill recovery. Brave promises of a World Class oil spill clean-up capability become meaningless when dilbit sinks (according to a US National Academy of Sciences finding which was disallowed from evidence by the NEB).

Dilbit is exceedingly noxious stuff. A big spill near Vancouver could be catastrophic for the marine environment and precipitate a major health crisis across the Lower Mainland. Trans Mountain’s own experts have calculated a 10% probability of a dilbit spill of 8.25 million litres or more during a 50 year operating cycle. That’s 3000 times the size of the Marathassa spill (of mere fuel oil) in English Bay last year that caused so much fuss.

The Kinder Morgan expansion is incompatible with Canada meeting even our admittedly weak global climate commitment, yet the word is out that you are determined to approve an oil tanker project and Kinder Morgan is the favourite. Will you count that as a science-based decision?

What happened to your promise to overhaul the pipeline approval process? When are you going to step up and assume the climate action leadership role we saw in you? Most importantly, what will happen to our grandchildren if we fail to take the climate action so urgently needed right now?

Your father’s infamous middle finger salute to BC will be seen as nothing compared to your own hypocrisy if you, our climate savvy Prime Minister, – you, a grandson of Vancouver’s North Shore, – break faith with us who worked so hard, and with such good reason, to see you elected.

I beseech you, Prime Minister: do not approve Kinder Morgan Expansion!

Social licence not granted. British Columbia will not forget.

Watching You!

Regards

Roger Sweeny, Cdr RCN ret.

 

 

No Ship is Sailor-Proof

A retired Master Mariner explains the folly of using fossil-fuel carriers in B.C. coastal waters

by Roger Sweeny

I was born in Vancouver and grew up on the coast, much of that time spent in and around Howe Sound. I have been involved with the sea since I was 15. My teen summers were spent on a fish packer where I saw a lot out on the fishing grounds, including by-catch thrown away to die. I worked on a tug towing log booms, which brought home to me the desecration of our coastal forests.

I qualified at the Canadian Services College Royal Roads and served with the RCN for 32 years, retiring in 1980 with the rank of Commander. I possessed a Certificate of Service as Master Foreign Going and subsequently earned certification as Master Home Trade. All in all I served in 18 naval and merchant vessels, was Executive Officer of three  and Captain of two.

Three events in my later service years helped shape my mind towards environmental activism.

  • on a flag-planting flight from Resolute Bay to the North Pole in the spring of 1970 our aircraft was never out of sight of open sea;
  • during a 10-day voyage from the Bering Sea to Hawaii in 1971 our ship was never out of sight of floating garbage;
  • my 1976 posting as Nuclear Weapons Planning Officer on the NATO naval staff in Denmark alerted me to the massive deceit common to both sides of the arms race as well as to the potential horrors of nuclear conflict.

Since retirement I have grown increasingly aware that Earth’s most pressing problems are human-caused or human-exacerbated. In my own sphere, long years of dealing with men, ships and the sea have taught me that sea accidents almost invariably can be attributed to HPtFtU (the Human Proclivity to Foul things Up).

No matter how sound the vessel, how comprehensive the navigation and safety system, how strict the rules, how competent and well-led the crew, nothing is totally sailor-proof. A transfer valve left unserviced, a radar left unmonitored, an autopilot that should have been switched off, a misunderstood order, fatigue, complacency, hubris, disagreement between Captain and pilot or between pilots – these and a thousand more examples of human folly produce sea accidents. As long as humans sail in ships there will be screw-ups.

I am now deeply concerned about the dangers involved in the maritime transport aspects of the Northern Gateway, the Woodfibre LNG, and the Kinder Morgan Expansion project.Table

Northern Gateway:

  • north coast tides, currents and storms militate against safe passage of huge tankers in restricted waters of Douglas Channel and shallow, boisterous Hecate Strait;
  • despite assurances of world class response capability, a big dilbit spill on the north coast would be virtually impossible to clean up;
  • tankers and crews not all up to Canadian standards;
  • HPtFtU.

