Of all the ethical debates circling B.C. electoral candidates, there are few more polarizing than oil tankers and pipelines.
Most Vancouver Islanders lean left on natural resource exportation and environmental protection, as suggested by consistently higher support for both the NDP and B.C. Greens in opinion polls.
Currently, the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline snakes its way from Alberta to the West Coast, pumping 300,000 barrels of oil each day to its Burnaby terminal and various other locations.
On average, five tankers navigate the shores off Greater Victoria and through the Burrard Inlet each month, but Kinder Morgan wants to twin the pipeline and triple its capacity.
Combined with an expanded terminal in Burnaby, the increase would mean another 29 tankers in the Strait of Juan de Fuca each month, an issue that weighs heavily on the minds of voters in coastal communities, said Jessica Van der Veen, B.C. NDP candidate in Oak Bay-Gordon Head.
“The people of Vancouver and Greater Victoria do not think this is a realistic thing, to turn Vancouver into a major bitumen exporting port. It’s just not what British Columbians want,” she said.
Van der Veen said the next government will face the task of diversifying the energy economy, and she would advocate to reduce energy demand by providing subsidies for retrofitting through carbon tax revenues.
The B.C. NDP is opposed to both Kinder Morgan’s plans and the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway project.
B.C. Green party leader Jane Sterk is universally opposed to pipeline expansion, but she said it’s not realistic to look at an immediate moratorium on tanker traffic on the southern coast.
“We know that bitumen oil is not going to get any cheaper (to extract), and it’s at a point now where the economics of it mean it may be too expensive to be part of our economy going forward,” said Sterk, the Greens’ Victoria-Beacon Hill candidate.
She advocates for a low-carbon economy by relaxing the regulatory process around wind and thermal energy, and by increasing the use of affordable solar panels on residential homes through partnership with B.C. Hydro.
“The potential for renewable energy is just massive,” Sterk said.
While the B.C. Conservative Party is staunchly pro-pipeline, any expansion should be balanced with strict environmental protection measures, said Joshua Galbraith, the party’s candidate in Saanich South.
While the concerns about tanker traffic are justified on Vancouver Island, northern B.C. residents will need to make their own decision on the benefits and risks of the Enbridge proposal, Galbraith said.
“There’s definitely two sides to it. I’ve heard people say they don’t want a pipeline, period, but then others say we need this pipeline to get the jobs and economic benefits that go along with it,” Galbraith said. “You should be able to balance smart economic policy with smart environmental policy.”
The B.C. Liberals champion Premier Christy Clark’s five conditions for the Northern Gateway pipeline, which include creating “world-class” oil spill response, prevention and recovery systems on land and sea, the successful completion of a federal environmental review and a fair share of fiscal and economic benefits with other stakeholders.
But voters remain “cautious and curious” about those conditions, said Christina Bates, B.C. Liberal candidate in Victoria-Swan Lake.
“It’s not enough to just say there are five conditions,” she said. “People need to be informed that the first three of them are environmental (conditions) and they need to be met before anything else is considered.”
On increased tanker traffic on the southern coast, Bates said Kinder Morgan’s track record speaks for itself.
“Kinder Morgan has had tanker traffic for 50 years on the coast and there have been no major spills,” she said.