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Enbridge oil spill could cost Canadians billions: report

Canadian taxpayers could be on the hook for billions of dollars in clean-up and compensation costs if an oil tanker crashed on the west coast, suggests a report released Thursday.

“The funding and compensation scheme that exists under Canadian law would be remarkably inadequate in the event of a catastrophic oil spill,” it reads.

The report was written by the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre and prepared for the Living Oceans Society.

It notes that Canadian law currently provides up to about $1.33 billion to deal with the aftermath of potential oil spills. Yet remediation costs associated with the Exxon Valdez disaster were at least US $3.5 billion, the report reads.

And the U.S. government forced BP to set up a US $20 billion compensation fund for its Gulf of Mexico spill.

Thursday’s report is aimed directly at Enbridge’s plans to build a pipeline from Alberta's oil sands operations to coastal Kitimat, then transport crude oil on supertankers to markets in China and beyond.

In the event a tanker crashed in the notoriously turbulent waters of the Hecate Strait, Enbridge would have little legal liability, the report notes.

“This is because oil corporations, such as Enbridge Inc., no longer own oil tankers but charter them instead,” it reads. “This is common practice among oil corporations since the Exxon Valdez catastrophe in Alaska.”

Last December, federal opposition parties passed a non-binding resolution upholding an informal tanker traffic ban on B.C.’s north coast. Liberal MP Joyce Murray tabled a private member’s bill attempting to formalize the ban shortly after.

Enbridge insists a variety of safety measures – including double-hulled tankers – make the likelihood of an oil spill very low.

The Tyee last September visited the tiny First Nations fishing village of Hartley Bay, ground-zero for Enbridge's tanker plans. Click here to read a dispatch.

Geoff Dembicki reports for the Tyee.

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