The frenzied push by Big Oil to expand its tar sands tentacles across the country sees no fewer than four pipelines up for construction, expansion or modification. Combined, these projects would span our country, crossing countless acres of farmland, rivers, forests, the backyards of thousands of Canadians and would also send tankers along our coastlines.
The thing about pipelines is that they spill. So what better time for the federal government to axe
the people tasked with protecting Canadians from the impacts of oil spills. The Environmental Emergencies Program at Environment Canada, which responds to oil spill emergencies, will need to shut offices in Vancouver, Edmonton, Dartmouth and St. John’s. Its office in Gatineau, QC will stay open. (By the way, there are no oil pipelines running through or near the capital region). Each year, they respond to 1,000 significant spills
Oil spills are hazardous for the environment, difficult to clean up and harmful to human health. The residents of Marshall, Michigan know this all too well following Enbridge’s almost three-million-litre
in 2010 spill of tar sands oil. According to the state government
, 145 patients reported illnesses or symptoms associated with the oil spill, and a survey of 550 residents in the area showed that 58% suffered health impacts such as respiratory problems, nausea and headaches. The slow response time to the emergency meant the oil oozed down a 48 kilometre stretch
of the river and into a lake. The mess is still being cleaned up nearly two years later.
So you can imagine the downside in leaving northern Alberta and B.C.; southern Alberta; southern Ontario; and B.C.’s interior and Lower Mainland – those are the places affected by the four pipelines in the works – without oil spill protection staff. These are only some of the most densely populated regions of Canada. Tar sands oil also does more damage and is harder to clean up than conventional oil.
Sadly, it gets worse. Lax oversight of the pipeline companies by the National Energy Board (NEB) means that Canadians have no assurances that the companies themselves are well prepared to respond to emergencies. A recent federal audit
showed that the NEB is failing to ensure that pipeline companies are meeting the rules for pipeline safety and emergency response. In most cases examined, companies were not meeting the NEB rules for safety and protection of the environment, yet there was rarely any follow up from the regulator to get them in line.
Similarly, of 30 plans to deal with spills, all were found to be lacking key pieces like plans for evacuation of nearby homes, the location of equipment to deal with an oil spill and the risks posed to environmentally-sensitive areas. Yet the NEB only required one company to improve its plan, meaning the rest are still incomplete.
Oil spills do happen, and with more and more tar sands oil being shipped across the country, they’re likely to happen even more.
So who will protect people and the environment from oil spills? The companies aren’t prepared, and the federal government is shutting the offices that deal with it despite having sole responsibility for spills into waterways and First Nations lands. With Big Oil in the driver’s seat, Canadians are already facing an unprecedented rollback of environmental safeguards and being told to shut up and accept oil pipelines wherever Big Oil wants to put them across the country. Now are we expected to don hazmat suits and clean up their messes as well?