Canada Not Ready For an Oil Spill

Everyone remembers the environmental crisis just under three years ago in the Gulf of Mexico, following the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform. This tragic incident – with 11 workers lost and hundreds of millions of litres of petroleum spilled in the ocean – should have sounded an alarm for the Canadian government.

But a scathing report from the Commissioner of the Environment has just confirmed what many were suspecting: the federal government is in no way prepared to manage the consequences of such an accident, whether in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, on the east coast or in the North. Considering that over 600 major natural resource development projects will be under way over the next 10 years, there is reason for concern here, especially since 70% of fossil fuel projects in the North are not inspected by the federal government.

Not only is the government unprepared, but it is putting no pressure on companies to adopt contingency plans for emergencies.

The financial guarantees being required of oil companies are in fact far below the real costs of a spill. Not only is this morally unacceptable, it is also economically stupid. If there are profits, the company pockets them and doesn’t spend a penny on anything beyond regular income tax. If there are losses or an accident, society cleans up and pays the bill.

This is illogical and irresponsible, especially when the Prime Minister himself states in the House that he is in agreement with the polluter pay principle...

At a time when development of the oil in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is increasingly likely, in particular the Old Harry deposit, it is crucial that we take our responsibilities seriously. We cannot develop natural resources in piecemeal fashion, with no overall plan or protection.

Another disturbing aspect of the commissioner’s report concerns shale gas. He claims that Environment Canada has no idea of the composition of the chemicals used to extract this resource. That amounts to saying that the federal government does not know whether the extraction of this gas is dangerous to the public or not. How can decisions be made without this sort of critical information?

Finally, the commissioner’s report states that the federal government will fail to meet the objective for marine protected areas that it once set. Canada had in fact undertaken to protect 10% of marine areas by 2020. Yet after 15 years of effort, that proportion stands at only 1%. So we are far, very far off the mark, and it is reasonable to believe that it will not be possible to meet the objective in seven years. In addition to the probable environmental consequences, this lack of leadership will do harm to the economy. In Australia, for example, the protection afforded to 35% of these areas helps to generate $5 billion every year in tourist activities. In the Saguenay, these sorts of activities in and around protected areas bring in $160 million every year. That is nothing to sneeze at!

The Conservatives have already repealed numerous environmental regulations designed to prevent accidents, as we have seen with the two bills C-38 and C-45. Now we learn that they are no better prepared to deal with a major disaster. 

It is high time that they revise their priorities and act for the good of all citizens. Let us take a lesson from the sad events in the Gulf of Mexico and develop our resources in an intelligent manner. We shall all of us emerge winners for doing so.