Monday, April 20, 2015

Loons calling

There big spring bird migrations are in full swing.  We have had warblers around here for a month or more and vultures moving north as well.  In the last few days the snow geese have been moving by the thousands as well, have fed or overwintered in the Fraser estuary, and flying high at night on the still air, heading to Alaska.

This morning, a rare sound from Mannion Bay.  A common loon has been warbling on the water.  Once in a while we hear them, but not for a few years.  For anyone born in Ontario, this is a strange noise to hear on the ocean as we associate loons so strongly with interior lakes.  But they move up the coast every year too, with all of the other birds.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Oil spills and dock fires

A week of environmental accidents that have only heightened the story that Howe Sound and the waters around Vancouver are at risk.

A 2700 litre spill of bunker fuel in English Bay took hours to be discovered and dealt with.  As a result, the beaches around English Bay have been exposed to highly toxic bunker oil, and while the visible damage may not be all that impressive, the microscopic damage could be much much worse.

Following that, a fire at the Squamish Terminal destroyed the creosote coated pilings at the freight terminal, releasing noxious smoke into the air shed and endangering 30 dock workers, all of whom escaped safely.  The response to that fire included fire fighting boats from Vancouver.  The damage from the fire has probably killed all or most of the 100,000 chum salmon fry that were being raised nearby, and it's unknown how it will have affected the herring spawn.  Herring spawn on those pilings which have been wrapped in fabric to protect them from the chemicals in the creosote.  That intervention has led to a record herring population resurgence in Howe Sound and that in turn has brought back dolphins and orcas (a family of which were seen off Deep Bay this week).  This spring, a heavy herring spawn on kelp took place near the Woodfibre site and on the pilings at the Terminal and Nexen Beach.  The hope is that these herring are already hatched and gone, but we won't know for sure until the science is done.  At any rate, the replacement pilings will almost certainly not be creosote soaked wood, and that will be good news for the future, which is pretty much all we have right now.

Industrial accidents, are inevitable in industrial societies.  But the way we respond to these accidents is what matters.  In the case of the oil spill, the federal government was largely panned for the fact that cuts to local Coast Guard resources, and the privatization of spill response has led to an erosion of oil spill response capability.  There are now danger signs posted up along the Vancouver and West Vancouver beaches, just as summer begins.  The federal government has largely been praising it's own efforts to respond to the spill, in the face of evidence, reason, or citizen demand to do better.

In the case of the Squamish fire, absolutely heroic efforts got everything under control, but the dock will need to be taken down and replaced and the damage to the environment may be long lasting.  The inlet is at a crossroads, at which we can decide whether or not to pursue an aggressive agenda of risky industrial activity in the Sound, or choose a restorative approach to the inlet, which could include some development activity such as renewable power generation and tourism, but which eschews extractive resource activities and the processing and transportation of dangerous cargo.

If the last week has meant anything, it will push a sharper awareness of the future of our inlet to the forefront, and stimulate a deeper conversation about what is appropriate for this place.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Mike Harcourt just gets it wrong. So wrong.

I love Mike Harcourt.  Terrific guy. My wife's first boos when we moved to BC. But he is so so wrong on this:

 Opinion: Woodfibre LNG on the correct track: During my time as premier of British Columbia, I had three basic ground rules to encourage growth and development in the province: treat workers with respect, pay your fair share of taxes and don’t mess with the environment.
Even by Mike's standards, WoodfibreLNG fails.  Treat workers with respect?  This plant will be built overseas and shipped here to be assembled at Woodfibre.  WLNG has applied for permission to employ temporary foreign workers to assemble it and ultimately operate it.  We have no trained LNG assembly and operations workers in BC.  We have chosen to support an industry that supports 100 full time jobs, almost none of them local.  BC workers will not be employed by this.

Pay your fair share of taxes? Ridiculous.  Not only is WLNG's owner a convicted tax evader, but the royalty scheme for this project is so light that it will probably end up COSTING BC taxpayers to get it going.  Eoin Finn puts is best when he says that we are getting into LNG at a time when the future is actually in renewables.  The price of LNG is diving downward and the tax revenues we get (paid on profits, not tonnes of gas) will be minimal, if they aren't somehow laundered through Tanoto's network of shell companies and tax havens.

Don't mess with the environment?  The biggest Howe Sound herring spawn in recent memory is happening right now, and right by the Woodfibre site.  Woodfibre LNG will pour 17 swimming pools of heated and chlorinated water into that very part of the Sound EVERY HOUR.  And as for environmental protections neither international shipping standards nor the SIGTTO (The Society of International Gas Transporters and Terminal Operators) standards permit or advise terminals to be located in narrow inlets full of commercial, recreational and ferry traffic.  This is why Woodfibre LNG will not even join it's international industry association, because this proposal would be in violation of those standards.  Woodfibre LNG likes to boast of the safety of shipping LNG, but those safety records are the results of industry and international standards being adhered to. You cannot simply ignore them all and yet still base your proposal on the past safety record.

Mike Harcourt is deeply wrong on this.  We may or may not need LNG (why are we creating an economic plan based on extractive industries that combust fossil fuels again, when we could be pouring ourselves in the development of renewable technologies and become a world leader in an industry that will only grow for as long as there are humans?) but we do not need this plant in this place owned by this man.