Excerpted from an Aug. 10 presentation to the Joint Panel Review on the Northern Gateway pipeline by Islands Trust Chair Sheila Malcolmson. Headings were added by the Editor.
… Under our legislated mandate, Islands Trust Council has been expressing concern about tanker traffic and oil spill preparedness since 1979. I’ve documented those actions, resolutions of council and advocacy letters that I’ll submit on the record for counsel.
Over the last two-and-a-half years, we’ve had a focus on shipping safety. This wasn’t particularly in regards to oil tankers, but any spill of any big vessel in the ocean that creates oil spills. Our constituents became especially concerned with the intensity of climate change, changing traditional weather patterns, and big freighters dragging anchors in highly sensitive areas of the Islands Trust. … I’ve personally been advocating on behalf of council, through letters to ministers, and meetings with federal/provincial ministers.
There are four focus areas:
First, the need for Canada and the US to undertake a review of maritime safety standards and add/develop compatible regulations.
Second, the need for geographic response plans for our region. A geographic response plan gives you very detailed information about the baseline of what it is you would try to protect if there was an oil spill and also how you do it: what are the local conditions and currents and pocket beaches and so on that might affect a specific clean up?
Third, concerns about preparedness levels for spills of diluted bitumen in marine waters.
And finally, the need for risk mitigation studies for vessel traffic.
These focus areas weren’t specific to any particular pipeline project but the pipeline proposals – both the Kinder Morgan expansion and Enbridge – made this work that much more important.
In June, due to concerns about the risks of oil spills that could irrevocably damage coastal communities’ environments, economies, and communities, Trust Council voted to oppose in principle oil pipeline projects that lead to the expansion of oil export by barge and tanker from Canada’s west coast.
I was also authorised by council to address you to outline the council’s past shipping safety advocacy actions and outcomes.
Overall this work lines up with a number of items that are on your issues list: impacts on marine environment, safety measures and preparedness levels, marine transport of diluted bitumen, and cumulative impacts, especially in relation to other pipeline proposals that would greatly increase tanker traffic going through British Columbia’s marine environment.
Responses but no actions
In June 2010, we hosted a shipping safety information session. We invited the BC Chamber of Shipping, Ministry of Environment, and Transportation Canada. We really tried to work with industry and with the government regulators to get the best information that we could.
At that public panel, we were told that a successful oil spill response clean-up operation is considered to be a 10 to 15 percent recovery of spilled oil.
In December 2010, along with the local government of San Juan County, which represents the Gulf Islands on the US side of the border, we sent a joint letter to our Canadian and American federal governments expressing extreme concern about oil spill risks presented by the marine shipping in our area and the poor state of readiness to respond. We asked our respective federal governments to fund and review maritime safety standards and develop compatible world-class maritime safety and oil-spill related regulations on both sides of the border.
The response that we received in March 2011 from federal Transport Minister Chuck Strahl said: “I agree with the recommendations of the report of the Canadian Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development which found that Transport Canada and the Canadian Coastguard are ill-prepared to deal with a major oil spill. And the Government of Canada is presently preparing to move forward with the necessary evaluation and planning to carry out this important work”. We haven’t had any update on that work since then.
In the same month, I sent a letter to the BC Minister of Environment and had again a positive response around our encouragement to get more provincial resources for oil spill preparedness, but that still has not happened.
Geographic plan needed
We advocated in June 2011 to the Minister of Transport … Minister Denis Lebel, around the need to develop geographic response plans for the BC Coast. I noted in my letter to him that Washington State, by comparison, has 19 geographic response plans for its coastal and inland waters; British Columbia has none. And as far as I’m aware, there still are none at the provincial level.
The Transport Minister said that he agreed, and his response to me was that the idea has merit and it will be considered, but we haven’t had an indication that work has been done.
I think the most significant correspondence (was in) November 2011. I wrote again to Transport Minister Lebel, asking about Transportation Canada’s plans for assessing bitumen spill preparedness.
Specifically, I asked, “Is there enough known about the effects of bitumen to protect (against) its behaviour in the ocean? Is there a technical ability to track it? Will the product stay near the surface? Will it suspend in the water column? Will it sink? Are there plans to remove the oil that sinks? What will be the impact of fumes from diluted bitumen on first responders, the public, wildlife? How will wildlife be cleaned? Will the existing spill response technology be effective at skimming, booming and recovering bitumen from the ocean and shoreline?”
We still haven’t had reassurance on any of those questions. The Minister’s response, about five months later, did not mention bitumen at all, but he did say that the surveillance program to analyse the aerial views of spills is something that they are relying on.
No contingency plans
A year later Islands Trust Council attended a marine managers’ conference in San Juan County, and among other speakers, a representative from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that one of the biggest problems with bitumen is that it doesn’t show up necessarily in marine overviews, I guess because it sinks. And this was based on his experience in marine spills in Texas and Venezuela.
We also heard from the Department of Ecology in Washington. I love that there is a Department of Ecology. But they don’t have contingency plans to deal with bitumen.
And then in June of this year I attended an oil spill simulation exercise carried out by Western Canada Marine Response Corporation – formerly known as Burrard Clean, the industry funded to provide oil spill response. In its simulation of a 7,500 tonne bunker fuel spill – and that’s not as tough as bitumen – four days into this simulation, 30 kilometres of shoreline had been oiled, and only 15 percent of the oil had been recovered. And this was with great lead time and 325 personnel.
… Despite our very best efforts to, in a very constructive and positive way, try to change the preparedness levels, let alone the spill prevention, it’s exactly the same provincial and federal spill response capability.
We don’t, at this time, have confidence that our federal and provincial governments are in a position to do the best for citizens of the Coast to prevent the worst-case scenario if the Enbridge pipeline is approved.
|The Flying Shingle, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada ~ editor@FlyingShingle.com||Web design: Innovative Illusions (Paul Rudyk) ~ webmaster@FlyingShingle.com|