Liberal bill will bar oil tanker traffic from northern B.C. coast

A voluntary ban keeps most big tankers out of the area, the legislation will formalize the process

New legislation introduced by the federal government will bar most oil tankers from operating along the coast of northern British Columbia.

It will ban tankers carrying crude oil and so-called persistent oils from stopping, loading or unloading at any ports or marine installations from the northern tip of Vancouver Island all the way to the B.C.-Alaska border, including Haida Gwaii.

The legislation fulfills an election pledge made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and included in Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s mandate letter in November 2015.

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Some groups, weary of waiting for Trudeau to make good on his promise, became concerned when the ban wasn’t originally included in the $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan unveiled in early November 2016.

A few weeks later, however, he reiterated the promise at the same time as he announced the Liberal government was rejecting an application for the Northern Gateway pipeline in B.C., saying the legislation would be introduced in the spring.

Garneau had the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act tabled Friday in the House of Commons.

Tankers carrying less than 12,500 metric tonnes of oil are exempt from the proposed law, to ensure northern communities can continue to receive shipments of necessary fuels. Maximum penalties for defying the ban are as high as $5 million.

The legislation will allow for amendments to exempt or add additional products based on science and environmental safety.

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Persistent oils are defined as those that are heavier and dissipate slowly if they spill, such as synthetic crude, partially upgraded bitumen and Bunker C fuel oil.

Gavin Smith, lawyer for the West Coast Environmental Law Association, said it’s great the government is making good on its promise.

“It’s consistent with what the federal government signalled it was going to do,” Smith said.

There is a voluntary ban already that keeps most big tankers out of the area, and the legislation will formalize that process, once passed, he said. However, there is a dearth of information about what kind of traffic does go through the region, something Smith said he’d like to see Transport Canada make public.

Smith also said at first glance, the legislation appears strong enough to prevent the approval of any future major projects, such as the Northern Gateway pipeline.

One provision in particular is of special concern, he said: it gives the minister the authority to grant exemptions to vessels if their passage is deemed to be in the public interest or of help to local communities.

Not everyone supports the idea of a law, however.

One indigenous resource development group behind an energy corridor proposal in B.C. and Alberta accused the government of imposing a blanket ban against the wishes and interests of First Nations.

Eagle Spirit Energy group says the government has no business telling it what it can do in its territories and that the decision to enact legislation will harm indigenous economic development.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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