Pipeline and Tanker Trouble: The Impact to British Columbia's Communities, Rivers, and Pacific Coastline from Tar Sands Oil Transport

The Canadian government is considering a proposal to build a pipeline under mountains and across rivers that could carry more than half a million barrels of raw tar sands crude oil (known as bitumen) daily across important salmon rivers, coastal rainforests, and sensitive marine waters. The Northern Gateway pipeline, proposed by energy company Enbridge, would stretch over 1,000 kilometers to connect the tar sands of Alberta with the Pacific coast of British Columbia.

From that point, the extracted bitumen would be transported by tanker to refineries in Asia, California, or elsewhere. Both the extraction and transportation of tar sands oil are a destructive business. The substance is extracted by either strip-mining or by a process that would heat the ground beneath Alberta’s Boreal forests and wetlands. Tar sands oil is then refined in Alberta or piped over thousands of kilometers to refineries elsewhere.

The social, economic, and environmental costs of a tar sands pipeline and associated oil supertanker traffic would be enormous, including:

  • Compromising the lifestyles of First Nations who depend on the region’s lands and waters for their livelihoods, culture, and health.
  • Threatening the economic well-being of the communities of British Columbia that depend on fisheries and forests.
  • Potential devastation from a major oil spill from the pipeline or an oil supertanker, which could destroy economically important salmon habitat, as well as the habitat of Spirit Bears and grizzlies, and whales, orcas, and other marine life that depend on these rich coastal waters.
  • Harm from an oil spill to the Great Bear Rainforest that the province and First Nations have worked hard to protect from unsustainable forestry practices and to shift to a conservation-based economy.​

While the potentially devastating impacts of tar sands production are well documented, the increased risk and potential harm from transporting bitumen is less known. This report outlines the potential dangers of bitumen transportation and the risks of spills to the environment and the economy in a region that depends on healthy fisheries, lands, and waters.

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