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Opinion: Capt. Stephen Brown: B.C. mariners reject oil-tanker fearmongering



Opinion: Capt. Stephen Brown: B.C. mariners reject oil-tanker fearmongering

Written by: Stephen Brown for The Province, October 16, 2013

Most British Columbians are aware the Canadian oilsands provide needed, well-paying jobs. Perhaps less appreciated is the fact that the oilsands industry has an indirect but very substantial positive impact on our local economies.

For years, many rural B.C. communities struggled to develop sustainable economies in which young people could build their lives without being forced to move away in search of work.

As a former seafarer, I know very well the challenges of working away from home, often for many months at a time. We embraced that lifestyle as the basis of a career. But many British Columbians would prefer to do without such a nomadic way of life.

By investing in responsible resource extraction and energy development in B.C., we can create new opportunities for our citizens, allowing them to live and work in their home towns.

Just look at what’s happening in Alberta. Many communities there are, for the first time, benefiting from paved roads, well-equipped and staffed health-care centres and public facilities that are second to none. Indeed, on a recent visit to Fort McMurray, I was surprised to learn that the city has the largest and most modern recreation centre in Canada. What a great asset in a growing community.

While cynics may dismiss this form of economic development as oil companies buying their social license, it’s much more than that. For example, the Northeastern Alberta Aboriginal Business Association is a vital cog in the oilsands economy as it provides tremendous employment opportunities and a previously unimaginable standard of living for its members. In 2010, oilsands companies are reported to have contracted more than $1.3 billion for goods and services from native-owned businesses.

Although we may not notice it, the oilsands also benefit B.C. As a prominent Vancouver Island mayor recently explained to me, there is a disconnect between natural resource development and the local wealth it generates. People have no appreciation for how many well-paying B.C. jobs are dependent on the continued success of the oilsands. In future, roughly 126,000 oilsands jobs will be created in provinces other than Alberta.

But here, for me, is the most impressive economic fact for British Columbia: recent estimates from the Canadian Energy Research Institute show that the oilsands will generate $28 billion in economic benefits solely for our province over the next 25 years.

B.C.’s professional marine industry will continue to argue for what we know to be the silent majority of Canadians who support environmentally sustainable resource development. Indeed, most Canadians are appalled at how much money we are sacrificing as a country (up to $50 million a day) simply because our oilsands resources are landlocked.

Preventing this oil from reaching markets worldwide makes no sense when everyone knows how badly we need that money to be pumped into infrastructure development, schools, hospitals and social services — not to mention pay down a provincial debt of $57 billion in B.C. that is growing by more than $200 every second.

The tragedy of the Exxon Valdez tanker 24 years ago remains a rallying point for opponents of development. However, had the Exxon Valdez been built under legislation crafted in 1990 in the U.S. and which is now internationally applied, there would have been no loss of oil in that incident.

Indeed, in 2012, no major spills occurred anywhere. So, given the additional layers of risk mitigation that we are committed to applying, we entirely reject the notion that it is only a matter of time before a spill will occur on the coastline of B.C.

That’s not to say we are complacent. Indeed, a diverse group of stakeholders travelled to Norway in June to examine what many believe to be that country’s world-class spill regime.

We take the view that if lessons learned can provide even a marginal improvement in preparedness, then we must make that investment.

The marine industry will continue to operate safely, as we do on tens of thousands of vessels, including several thousand tankers, that ply the oceans of the world every day in order to ensure the lights stay on and there is gas at the pump — even if we don’t always care for the price.

And we’ll continue to work closely with our resource and energy sector partners, creating new opportunities for British Columbians right here at home.

Capt. Stephen Brown is president of the Chamber of Shipping of British Columbia.

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