Canada bans oil cargoes in BC waters

Paul Gunton

Paul Gunton · 24 June 2019


A ban on oil tanker traffic from British Columbia’s northern coast has become law after Canadian senators voted last week to accept the Liberal government’s response to their amendments to Bill C-48.

In a 49-46 vote, the senate vote backed a motion from the government’s representative in the upper chamber, Sen. Peter Harder, to not insist on amendments made to the bill rejected by the Liberal-majority House. One senator abstained for the vote.

The controversial new law has not had an easy passage and has been objected to by the oil and gas industry as well as some other local organisations who see it as a loss of income from related activities.

The Canadian government has agreed to a review five years after it comes into force but refused an amendment requiring regional impact assessments involving indigenous communities and oil-producing provinces. This would have required the federal environment minister to launch regional assessments of the ban within six months of it coming into force. It would also have required the minister to negotiate the terms of reference and the composition of the panel that would conduct the assessment with those stakeholders.

The ban prohibits oil tankers carrying more than 12,500 metric tonnes of crude oil or persistent oil products as cargo from stopping, loading or unloading at ports or marine installations in the moratorium area. The moratorium covers the area from the Canada/United States border in the north, down to the point on British Columbia’s mainland across from the northern tip of Vancouver Island. It also includes Haida Gwaii. It protects the waters of Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound. This measure complements the existing voluntary Tanker Exclusion Zone, which has been in place since 1985.

Smaller shipments of less than 12,500 metric tonnes will continue to be allowed to ensure north coast communities and industries can receive critical shipments of heating oils and other petroleum products.

The moratorium applies to the shipment of crude oil, partially upgraded bitumen, synthetic crude oil, petroleum pitch, slack wax and Bunker C fuel oil. It does not apply to lighter products including LNG, propane, Gasoline, naphtha and jet fuel.

The Act requires a mandatory five-year review of the legislation that will enable the appropriate Committee of Parliament to study the full application of the Act. This review will allow for new information, including evidence on technological and scientific developments to be taken into consideration. It will also require a review of the impacts of the Act on the environment, on social and economic conditions and on the Indigenous peoples of Canada. It will provide the opportunity for all interested Indigenous communities, provinces and other stakeholders to express their views after a reasonable period of time with the moratorium in effect.

Penalties would match the scale of a violation and could reach up to Canadian $5m.

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