Woodfibre LNG:

  • A 60,000 tonne cargo of LNG carries the heat equivalent of six dozen Hiroshima atomic bombs;
  • the Society of International Gas Tanker and Terminal Operators (SIGTTO) safe location standards for gas terminals rules out Woodfibre as an LNG port (and SIGTTO’s ‘zero acceptable probability of a catastrophic LNG release’ criterion is recognized world-wide);
  • Sandia National Laboratories’ recommended minimum safety separation zone around LNG tankers is 3500m, which overlaps far beyond much of the channel out of Howe Sound and endangers other marine traffic and the lives of thousands of Howe Sound residents;
  • HPtFtU.

Kinder Morgan Expansion:

  • situated in the midst of a million + people;
  • strong tides, currents, two major bridges and the traffic of a major seaport to transit;
  • based on KM’s own experts’ assessments, the Concerned Engineers of BC calculate a 10% chance of a major (69,000 bbl) bitumen spill over a 50 year operating period;
  • dilbit (bitumen diluted with gas condensates) tends to sink as noxious solvents evaporate, thus spreading pollution below intertidal zone as well as into atmosphere’
  • potential for major public health hazard;
  • HPtFtU.

For the past 2 years I have concentrated on these issues at the expense of full participation in other Suzuki Elder activities. A notable exception was my happy success (with help) in persuading the West Vancouver Council to pass the Blue Dot resolution. I continue to work closely with the Dogwood Initiative and with members of My Sea to Sky and The Future of Howe Sound on these issues.

During the recent Canadian federal election I became (strategically) fully involved in the campaign to oust the sitting MP for the West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country electoral district which embraces Howe Sound. That goal thankfully achieved, now begins the big push to remind our elected representatives that

  • 100% renewable energy is goal one and is attainable;
  • 80% of fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground; and,
  • safety of life and limb is paramount.

 

Oil, the Environment, and the Future of Canada: A Meeting Report

by Peggy Olive

SSILast fall I moved from Vancouver to Salt Spring Island. From our house at the south end of the island, I can see the distant high-rises of the towns south of Vancouver, yet I’m living in another world now. Deer pass through the front yard, eagles and ravens circle, and the silence is wonderful. After four years volunteering with the Suzuki Elders in various capacities, I knew I would miss my Suzuki Elder friends who had shared my deep concerns for the direction we are heading and the problems that lie in store for us. But Salt Spring islanders are environmentally savvy and open to new ideas, and I soon joined the Salt Spring Forum, a speaker’s series that has hosted world-renowned environmentalists including David Suzuki, Bill McKibben, Lester Brown, and George Monbiot.

Last weekend (March 8-9, 2014), Dr. Michael Byers, a UBC political science professor and organizer of the Forum, brought ten graduate students from his seminar course to present their papers at a conference entitled “Oil, the Environment, and the Future of Canada.” This is the second year he has done so, and he plans to make this a yearly event.

Mainlanders and Salt Spring Islanders, including interested high school students and Forum members, made up the audience of about 75, and half of the time was dedicated to questions and discussion. The high quality of the presentations and enthusiastic discussions left the audience feeling uplifted by the talent, insights, and passion of these young people.

As the Conference title suggests, topics were wide-ranging and included:

