Opinion from Canada’s top maritime lawyer and oil pollution liability expert contradicts Harper government’s claim that taxpayers would not be “on the hook.” VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – The President of the Canadian Maritime Law Association, John O’Connor, says the Canadian government would be responsible for any cleanup costs that exceed $1.4 billion in the event of a “huge” oil spill, directly contradicting claims by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver that any cleanup bill would be the responsibility of vessel operators and not Canadian taxpayers.
The opinion from O’Connor, which was sent to one of the world’s largest oil tanker companies, was obtained by the Coastal First Nations through an undercover investigation into oil tanker ownership, liability and insurance practices, and has been made into a new television ad, released on the same day Minister Oliver is in BC to meet with First Nations leaders.
“The federal government is lying to Canadians when it says taxpayers will not be responsible for oil spill cleanup costs,” says Art Sterritt, Executive Director of the Coastal First Nations. “As it turns out, the oil tanker companies and Canada’s top maritime lawyer and oil pollution liability expert, know this claim is false.”
The Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon incidents have cost as much as $7 billion and $40 billion respectively, and Simon Fraser University Professor, Dr. Thomas Gunton, has estimated an Exxon-size spill in BC could cost as much as $22.7 billion.
Posing as a pipeline research company, the Coastal First Nations approached six of the world’s top Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) oil tanker companies with questions about insurance and liability. VLCC’s are the type of oil tankers the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline would bring into BC’s coastal waters.
Through a series of emails and phone calls, the group discovered the following:
1) Many public and privately owned VLCC tanker companies are unaware of plans to export diluted bitumen to Canada’s west coast, raising questions as to whether Enbridge has been in conversation with the operators of VLCC’s to determine operational information for marine navigation plans.
2) Several tanker companies asked for material and safety data sheets for diluted oil sands bitumen, suggesting they were unfamiliar with the product and its handling and transportation requirements.
3) Each oil tanker is owned by a limited-liability company that shields the names of its shareholders and directors. These companies are often registered in Panama, Liberia or the Marshall Islands, and are intended to protect their owners from liability in the event of a maritime incident.
The Coastal First Nations are also releasing a short web video, exposing these “flag of convenience” ships and the threat they pose to taxpayers and BC’s coastal waters:
“Our research shows that it would be next to impossible to recover additional oil spill cleanup costs from oil tanker companies,” says Sterritt. “It’s time the Conservative government came clean with Canadians about the true cost of an oil spill in BC’s coastal waters, and the truth is the cost is too high.”
Art Sterritt Executive Director Coastal First Nations Office: 604-696-9889 Cell: 604-868-9110