Trudeau government moves ahead with moratorium on oil tanker traffic

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Environmental groups and First Nations are heralding the announcement at the end of last week by the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Pierre James Trudeau. His government will turn back the clock more than 40 years and bring back a moratorium on west coast crude oil tanker traffic.

The policy was first introduced in 1972 by the 15th Prime Minister of Canada, Joseph Phillippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau, but was never put into law, and it left open to political interpretation whether or not a ban on oil tanker traffic actually exists on the BC north coast.

David Anderson, the BC MP who chaired the government’s environmental committee in 1972, and later became a Liberal government Environment Minister, says only the Conservative government of Stephen Harper has opposed the ban since its introduction.

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However, that opposition is generally viewed as the key to a 2006 announcement by Calgary based Enbridge Incorporated to build a twin, $7.9 billion, 731 mile pipeline, from north of Edmonton to the Northern BC coast.

The east bound line would import natural gas condensate but the westbound line would carry diluted bitumen from the Athabasca oil sands, to a marine terminal at Kitimat and from there it would be transported to Asian markets by tanker.

That quickly brought the moratorium into the debate, as opponents cited as their cornerstone argument, what happened just after midnight on March 24th of 1989, when the Exxon Valdez oil tanker bound for Long Beach, California struck a reef off the coast of Alaska and spilled — depending on what historical account you reference — from 11 to 38 million US gallons of crude into Prince William Sound.

So, despite last year’s pipeline project approval by the Harper government, the moratorium announcement by the new Trudeau government would make official a non-binding motion passed in the House of Commons in 2010 and would put the waters of the Inside Passage off limits to tankers.

In addition coming just one week after US President Obama’s rejection of Keystone XL — another proposed oil sands crude oil delivery pipeline — it left at least one project critic proclaiming, Northern Gateway will never happen.

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