  • a discussion of the problems in navigating arctic waters (don’t count on any oil spills being cleaned up, and the northwest passage may yet end up being designated “international waters”),
  • whether Canada has a national energy policy (yes, but it’s not called that, and it’s more of a plan to sell off our oil and gas as quickly as possible with little regard to environmental consequences),
  • whether there is a national security risk associated with allowing foreign acquisitions of Canadian natural resources (yes, current actions could compromise Canada’s legislative and judicial sovereignty). This problem was illustrated with regard to the FIPA trade agreement with China: Chinese investors would be able to sue the Canadian government if they feel the investor’s profit is being compromised, and minority ownership is sufficient for this purpose. Also, under FIPA, investors are subject to Canadian laws, but only those in place at the time of agreement. At the moment, Canada has no legal framework for assessing the risk of a security threat by resource acquisition.
  • whether there is a public relations problem with respect to the oil sands (yes: the government has the resources to mount an ad campaign that is largely divorced from science and meant to sell the political position that the oil sands industries provide jobs and economic benefits). The position of environmental groups is more legitimate, being rooted in scientific fact. However, getting the message out to the uninformed public is difficult. Social media were considered important in this regard.
  •  What decisions are carrying Canada towards being a petro state, and is oil wealth compatible with democracy? The radicalization of environmentalists (those with opposing opinions) and the disregard for environmental contamination (inadequate monitoring) were given as evidence of a problem. Energy represents less than 6% of Canada’s GDP questioning whether energy should be taking centre stage. Norway was compared as another “western” petro state, but unlike Canada, Norway demands much higher royalties, has state-owned oil companies (70% of the Alberta oil sands is foreign-owned), has proportional representation, and has more consultation with their indigenous people.
  • How to say no to big oil? Indigenous rights, with respect to obtaining free, prior, informed consent, were argued to best support environmental activists and the public in defeating pipeline proposals (using the example of the defeat of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline in the 70’s). Civil disobedience may need to be employed.

[Originally posted on March 17, 2014]

Ecological intelligence – a scarce resource

by Stan Hirst

 

Groupthink

We elders value the environment in which we live, and so we take a deep interest in anything that threatens the quality of that environment. For the past while we’ve been expressing concern about plans and proposals to run oil pipelines across the landscape and to build massive tanker terminals on the west coast to supply oil supertankers which will then chug up and down B.C.’s narrow coastal channels with their bituminous loads. Now we find ourselves faced by yet more proposals to haul yet more piles of thermal coal down to the coast for loading into yet more freighters to carry the stuff to yet more power plants in China for combustion to add, yes, yet more greenhouse gases to the planet’s already overloaded atmosphere.

We understand the underlying motivations of the people who propose, plan and implement all these grand schemes. Canadians don’t get to actually use any of the oil, gas and coal being extracted, hauled and shipped, so the reasons for the frenetic interest in these activities are more elementary – employment and revenue from exports. National statistics indicate that the energy sector provides 4% of Canada’s total employment and that income from energy extraction and export is currently 3.5% of average national income. These are not huge proportions in the national sense, but obviously represent a significant number of jobs and piles of loot for some. We look at the other side of the coin and express our concern with statistics and forecasts related to things like habitats for fish and wildlife, clean water and marine coastlines not befouled with oil slicks or worse.

Our reasons for concern at carbon extraction and combustion relate in the first instance to the very real possibility of local impacts from spills, contamination at the like. At the global level we see even greater threats to global climate and to planetary ecosystems from the additional carbon dioxide and methane which will be added to Earth’s atmosphere. Those impacts will affect virtually every person on the planet in some way, and the negative effects will be handed on to succeeding generations.

The really perplexing question now arises when we consider the motivations and decision-making modes of those driving the proposals to extract bitumen and coal and to ship it out for combustion. These folks look a lot like us. They live on this planet right here next to us. They seem to value environmental quality just as much as we do. They too have children and grandchildren who they want to see live happy and productive lives. Why then are they so happy to sidestep the obvious implications of negative global impacts and focus instead on the materialistic – jobs and money?

The difference between the two groups – the environmentally concerned and the environmentally unconcerned – seems to be a sensitivity to global ecological issues and to the vast web of connections and intersections between human activity and nature’s systems. Daniel Goleman, author and journalist, has termed this sensitivity ecological intelligence. Ecological refers to an understanding of living organisms and their ecosystems, and intelligence connotes the capacity to learn from experience and deal effectively with the shared environment.

