Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Hebei Lion, and why you should worry, at least a bit, about tanker traffic

A proposed pipeline to get oil from the tar sands to Kitimat and then into ships that would sail off to China has sparked a new debate about tanker traffic along B.C.'s coast.
There would be a lot of construction jobs, a small number of permanent employees in Kitimat and a boost in Canada's exports.
The risk is that something would go wrong and there would be an oil spill.
Proponents say that won't happen. But on Thursday night, the winds were howling in the Strait of Georgia. The bulk carrier Hebei Lion was anchored off Mayne Island, but the gusts pushed it onto a reef. It was a serious environmental threat.
That was Wednesday night. Have you heard about the grounding of the ship, which is as long as two-and-a-half football fields?
I didn't until today - Saturday afternoon. And then, only thanks to the Washington State environment ministry, (or the department of ecology, it's called).
It issued a news release.

"Ecology was notified by the British Columbia Ministry of Environment, and monitored the incident because it posed a significant risk of a large black oil spill," the Washington government told the public.
“Damage to fuel tanks on a cargo ship that size could have oiled the islands on both sides of the border,” said Dale Jensen, manager of Ecology's Spill Prevention, Preparedness and Response Program. “A major spill also could have forced a closure to vessel traffic. Given the profound environmental and economic risks we're relieved and pleased at the outcome. We mobilized staff and were prepared to deploy response systems as needed.
"State Sen. Kevin Ranker, who represents the 40th District, including his San Juan Island home, said, “This incident once again highlights the importance of having a strong spill prevention and response system in place, not only for Puget Sound but also for large transboundary spills that can have potentially devastating effects on our environment and economy.”

So the B.C. Environment Ministry told Washington State, but provided no information to British Columbians.
The DFO, as far as I can tell, provided no public information.
The Gullf Islands Driftwood had the story by Thursday afternoon.
But 72 hours after an incident that "could have oiled the islands on both sides of the border," according to the government of Washington State, only a small number of British Columbians knew about the grounding. Governments were silent.
The argument for tanker traffic relies heavily on the effectiveness and accountability of governments in protecting the public interest.
But only Washington seemed to think this important enough to tell the public about. The B.C. and Canadian governments didn't think you needed to know.

A late addition: For more on the grounding, check out the posts here.


DPL said...

Our provincial government doesn't feel we have the right to hear about such things. They tend to ignore the fact that they are elected to keep such things from happening and if such an event occurs they should be telling us rather than ignoring their job as public servants

Alf said...

I run a small web site for environnmental news on the Olympic Peninsula, and was astonished when I saw the WA St DOE posting on the grounding,and yet couldn't find a thing about it on any Canadian or US news source. I thought that Google must be broken! Imagine my surprise when I see your posting that it wasn't considered news! Well, I interviewed the man responsible for oil spill prevention at DOE. You can read my article on it at
Could you and I be the only ones that are aware of this in the media? Hard to imagine.

Al B.
Olympic Peninsula Environmental News

DPL said...

A small article appeared in the Victoria Times Colonist this morning, Sunday, about the grounding and how a tug drgged if off the rocks. No sign of oil leakage. But the big issue is, what if the ship ruptured a tank or two, and why did the Canadian authorities not bother to keep the public informed?

Bernard said...

I am concerned that neither the Federal nor Provincial governments made any mention of this. I even more concerned that there was NO ONE in the BC media that caught that this was going on.

No one on the Gulf Islands dropped the media a line? Does no one in Vancouver monitor ship movements for the newspapers? Did no one think to check in high winds about possible ship problems?

MayneNews said...

I was told that someone on Mayne Island contacted a whole raft of media sources about this the day of the event. People were watching the incident from the shore.

The media seems to have collectively decided this was simply a non-event. Of course they would have been excited beyond belief if we'd actually not dodged that bullet.

Laila Yuile said...

Great job Paul,

One of my readers brought your post to my attention in another comment thread,and I was shocked.

However,not as surprised as I was upon finding out from the NDP's site, that the media actually questioned Penner about this in the legislature Monday, and discovered that Penner had absolutely no clue that it even happened.

It is very disturbing that Penner claims he had no idea this incident occurred,but I find it even more disturbing that the NDP are saying that the 'media' were there questioning him, and to this date, it has not been reported on this side of the water.

As of this morning,unless someone on the mainland happens to read the Times Colonist,or the small gulf publications, it is as if it never happened.

Thank you for this Paul.

gsjuberg said...

Just for the record, Paul, I posted the story to the Gulf Islands Driftwood website at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19 (not Friday).
Gail S