The Canadian Senate is considering legislation that would establish a moratorium on the transport of crude oil in the waters off Northern British Columbia.
The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has said that the proposed legislation, were it to become law, would interfere with international maritime trade.
ICS Deputy Secretary General, Simon Bennett said that “such a dramatic step could lead to serious concerns being raised by Canada’s international trading partners. The proposed moratorium does not seem to have been developed through an evidence-based process and we fear it could establish a dangerous precedent that might be copied elsewhere, including by individual US States, with the potential to impact greatly on the efficiency of world trade, as well as that of Canada.”
ICS said that worldwide, there were currently an average of fewer than two oil spills of more than 700 tonnes per year, down from an average of 25 such incidents a year 30 years ago, despite a doubling of the amount of oil transported by sea.
Bennett said that “we would instead encourage Canada to continue its strong history of environmental protection and support for responsible global trade through the implementation of practical measures consistent with international best practice. This includes respecting the UN International Maritime Organization’s role in developing safe and sustainable shipping regulations and recommendations that might address any concerns that Canada may have”.
ICS said that the global shipping industry fully recognized the importance of robust environmental protection measures, adding that it was committed to zero pollution, consistent with the comprehensive global regulatory framework adopted by the UN IMO in accordance with the United Nations Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which Canada is a State Party.
This legislation was currently being reviewed by a standing committee of the Senate of Canada.
Robert Lewis-Manning, president of the Vancouver-based Chamber of Shipping, said that Canada should designate the northern British Columbia coast as an ecologically sensitive region under the International Marine Organization (IMO), which would allow policymakers to craft highly focused marine transportation regulations to protect against potential oil spills and other accidents. That Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) designation could safeguard coastal waters, while not explicitly discriminating against oil shipments, he said.
Other industry groups have called the legislation a “blunt instrument” that would eliminate any new pipeline proposals in northern British Columbia.
First Nation-led Eagle Spirit pipeline project, which aims to build an oil pipeline from northern Alberta to Prince Rupert, BC, said that any introduced moratorium would kill any opportunity for Aboriginal groups in the area to take advantage of the resource economy and pull its people out of poverty.
Tim McMillan, head of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said that an oil moratorium threatened to scare away foreign investors, who had already reduced investment levels in Canada amid a deepening lack of confidence in Canada’s regulatory regime.