In primitive societies this shared environment was essentially local – a valley, a stretch of shoreline or a path of forest used as habitat by fish and wildlife essential to local humans as food sources. Today, the global dominance of industry and commerce has brought the impacts of our lifestyles to virtually every corner of the planet. Current human use and consumption of the natural world far exceeds Earth’s long-term carrying capacity. At the same time, modern society has lost touch with the sensibility crucial to our survival as a species. Our daily routines carry on completely disconnected from the adverse impacts on the world around us. As Goleman expresses it – our collec­tive mind harbours blind spots that disconnect our everyday ac­tivities from the crises those activities cause in natural systems. An all-encompassing sensibility would be the only way to appreciate the interconnections between human actions and their direct and indirect impacts on the planet and on our own well-being and social systems.

A contemporary expression of ecological intelligence would be a naturalist’s ability to categorize and recognize patterns in the natural world – ecological, geological and climatic. Humans have done this for centuries. The global extent of human-induced change now requires that ecological intelligence be extended to the planetary level. Other levels of human intelligence, e.g. social and emotional, enable us to take other people’s perspectives, assimilate these and feel genuine empathy. Ecological intelligence extends this capac­ity to all natural systems.

The sheer efficiency and widespread prevalence of modern technologies have severely blunted the survival skills of billions of individuals on the planet. Modern economies require and encourage specialized expertise, which in turn depends on other specialists for tasks in another field. However, while many of us excel in a narrow specialized field, we all depend on the skills of experts – farmers, software engineers, nutritionists, mechanics – to make life work for us. We no longer have the abilities, the attunement to the natural world, nor the custom of passing on of local wisdom to new generations that traditionally allowed native peoples to find ways of living in harmony with their patch of the planet.

When it comes to seeing nature, differences in perception have huge consequences. Images of polar bears stranded on ice drifts or vanishing glaciers offer powerful symbols of the perils we face from global warming. Inconvenient truths of the trouble our planet is in are everywhere, but our collective ability to perceive them has been rendered ineffective. Our attention has been drawn, somewhat reluctantly, to symptoms like the slow rising of global sea levels or the pesticide-induced demise of our all-important bee populations, but how many other keys and subtle insights into natural disruption are we missing? We have no sensors for this sort of thing Goleman reminds us, nor is our otherwise impressive neural system designed to warn us of the ways that our activities are having on our planetary niche. We clearly have to acquire new sensitivities to a growing range of threats and learn what to do about them. In other words, we need urgently to sharpen our ecological intelligence.

Ecological intelligence should allow us to comprehend complex systems as well as the interrelations between the natural and man-made worlds, but developing it requires a vast store of knowledge. Too much for any one individual. Intelligence has traditionally been a characteristic of the individual, but now the ecological abilities we need in order to sur­vive must necessarily be collective. The challenges we face are too diverse, frequently too subtle or too complex to be understood and addressed by an individual. Problem recognition and solution now require intense efforts by a diverse range of experts, entrepreneurs, activists; in short, by all of us. As a group we need to learn what dangers we face, what their causes are, and how to render them harmless. On the other hand we need to see new opportunities. Above all, we need the collective determination to do all this.

Large organizations already make good use of distributed intelligence. Goleman cites the examples of hospitals where technicians, nurses, administrators and specialist physicians coordinate their skills to provide appropriate care to patients. A similar example is that of a modern commercial enterprise in which sales, marketing, finance, and strategic plan­ning each represent unique expertise yet op­erate as a whole to provide coordinated, shared understanding and implementation.

The shared nature of ecological intelligence makes it synergis­tic with social intelligence, which gives us the capacity to coordi­nate and harmonize our efforts. The art of working together effectively has to encompass abil­ities like empathy and perspective taking, candour and coopera­tion, to create person-to-person links that let information gain added value as it moves up. Collaboration and the exchange of in­formation are vital to amassing the essential ecological insights and necessary databases that will allow us to act for the greater good.

