Western Canada Marine Response is the only Transport Canada-certified company on the B.C. coast and respond to a variety of spill calls. They will respond to a simulated oil spill in Plumper Sound on June 7 as part of their recertification process. (Black Press/File)

Oil spill response simulation Wednesday betwen Pender and Saturna islands

Western Canada Marine Responss up for Transport Canada recert.; new response bases in the works

Over the next few weeks, construction contracts, vessel procurement and hiring plans for six new oil spill response stations on the B.C. coast will enter the execution phase.

Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) has been planning on adding the new bases since late last year, following the federal government’s approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. Michael Lowry, manager of communications for WCMRC, says the need for the response stations was a requirement set out by the National Energy Board — part of the conditions of approval for the pipeline project.

Sidney is on the list of those six new spill response bases, as are Beecher Bay, Ucluelet, Port Alberni, Nanaimo and the Richmond area. WCMRC already has two in the region: at Duncan and in Vancouver. The Sidney satellite base is expected to have a 65-foot skimming vessel, landing craft and work boats and employ approximately 22 people. The facility is expected to cover southeastern Vancouver Island, from Haro Strait to Boundary Pass.

Lowry said they are required to have the added spill response capability in place six months before the new pipeline is operational. The Sidney station is expected to be ready between April and June, 2018. The other bases have similar timelines.

The bases, vessels and personnel are part of an oil spill response plan and are expected to cost around $150 million and create approximately 125 new jobs.

WCMRC, which is funded by industry and regulated by the federal government, will be active tomorrow (Wed., June 7) in Plumper Sound, between Pender and Saturna Islands, as they simulate a 2,500 tonne oil spill. It’s part of their regular certification process with Transport Canada.

Lowry said between 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., people on those Gulf Islands and on the water will see some 20 vessels and 90 people at work, responding to a simulated spill from their Duncan and Vancouver bases. Working with other agencies, Lowry said there will be Canadian Coast Guard vessel on scene and a Transport Canada aerial surveillance plane in the air. WCMRC itself will deploy aerostats and drones to monitor the area.

Lowry said the exercise is done every two years to maintain their Transport Canada certification. Using computer modeling, they incorporate winds and currents to simulate a spill (no actual oil is used). Vessels will use booms to collect the “oil” and skimmer ships will mimic collecting it and transferring it to barges for storage.

The last exercise, Lowry continued, was two years ago in Vancouver Harbour and before than, in Howe Sound.

“The main goal is to be able to mobilize our equipment to respond to a spill,” Lowry explained. “It’s also to test our response capability to geographical sensitivities, environmental or cultural.”

Those site have been extensively mapped and documented — some 400 sites within the Salish Sea. Depending on where an oil spill takes place, as well as wind and sea conditions, they plan on being able to set up booms to protect those sites well before any oil reaches them.

WCMRC covers all 27,000 kilometers of the B.C. coastline, from Alaska to Washington State, Lowry said, and they have a base in Prince Rupert. They respond to a variety of calls, typically initiated by a vessel or the Coast Guard for what is known as a ‘mystery spill’ – or from an unknown source. They have someone on duty 24/7 to respond to those calls.