Who Creates Oil Spill Threat, Consumers or Companies?

Spent one of our rare recent sunny mornings counting cars. Make that – watching vehicular traffic – on the Pat Bay Highway which links Southern Vancouver Island to mainland BC and the rest of the world via Swartz Bay ferry terminal and an international airport. It’s a busy highway, with drivers seemingly desperate to get where they’re going in excess of the 80 km limit and with a minimal separation gap between one car’s rear bumper and the next car’s front. Ambulance and police sirens are among Pat Bay’s regular sounds.

But, on this sunny day, I’m not concentrating on traffic accidents, careless drivers or the endless procession of cars, trucks, semi-trailers, and buses loaded with tourists or commuting citizens. I’m wondering where all these vehicles will be getting the power to move their wheels 15 or 20 years from now if the “no oil tankers – no extended pipelines – no Site C Hydro expansion” puppet-trained chorus get its way. And, on this sunny day, I’m just looking at a small section of highway that would be rated moderately busy if compared with the downtown rush hour gridlock or the everlasting crawl when Greater Victoria’s western communities citizens head for their city-based job in the morning and repeat the crawl home in late afternoon.

If all their vehicles could, by the wave of a magic wand, be converted overnight to hybrid gas-electric status or – miracle of miracles – full electric use with powerful long-distance batteries, where would they re-charge the batteries when the need arose? The experts say the day will come when such questions will be answered – but it may be 20 years before the full automobile electrical power demand is felt. As I understand, Site C – if it proceeds to power generation capacity without further delays – will not be ready to offer its boost to electric power for at least 10 to a dozen years. And, it could be a while after that before homeowners will be able to plug-in and re-charge their car at home – after taking out a second mortgage to pay their hydro bill.

Back in 2016, Mayor Lori Ackerman of Fort St. John bought a full-page ad in the Vancouver Sun to try and explain to protesting British Columbians what it was like to live in a small city smack in the middle of natural gas and oil reserves and surrounded by pipelines – or living on top of them. “So, let’s talk about pipelines,” she wrote. “Canada has 830,000 kilometers of pipelines. Three million barrels of crude oil is transported safely every single day. BC has over 43,000 kilometers of pipelines … Between 2002 and 2015, 99.995 percent of liquid was transported through our pipelines safely. You probably spill more when you fill up at the gas station …”

Vancouver Island readers should pay special attention to her specific note that for the last 20 years the USA has been shipping thousands of barrels of crude daily from Alaska to the Puget Sound through the Salish Sea, and to her reminder that the Island has one pipeline only which carries natural gas. “Vancouver Islanders receive all of their petroleum by barge every day.” Transport Canada records show 197,000 vessels arrived or departed west coast ports in 2015, 1,487 of which were tankers carrying an “average” 400,000 barrels a day.

A final note from Mayor Ackerman to those who display “No Tankers” and “No Pipelines” posters, but know not what they’re protesting: “If you want to do something about our reliance on fossil fuels, address the demand for them; not the transportation of them. Change starts with the consumers; not industry.”

Her Worship may have a good slogan but, oh dear, if fossil fuels disappeared before we have enough power to go fully electric, how would objectors get to their protests? Don’t be rude if you decide to answer.

(For the full online text of Mayor Ackerman’s old but still relevant letter, Google “Mayor Lori Ackerman, Ft. St. John, BC.”)






  1. Of course it is consumers who create the demand and therefore the threat described in your article. Companies only respond to this demand, otherwise they likely fail.

    But Site C and projects like it may not be the answer. Tree huggers are not in favour of hydroelectricity projects because of the environmental despoliation they create. In fact many environmentalists seem to prefer a primitive economy that avoids all forms of energy and halts that traffic you were observing.

    And, yes, cold showers intermiitently.

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