Rafe- Woodfibre LNG opposition isn't NIMBYism - it's based on real fear

Rafe: Woodfibre LNG opposition isn’t NIMBYism – it’s based on real fear

Rafe- Woodfibre LNG opposition isn't NIMBYism - it's based on real fear
Photo: Flickr/KsideB

If you don’t think that the approval of an LNG plant in Squamish – Woodfibre LNG – was a raw political decision, you not only believe in the tooth fairy, you must be the tooth fairy herself.

The alleged “environmental assessment” by the Province, was a farce – as has been the federal process thus far. The government solemnly avers that everything is up in the air until there’s a full blown investigation with evidence taken on all matters of concern and a judicious decision rendered strictly on all the facts.

This, and I hate to disillusion you, is utter crap. I’ve attended too many environmental assessments and – forgive me for repeating myself – I would rather have a root canal without an anesthetic than go to another. They’re about as fair as a Soviet Show Trial. The sole reason for the “process” is to make a government decision appear fair and of course it does the very opposite.

I’m not a spokesman for any of the groups, in the Howe Sound area or elsewhere, who are opposing this project. The principal organization is My Sea To Sky of which I am a keen supporter but not a member, much less a spokesman. It’s generally conceded that the principal spokesman is the eminent Dr. Eoin Finn, whom I support and admire immensely. I’m dedicated to the fight and I certainly offer my two bits worth from time to time but what I say has no sanction, official or otherwise.

Having said that I can issue this warning to Premier Clark:

[quote]If you and your tiresome toady, Rich Coleman, think that this will be a slam dunk, think again. I might say that I’ve warned you of this in these pages several times. Remember what happened to John Weston, until recently our MP, who steadfastly ignored his constituents on this issue and was humiliated on October 19.[/quote]

Tanker risks ignored

Your so-called environmental assessment spent little if any time on one of the most critical issues, namely the width of Howe Sound and it’s suitability for LNG tanker traffic. In this regard, there has been, even for matters of LNG, an unbelievable amount of bullshit.

Much of it has been peddled by Captain Stephen Brown, President of the Chamber of Shipping of British Columbia, scarcely an independent observer. His mantra, to cover all possible questions on LNG tanker transport, is that they have a perfect record for the last 50 years, 75,000 voyages without incident.

Captain Brown misses a rather important qualification to these statistics – he’s only counting voyages on the high seas. He studiously ignores problems inshore, in fjords, harbours, rivers and coastal waters. The last time I looked, Howe Sound is a long way from those high seas the good skipper speaks of.

If you want a more accurate picture, subscribe, for free, to gCaptain published daily on the goings-on in the shipping industry. It reports about one serious tanker accident every two or three weeks. If you take the time to consult the archives you will know that Captain Brown should have his mouth washed out with soap.

One interesting place to look is the Bospherus, between Turkey and Greece, leading into the Black Sea, which is by no means unlike Howe Sound and is a veritable hotspot for tankers bumping into things.

It’s not my position that LNG tankers are unsafe for they’re remarkably well constructed vessels and, from what I read, about as safe as a tanker can be. That being said, they still run into things, as often as not because of human error, and when they do, they pose a very substantial danger – especially to narrow fjords like the Bospherus and certainly Howe Sound if this madness isn’t stopped.

LNG accidents aren’t small

This is the second misleading part, to put it charitably, of Captain Brown’s statements. It’s by no means only how many accidents there will be that’s important but how serious they are when they happen.

That this is a matter of huge concern and community action was recently outlined in these pages by My Sea To Sky co-founder Tracey Saxby:

[quote]So far community opposition has been loud and clear, with Powell River, Lions Bay, Gibsons, West Vancouver, Bowen Island, and Squamish all signaling strong opposition to Woodfibre LNG through recent resolutions. My Sea to Sky has partnered with more than 20 other organizations that oppose this project, and our volunteers have hit the streets to gather over 4,400 signatures (and counting) to the Howe Sound Declaration, stating opposition to the project.

There is no social license for this project in Howe Sound. A rubber stamp isn’t going to change that.[/quote]

And those concerns are very real, not mere NIMBYism. If we’re to have some 500 tankers going out of Vancouver harbour every year and the odds of an accident are, let’s say, 1 in a 1,000 – hell, say 1 in 10,000 – it’s only a matter of time, and not much time at that, before there is a serious accident. Make that 1 in 100,000 then look me in the eye and say you still want to bring your family to Lions Bay to live.

That’s what troubles those who are concerned about LNG traffic in Howe Sound and waterways like the Fraser River or Saanich Inlet.

The issue is not if a serious accident will occur, but only when.

Pushing the limit

Courtesy of Eoin Finn
Courtesy of Eoin Finn

The standard width within which LNG tankers should travel, recommended by world-leading Sandia Laboratories in New Mexico – now the law in the United States (not known for overly strict environmental rules) – sets the danger zone around LNG tankers at 3,500 to 4,200 metres.

