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Shipping expert speaks out against LNG Howe Sound hazard

LNG adversary speaks out
Marc Gawthrop
Marc Gawthrop



Marc Gawthrop has spent decades making certain that tankers moving in and out of ports in Vancouver and around the world are properly fueled. He knows about the hazards of shipping, and in particular, shipping fuel. He is a marine fuel trader. Gawthrop says people are worried about Howe Sound becoming a shipping route and industrial base for LNG. “But that’s not what they should be worried about,” he says.

Gawthrop acknowledges that people might be surprised by his position. “I work with fuel but I’m one of the good guys.” Gawthrop is known on Bowen, not as a man involved in freighters and fuel, as much as he’s known as a musical impresario. He’s been known to sit down at his keyboard and play for hours with barely a break, playing whatever song the crowd calls out to request. He will have a song he’s never played prior to a request figured out by the time he’s lowered his first finger to a key. He seems to have internalized a whole musical encyclopedia of lyrics and chords. Gawthrop is often the pianist accompanying the Christmas choirs, performing at fundraisers at the Gallery, or at parties.

“I got my earliest musical training in utero,” he says. The musician’s mom, a French Canadian, was a classical pianist. “She took me to the symphony. I was five and she made me sit still for hours.”  The discipline must have paid off. The boy moved from piano at a young age, to violin. While growing up in Nanaimo, he played in the Nanaimo Symphony Orchestra before leaving it to switch back to piano and keyboard.

Though his four brothers and sister all got the gift of music they never opted to become family of entertainers like the Jackson 5. Instead, Marc and just one of his brothers, Rob, perform together in professional capacity. The two are part of a David Bowie tribute band that performs to sell-out crowds.

When he was a teenager, the young Gawthrop hit the road as part of a successful band that toured the country. “We worked 50 weeks a year.”

Not surprisingly, in spite of being classically influenced the young man was in a band that wasn’t playing pop music. They were able to find continuous demand for “doo-wop,” or, as Gawthrop describes it, “American Graffiti,” kinds of songs. The show band, Teenangel and the Rockin’ Rebels, toured from ’74-‘79. He played keyboards, sang and did the vocal arrangements. “It was a good time,” he says with a smile.

By the time the ‘80s rolled around, the young man decided to shift gears and take on the corporate world. He moved to Mexico City, living there until the earthquake of ’85.  He made his way back to the coast and to Bowen, the most affordable location within close proximity to Vancouver.

Gawthrop is happy to see that since 2015, there are emission controls set for up to 200 miles off Canadian shores. “All shipping in that limit is legislated to burn less sulphur as part of an international effort to lower emissions; this includes cruise ships, tankers, and all ships. I’m doing something environmentally positive by helping vessels to be environmentally compliant with their fuel.“

What disturbs Gawthrop is what he likens it to “open season on Howe Sound,” with “unregulated” opportunity for “pillaging of the Sound.” Along with the 1,200 from Bowen who signed a petition protesting LNG, Gawthrop is particularly concerned that “tankers that would not be permitted in the U.S. are getting into Canadian waters. Canada doesn’t regulate the way they do in the U.S., “ he says, adding that, in his opinion, in the U.S., the LNG proposal for Howe Sound, wouldn’t have stood a chance of seeing the light of day. ”Woodfibre would be dead in the water from the get-go. Canadian regulation doesn’t have any teeth.” He thinks that both the “U.S. and the Aussies (Australia) are so far ahead of us,” when it comes to protecting their shores.

With regard to LNG, his concern is less about the tankers, as about “what will happen both upstream and downstream. We need to really look upstream at the cost and impact of fracking, and what will happen in Northern BC.”

Like the majority of the BC coastal population, Gawthrop is also dismayed by the multitude of ecological impacts ranging the release of methane to the need for “billions of tons of fresh water” for the process and the “long-term giveaway of resources and surrender of Howe Sound’s environmental autonomy.”

 “I’m pushing back because I live here, because I’ve done the research and I don’t like what I see.”

Gawthrop, though a man engaged in a world of fuel and tankers, is outraged that there is any support by the Canadian government for LNG in Howe Sound.

“There’s fuel, and then there’s that.“

Gawthrop represents the views of many vocal opponents to the industrialization of Howe Sound, and in particular of the LNG Woodfibre site. The concerns from political leaders and the general population in the area have been well documented, and what may actually be the thing that sinks the proposal is not the opposition but the lack of demand for the product.

 “The classic resource extraction economy is an outdated way of thinking about the economy,“ he says.

Before sailing off to his next appointment, Gawthrop mentions that he is getting ready to sing and perform on keyboard in Langley in a David Bowie Tribute, and then he’ll perform on island at a spring coffee house with a 60s theme. He also like to talk about being “part of the Snug Cove House ukulele band.” He says this with almost as much seriousness as anything else he’s discussed. The ukulele case sits near him on the floor as he talks. He has been known to walk in the cove on the way to his car strumming his ukulele, but the piano is his passion. “I’m hoping there will be a buyer for the piano at the Gallery,” he says. “I’m willing to provide a new piano, as long as someone buys that one.”  

On that note, Marc Gawthrop turns his attention to a table where an assistant is doing paperwork. “I’m developing software for the industry,” he says, hoping to shift shipping from paper-based data, to digitized data. It’s just another way Gawthrop is “pushing back.”