Editor’s Note, September 2010

Not long ago, I happened to drive across the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge as a huge oil tanker passed beneath it. I was returning from North Van, where I’d spent time with Phil Nuytten, the deep-sea pioneer and inventor whom I profile in this issue. We’d talked, among other things, about the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and I’d learned that he worked on the first offshore well in our ocean, which Shell drilled in 600 feet of water off Vancouver Island in 1966. He later worked underwater on an Amoco well, in the Atlantic off Newfoundland; in the North Sea; and for 12 years he contracted his diving services in the Arctic while Dome Petroleum drilled in the Beaufort Sea. Besides knowing more about deep-sea technology than perhaps anyone, he’s also highly knowledgeable about the oilfield.

The Gulf catastrophe is causing untold harm to the Mississippi Delta, and real trepidation wherever oil and water meet, including here. Post-9/11, the U.S. has relied increasingly on crude from Alberta (rather than from the Middle East). That oil is piped from the tar sands to Burnaby, then loaded onto tankers at the end of Burrard Inlet. The tankers-as many as 100 each year-pass through the Second Narrows as they make their way out to sea and down to California. The navigable channel beneath the bridge is barely adequate-roughly 120 metres wide and 16 metres deep-the tides are tricky, and an accident there could wreak havoc on our beaches and shoreline. For the moment, we have a moratorium on offshore drilling in this province. The hemorrhage at the BP well-along with memories of the Exxon Valdez grounding in Alaska-will likely ensure that we’ll not suffer our own Deepwater Horizon anytime soon. But the burgeoning demand for tar-sands crude is straining our ability to deliver it, making a mishap in these waters that much more likely. Mayor Robertson’s recent special meeting of council to consider the implications of a spill reminds us that a barrel of prevention is worth a tanker of cure. Meanwhile, Phil Nuytten’s oilfield experience, oceanic expertise, and familiarity with maritime disaster make him fascinating on this subject-and on many others, as you’ll discover on page 62. VM