A little-noticed federal ocean monitoring program around Kitimat is the clearest signal yet that the federal government is preparing the region for crude oil tanker traffic, Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver says.
"A major initiative in planning is the complementary measures project for the area surrounding Kitimat British Columbia to support planned oil traffic," it says.
Government scientists who developed the system in the Gulf of St. Lawrence say it is to help "search and rescue, oil spill response and to ensure safe and navigable waterways."
Weaver said the project goes well beyond research, and represents a major ongoing budget commitment by Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada to forecast ocean conditions for oil tanker traffic.
"My conclusion is, come hell or high water, the intention of the feds right now is to ship bitumen to Asia through Kitimat," Weaver said in an interview. "Whether it be through rail or through pipeline, it's going to happen, and I don't think that British Columbians are getting the whole picture here."
Environment Canada spokesman Mark Johnson issued a statement confirming the program was funded in the 2012 federal budget, under the government's "responsible resource development" initiative.
Its purpose is to "to improve the scientific understanding of diluted bitumen products and to improve operational capabilities to provide timely scientific assessment in the event of an oil spill.
"The Government of Canada is increasing research into non-conventional petroleum products to fortify Canada's marine prevention, preparedness and response capabilities.
"In terms of ocean forecasting, Environment Canada Meteorological Service of Canada will bring specific contributions to this overall goal in the provision of high-resolution surface winds forecasts along the complex waterways from Kitimat to Hecate Strait area, as winds play an important role as input to oil spill modelling assessment."
A federal assessment panel is preparing recommendations for the federal cabinet on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project, which would deliver diluted bitumen from Alberta to the Kitimat port.
Weaver said Ottawa's apparent rush to export heavy crude increases the pollution risk on land and ocean, and also works against development of a petrochemical industry in Canada.