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Nature Environmental Conservation & Protection

The Oil Man and the Sea

Navigating the Northern Gateway

by (author) Arno Kopecky

Douglas & McIntyre
Initial publish date
Sep 2013
Environmental Conservation & Protection, Personal Memoirs, Adventure
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2013
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Short-listed for the Governor General's Literary Award and the Banff Mountain Book Award and winner of the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction.

With Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway proposal nearing approval, supertankers loaded with two million barrels of bitumen each may soon join herring, humpbacks and salmon on their annual migration through the tumultuous waters off British Columbia's Central Coast -- a place no oil tanker has been before. The contentious project has aroused intense opposition, pitting local First Nations, a majority of British Columbia's urban population, and environmental groups across the country against an international consortium led by Enbridge and backed by a federal government determined to make Canada an "energy superpower."

Arno Kopecky sails into the controversy aboard a forty-one-foot cutter for a closer look at a legendary region with a knife at its throat. Without any prior sailing experience, Kopecky and his sailing companion -- photographer Ilja Herb -- struggle to keep afloat as they make their way through a volatile labyrinth of fjords, inlets, and evergreen islands known as the Great Bear Rainforest. This amphibious ecosystem is among the last great wildernesses on earth, housing a quarter of the world's temperate rainforest and a thriving ocean environment that together host forty per cent more biomass per hectare than the Amazon. But as Kopecky soon discovers, the politics of Big Oil and First Nations can be every bit as treacherous to navigate as the shifting currents and hidden reefs for which the Northern Gateway tanker route is known.

In this rich evocation of ecology, culture, and history, Kopecky meditates on the line between impartial reportage and environmental activism, ultimately arguing that there are some places oil tankers should never go.

About the author

Arno Kopecky is the author of The Devil's Curve and Oil Man and the Sea. He is a journalist and travel writer whose dispatches have appeared in The Walrus, Foreign Policy, the Globe and Mail, Maclean's, The Tyee and Kenya's Daily Nation. He has covered civil uprisings in Mexico, cyclones in Burma, Zimbabwe's 30-year dictatorship and election violence in Kenya. He lives in Squamish, B.C.

Arno Kopecky's profile page


  • Winner, Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction
  • Winner, Banff Mountain Book Award - Special Jury Mention
  • Short-listed, Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize
  • Short-listed, Governor General's Literary Award
  • Short-listed, Lane Anderson Award

Editorial Reviews

"Arno Kopecky has chosen, for his wonderful new book about the North Coast, The Oil Man and the Sea: Navigating the Northern Gateway, to explore the debate around the proposed pipeline project...The industrialization of this coast will destroy the loveliest place on the planet. It does not matter that it will prompt the spending of $6.5 billion to build this pipeline, or that it will bring jobs to Kitimat (about 50). Not after one has sailed and fished in these mountain bays and listened to the people who live here. Not after one has read Arno Kopecky's fine book."

Literary Review of Canada

"The narrative balance between the activist and travelogue sides of Oil Man are what make the book such a pleasure to read. Kopecky's writing is at its best when he gets caught up in the details, whether it's salmon runs, anthropology or sailing, all of which tie organically back into his argument against Northern Gateway. In these passages, Kopecky is utterly convincing, and it would be a cynical reader indeed who did not come to the conclusion that the risks inherent in transporting oil through this ecosystem are too great to take on."

National Post

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