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Oil in Marine Ecosystems

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Oil in Marine Ecosystems:
Potential Risks

British Columbians have enjoyed a moratorium on the human pursuit of offshore oil for three decades. Calls to rescind the moratorium have recently intensified, coincident with a downturn in local and provincial economies.

To some, offshore oil represents a quick fix. To others, including the Heiltsuk, oil might threaten what's more important a healthy ecosystem and a way of life. The Heiltsuk believe that the implications of lifting this moratorium deserve analysis and discussion, which is the purpose of this paper.

What follows here, is a brief examination of the potential consequences of oil spills and blowouts to the Heiltsuk's traditional marine territories. This paper, the second in a series on ecosystem and cultural integrity, affirms the need to carefully assess the risks that such narrowly-focussed actions might pose to our collective futures.

Proposed Drilling Area

The quest for oil would focus on Hecate Strait, the shelf area between Haida Gwaii and B.C.'s Central Coast. Experience suggests that seismic testing (using explosives) for potential well sites conducted along more than 5,000 km of transects poses a very real risk to benthic (bottom-dwelling) fishes and other organisms. Yet the major concern in the minds of most is the potential for spills (drilling, production, transportation).

Though no one can state what the precise threat is, we do know that Hecate Strait boasts some of the fiercest winds (exceeding 200 kph) and storms anywhere and that it has a history of major seismic activity, with quakes recorded up to magnitudes of 7.0 (1929 and 1970) and 8.1 (1949).

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