Bitumen tankers in confined waters

28 August 2012

Secretary to the Joint Review Panel
Enbridge Northern Gateway Project
444 Seventh Ave SW
Calgary AB T2P 0X8

BITUMEN TANKERS IN CONFINED WATERS

Dear Secretary ;

I wish to express my serious concern over the logic of shipping, on a regular basis, huge quantities of diluted bitumen in very large tankers through the confined, often treacherous internal waters of northern BC, out into Hecate Strait, and thence to the Pacific.

During 35 years at sea spent largely in BC waters, I sailed the Central / North Coast in ten commercial and naval vessels. My principal involvement grew to be watch keeping, navigation, and the duties of command (XO HMCS STETTLER and PROVIDER; 3rd Officer / Navigator Canadian Cruise Lines SS PRINCE GEORGE; Captain HMCS QU’APPELLE and MACKENZIE).

Fair weather navigation in Douglas Channel, Squally Reach and Caamano Sound requires precision and watchfulness even in a small vessel. The dangers attending a breakdown, miss-step or inattention escalate dramatically as vessel dimensions (and turning characteristics, stopping distance etc.) increase. The deeper the ship’s draft the more constrained the navigable channel becomes. Strong tidal streams and rapidly deteriorating weather further complicate and can wreck the best laid plans for safe navigation.

I have sailed those waters in the flat calm of a sunny summer day, in fog, and in the driving rain squalls and buffeting of an autumn gale. I don’t know Principe Channel, but believe it is no more forgiving of error than the rest of the Inside Passage. As for Hecate Strait, my experience is that it can be idyllic and peaceful at one moment and then, within short hours, become a place of howling winds and mountainous seas such as cause the most experienced seafarers to grit their teeth and hang on tight. I was in the frigate STETTLER there one night when the ship rolled 60 degrees to port, sustaining considerable damage down below. On another occasion, as my friends in the Fleet Oiler PROVIDER related it, the 20,000 ton ship so nearly ‘stood on her nose’ amid the monstrous waves of that extremely shallow sea, that some on the bridge were concerned she might strike bottom. Recognized as the fourth most dangerous body of water in the world, twenty per cent of Hecate Strait has water depth less than 20 metres. I wonder how a vessel drawing 60 or 70 feet might fare in a Hecate Strait storm.

Risk is the product of the likelihood of an occurrence and the consequences thereof. Modern machinery, navigation aids, communications etc. can have a near-zero failure rate, but the people who operate the equipment, though better educated and trained than ever, always have been and likely will remain the major stumbling block to a foolproof system. Look no further than TITANIC, EXXON VALDES, QUEEN of the NORTH, COSTA CONCORDIA. The likelihood of a significant tanker accident between Kitimat and the Pacific may be extremely low but it is finite.

Meanwhile it appears that, as yet, nobody – not even Enbridge – has studied seriously the possibility of a major spill of diluted bitumen in northern BC waters. The outcome could be horrendous. I read that the Canadian Coast Guard is uncertain whether traditional methods of containing and cleaning up a crude oil spill would work for bitumen. How would diluted bitumen be dispersed by wind, sea and tide compared to crude? Is it more likely than crude to sink as the lighter properties evaporate? What toxins does it contain? How would all living things within the scope of such a spill be affected? If not contained or recovered, for how long would it persist as an environmental hazard?

From what the climatologists keep telling us these days and from our experience in recent seasons, it seems prudent to expect that extreme weather incidents will occur with increasing frequency in years to come. And consider: foreign ships do not always measure up to the highest standards of mechanical safety and crew competence.

Very big ships, very narrow channels and extreme weather don’t make a good mix.

I beg you to recognize that the finite likelihood of a tanker accident – no matter how remote-coupled with the potentially catastrophic consequences of a major spill of diluted bitumen into northern BC waters, together constitute a risk no thinking Canadian can afford to accept.

Yours Sincerely,

Roger Sweeny
Commander RCN ret.
Certificate of Service as Master Foreign Going
Qualified Master Home Trade
Member, Association of Suzuki Elders