MLA Report: B.C. has limited ability to respond to oil spills

B.C. has capacity to respond to a 10,000-tonne spill, while a single tanker can carry over 100,000 tonnes

In response to the federal government’s announced Ocean Protection Plan, Premier Clark said she was gratified to say it addressed the gaps the province had identified in our current ability to respond to marine spills. While I agree the plan includes some positive additions that will help preserve and protect our coastline, a dangerous and cavernous gap remains – we still have no capacity to clean up an oil spill.

Given that this initiative may be used by both federal and provincial governments to justify their support of the Trans Mountain proposal – a project that would increase heavy oil tanker traffic in southwestern B.C. by 580 per cent – it is important that you have the straight facts about how our coast would fare in the event of a major oil spill.

During the National Energy Board’s hearing on the Trans Mountain Kinder Morgan Expansion Project, I sought intervenor status both as an MLA and as a scientist. Over nearly two years I reviewed the project in a scientific capacity. I examined the proponent’s understanding of how diluted bitumen (dilbit) – the type of heavy oil that would be transported on Trans Mountain tankers – would interact with the marine environment, and I raised concerns shared by people across B.C.

Oil spill response in B.C. is managed by the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC). WCMRC is required under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 to maintain sufficient capacity to respond to a 10,000-tonne spill. This may seem like a lot, but the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989 was 40,000 tonnes, and a single Kinder Morgan tanker would be carrying over 100,000 tonnes of oil. That means WCMRC would only have the capacity to respond to roughly 10 per cent of a tanker’s cargo.

Not only that, but the fact that the WCMRC is able to respond to a 10,000-tonne spill does not actually mean it is able to recover the full 10,000 tonnes. In fact, according to the Federal Tanker Safety Expert Panel, “Evidence suggests that mechanical recovery rates, in optimal conditions, are usually only between five and 15 per cent of the oil spilled.”

To make matters worse, federal government studies show that dilbit sinks in the presence of suspended particles – and the WCMRC has no capacity to recover submerged or sunken oils.

Given the prevalence of suspended particulate matter along the tanker sailing route, a dilbit spill on the B.C. coast would have profound and long-lasting consequences.

Our governments talk a lot about having “world class” spill response capabilities, indeed that seemed to be the theme of last week’s Ocean Protection Plan announcement. If you were suspicious of that claim, you had every right to be so.

Even our friends to the south who share our western coastline are worlds ahead of us. In the U.S., for a ship to be registered to transport oil it needs to be covered by a spill response organization that has the capacity to clean up a “worst case discharge”, defined as the loss of the ship’s entire cargo complicated by bad weather. Washington state also has capacity to deal with sunken and submerged oils.

If Washington state can set these standards, then why should we accept anything less?

We shouldn’t. We are lucky enough to have one of the most pristine coastlines in the world and our governments have an obligation to protect it. Part of that obligation includes providing British Columbians with the honest facts so we can make an informed decision of what happens to our coast.

 

Andrew Weaver is the MLA for Oak Bay – Gordon Head.

 

 

Just Posted

Rachel Rivera (left) and Claire Ouchi are a dynamic art duo known as the WKNDRS. The two painted the new road mural at Uptown. (Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)
Artistic mural at Uptown brings creativity, fun to summer shoppers in Saanich

Road installation the largest of its kind in Greater Victoria

Kathy and Doug LaFortune stand next to the new welcome pole now gracing the front entrance of KELSET Elementary School in North Saanich. LaFortune completed the piece after suffering a stroke with the help of his wife and son Bear. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
KELSET school in North Saanich unveils welcome pole on National Indigenous Peoples Day

Carver Doug LaFortune completed pole with the help of his son, wife after suffering a stroke

Victoria police continue to look for missing man Tyrone Goertzen and are once again asking for the public’s assistance in locating him. (Photo courtesy of VicPD)
Victoria police put out another call for help finding missing man

Tyrone Goertzen, 33, was first reported missing June 4

Colwood council is looking at potential summer weekend closures to traffic of a section of Ocean Boulevard at Esquimalt Lagoon, to allow for more of a park-like setting during summer events such as the popular Eats & Beats event, shown here in 2018. (Black Press Media file photo)
Mayor lobbying for summer weekend closures of beachfront Colwood roadway

Rob Martin to bring motion forward to June 28 council meeting

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

Emergency vehicles are parked outside of the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue. (SUSAN QUINN / Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni RCMP investigate stabbing on Fourth Avenue

Two men were found with ‘significant’ injuries near Wintergreen Apartments

Bernadette Jordan addresses the media following a swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on January 14, 2019. Jordan says the government will provide $2 million to allow First Nations to continue to strengthen the marine safety system across Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
First Nations receive federal funds to purchase marine rescue boats

Quatsino, Heiltsuk, and Kitasoo First Nation’s among eight across Canada to receive funding

Most Read