In the early hours of March 24, 1989, the residents of the small community of Cordova, Alaska, awoke to their worst nightmare.
The supertanker Exxon Valdez had run aground on Bligh Reef, and some 40 million litres of crude oil spilled into Prince William Sound, killing 22 orcas, 250,000 sea birds, 2,800 sea otters, 1.9 million salmon and 12.9 billion herring.
The local fishing and tourism economy collapsed overnight.
In their final report recommending the approval of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline and tanker project, the joint federal review panel (JRP) wrote: “The Panel finds that a large spill would not cause permanent, widespread damage to the environment.”
An odd conclusion when the oil remaining on the beaches today up the coast in Alaska is just as toxic as it was 25 years ago, and continues to have toxic impacts on marine life such as sea otters.
What’s more, studies show that there is long-term genetic damage from the Exxon spill to both herring and salmon.
Herring, killer whales and pigeon guillemots populations have never returned anywhere near pre-spill levels.
Perhaps the JRP think 25 years and counting isn’t permanent, but I don’t want to find out what widespread damage means for our salmon, whales, otters, sea birds and herring. Exxon, as Enbridge is now, promised that they had the best and safest technology.
As both the Exxon Valdez and the BC Ferry Queen of the North spill have taught us, technology isn’t always the problem. Human error in geographically tough conditions is what gets us into trouble.
In another quarter of a century, I hope we’re all celebrating with our kids and grandkids our healthy freshwater rivers and vibrant coast as a result of standing up and stopping an Enbridge Valdez-like spill from happening on BC’s coast.
Let’s continue to stand united against the introduction of crude oil supertankers in our northern waters.