Howe Sound is so narrow that its shores are well within danger zone. Looking at a Chart prepared by Dr Eoin Finn and Cmdr. Roger Sweeny, RCN (Ret), based upon proper standards demonstrates beyond question that Gambier, Keats, Bowen, the Sea to Sky Highway, Lions Bay, Horseshoe Bay and West Vancouver would be at serious risk. Proposed LNG Tanker traffic even runs afoul of the standards of the industry’s international trade organization, the Society of International Gas Tanker and Terminal Operators (SIGTTO).

If this point was seriously considered by the pseudo-environmental assessment process, you wouldn’t know it from their report.

Woodfibre’s owner doesn’t inspire confidence

Woodfibre LNG- Shady PR firms, lobby violations, fraudulent owner - Is this the kind of business BC wants to welcome
WFLNG owner Sukanto Tanoto (right)

As Ms. Saxby says, there’s no social license – indeed Liberal MLA, Jordan Sturdy, has not only acted contrary to the wishes of the vast majority of his constituents, he’s pooh-poohed their concerns that Woodfibre LNG is run by the unsavoury, to say the least, Sukanto Tanoto.

Perhaps that’s because Woodfibre LNG, owned by Tanoto, paid big dollars to kiss Sturdy’s political backside with a fundraiser last February at the ultra-posh Capilano Golf Club. The media, as well as Eoin Finn, were refused entry. The entire cost for the event, including big bucks handed over to Sturdy, was paid for by Tanoto, whose massive-tax evasion and rainforest destruction record across the Pacific has put his business reputation into serious question.

“We should not, in my mind, be doing business with people like that,” opines Squamish Mayor Patricia Heintzman.

[quote]It’s difficult for the community to have trust that this person will not cut corners or be disrespectful to our environment.[/quote]

As Ms. Saxby and Mayor Heintzman wonder, is this the sort of business we want in our community in exchange for a minuscule number of construction jobs for local citizens and maybe 100 low-paying permanent jobs (if that)?

Knowing the price of everything, the value of nothing

Photo: Future of Howe Sound Society
Photo: Future of Howe Sound Society

Premier Clark had best be ready, for Howe Sound is sacred territory to far more than just those of us who live on its shores. She can expect that amongst our allies at the protests to come will be people from all over the province who recognize what Howe Sound really means.

The similarity between the Clark government and the late, unlamented Harper government is uncanny. Neither have the faintest idea about any value that doesn’t have a $ attached. The fact that there might be safety issues, spiritual issues, and plain issues of beauty would never occur to Christy Clark or her “henchpersons” if there’s a buck to be made.

In the words of Oscar Wilde, they know “the price of everything, and the value of nothing.”

I say no more except that it would be wise for our politicians to reconsider this matter.

For it’s not just that the people are angry, they also happen to be right.


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at rafeonline.com.

11 thoughts on “Rafe: Woodfibre LNG opposition isn’t NIMBYism – it’s based on real fear

  1. A little noticed side effect of the LNG tanker traffic is the disruption of three major ferry routes for 2-4 hours as the tanker transits between Boyer Island past Bowen Island. Throws a bit of a wrinkle in ferry schedules but I’ve been told by the proponents consultants not worry, “It’s only about 40 days a year”! I hope they are forced to close the Sea to Sky Highway along Howe sound as well during the transits. Might that sort of closure just impact the skiing Libs enough to have another think about the safety of this proposal?.

  2. We the citizens of this province must stand united to stop orientals destroying our country,just so they can bank more money in China. Why the hell does everything have to go to the Chinese. Sick and tired of them buying everything and pushing us out. Our kids can’t afford housing any longer and soon will not have the natural beauty of our land to enjoy. So sad for the next generation in this country

    1. Guess you will be happy that Sukanto Tanoto’s national origins are in Indonesia, not China? He specializes in burning the ancient tropical rain forests, home of endangered orangutans, rhinos, tigers and likely millions of unknown but potentially useful species, in order to plant palm oil for your Timbits!

  3. Christy Clark and the Liberal Party which she represents are following the federal Conservative Party line to their overdue political demise.
    When either of these parties have become so far removed from their constituents’ hopes, fears and desires due to either their arrogance, blind faith in their advisors, stubborn denial, or ( in Christy’s case) bone headed stupidity…..

    They will get what they deserve. Namely, a crushing defeat at the polls.
    2017 cant come soon enough for me.

  4. If Howe Sound is such a dangerous place for LNG tankers how do you explain SIGGTO accepting Woodfire LNG as an associate member of the organization?

    1. Anyone can become a due-paying associate member of SIGTTO. Membership should not in any way be taken for evidence of compliance with the organization’s safety standards. Your reaction is precisely what Woodfibre wants and precisely why they joined SIGTTO: to give you the mistaken impression that they somehow comply with global safety standards. Make no mistake – they don’t.

  5. Delete, delete, delete mentality means if I just put my fingers in my ears and sing la la la, this will all go away, says herself. Would love to be a fly on the wall in the BCLiberal caucus room.

  6. The longer I live and the more of these so-called public input functions I attend,
    the more I’ve come to conclude that they’re all just dog and pony shows.

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