Real evidence available of oil spill prevalence, remediation

Industry data shows enough evidence of spills to be wary of pipeline connection

Re: Just the facts wanted around pipeline protests (Letters, May 11)

Eli Fricker’s letter asked for “… empirical arguments that can be presented to debunk the environmental balderdash.” Unlike our Prime Minister and others whose minds are already made up, Mr. Fricker is hopefully willing to weigh facts and make decisions based on reason.

To avoid accusations of presenting only one-sided information from environmentalists, let’s look at data from an oil industry group: the ITOPF (International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation, itopf.com). Their database includes more than 10,000 accidental spills from vessels since 1970, adding up to 5.7 million tonnes of oil.

Of those recorded spills, about 500 were large, i.e quantities greater than 700 tonnes. The ITOPF points out that the annual incidence of spills has been decreasing since the 1970s; 2010-11 saw an average of 2.5 large spills per year.

A factor of 10 reduction from the 1970s spill rate sounds promising, but these gains would be negated by the proposed increase in tanker traffic and size.

The ITOPF data excludes spills caused by war, underreports small operational spills, and does not include those from oil platforms (e.g. the 500,000 tonnes from the Deepwater Horizon in 2010), so the ITOPF numbers understate the impact to the marine environment.

Blaming a spill on natural forces or terrorist acts doesn’t reduce its harm. If the next big earthquake on the West Coast ruptures a pipeline, we will suffer the costs of damage to our environment, jobs and food supply just as surely as if the spill were “the responsibility of the pipeline operator.”

Mr. Fricker also asks whether remediation can restore the ecosystem. Not in practice, and cleaning up tar sands oil is much more difficult than regular crude. Search for information about Enbridge’s spill in the Kalamazoo River in 2010; this spill remains unremediated.

Bjarne Hansen

Esquimalt