Events aim to educate public on supertanker risks

NANAIMO – Concerns over the potential for increased oil supertanker traffic is prompting at least two local organizations to take action

Concerns over the potential for increased oil supertanker traffic on B.C.’s coastline is prompting at least two local organizations to take action and rally to educate people on the perceived threat of an oil spill.

Save Our Shores and Silva Bay Kayak Adventures are hosting an anti-supertanker demonstration Sunday (July 22) at Departure Bay.

The purpose is to bring awareness to how shoreline and marine ecosystems can be destroyed for generations by an oil spill, as well as the sheer size of the tankers that would be plying coastal waters, said organizer Ryan Masson.

“In a lot of ways people may not be fully aware of all the risks involved with these proposals,” said Masson. “A lot of people here make a living on the water, myself included, and it’s important to protect the natural resources we all enjoy and appreciate.”

The rally, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., will feature dozens of kayaks and other human-powered vessels lined up in Departure Bay to display the size of an oil tanker, which is approximately 390 metres in length.

Paddlers interested in participating should register at least 24 hours in advance online at Organizers worked in partnership with bathtub race organizers to arrange necessary permits for the event.

In a similar demonstration at Gabriola Island’s Descanso Bay on June 10, Oceans Day, Masson said once every boat was in position, he was surprised just how massive the oil-laden vessels are.

“I knew they were big,” he said. “But being there really displayed the sheer size and it was a powerful visual effect to see that many kayaks.”

Two projects in B.C. are being considered that could increase tanker traffic in B.C. coastal waters.

Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline would pipe bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands to Kitimat, where supertankers would be required to navigate dangerous waters en route to markets in Asia.

Kinder Morgan is proposing to triple the capacity of its Trans Mountain pipeline at a cost of $5 billion. That project pipes crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands to tankers in Vancouver.

Those projects raised concerns with local environmental organizations, including the emerging Sierra Club Nanaimo.

The group, in partnership with Dogwood Initiative, is hosting renowned marine toxicologist Riki Ott, who will give a presentation titled Think Tankers … and What Comes With Them at Vancouver Island University, Building 200, room 203, on Aug. 2 at 7 p.m.

“We’re doing this because of our concerns about supertanker traffic that would be coming through Georgia Strait,” said Rachelle Stein-Wotten, spokeswoman for Sierra Club Nanaimo. “If a spill does happen it would be even worse than the Valdez disaster. People are starting to realize what we would lose if there was a spill, and we’re trying to help get that information out. Even if something happens up around Kitimat, Nanaimo would likely be affected. The consequences are huge.”

Ott was one of the first people on scene of the devastating Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, and is featured in the award-winning documentary titled Black Wave: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez. Ott has studied the effects oil spills have on communities and ecosystems damaged by oil spills for the past 20 years, and penned Sound Truth and Corporate Myth$: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill as well as Not One Drop: Promises, Betrayal, and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.

Ott will give her presentation in 10 coastal communities.

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