A study commissioned by the British Columbia government put another dent in the case for exporting crude from the Pacific Coast by confirming what has been widely argued: Canada’s oil spill response system falls far short of the promised world-class standards.
A 274-page, C$106,000 study by Alaska-based Nuka Research and Planning Group delivered overwhelming evidence that a tanker accident would likely result in an environmental disaster.
In six of seven spill exercises conducted in the waters of Dixon Entrance and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, more than 65 percent of the spill remained on the water at the end of a five-day simulation, while 49 percent was left in the seventh test.
Depending on the exercise, percentages of oil recovered ranged from three to 31.
Nuka said that “even when wind and waves are moderate enough that on-water containment and recovery equipment can be deployed, other conditions may preclude a response. Fog, clouds and darkness, as well as temperature and strong current, can also limit a response.”
Based on available resourcesThe tests were based on the spill-response resources available to the industry-funded Western Canada Marine Response Corp., WCMRC, which is certified to respond to a spill of 10,000 metric tons and claims it has the resources in place to respond to a spill of 26,000 metric tons (equivalent to 180,000 barrels).
The tankers Enbridge and Kinder Morgan have in mind for shipments to Asia would carry more than 1 million barrels.
The London-based International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation had previously estimated that even in ideal conditions in oceans around the world, only 10-15 percent of oil is likely to be recovered.
British Columbia Environment Minister Mary Polak said the study makes it clear what action is needed and “where the industry is going to have to become more involved, which probably means greater funding” for the WCMRC.
She said the report bolsters her government’s case that “we need to do more. We now have the evidence before us that points to the gaps that we have, not only with respect to prevention and preparedness, but in our response and our ability to restore the environment after an accident.”
Concern for provincial interestsA spokesman for Polak’s ministry said that while protecting British Columbia’s coast from marine spills is a federal jurisdiction “we must ensure provincial interests are protected.”
He said the study tells British Columbians and the federal government what improvements are needed and is consistent with similar findings in a 2010 federal study.
He said the equipment and trained responders needed “should be based on credible worst-case scenarios and ensure that the response resources required are established in appropriate locations along the coast.”
Canada’s Transport Minister Lisa Raitt reiterated her government’s commitment to a world-class tanker safety system.
Setback to export plansFor now, the findings are a major setback to plans by Enbridge to export 525,000 barrels per day from its C$6.5 billion Northern Gateway proposal and by Kinder Morgan to boost its shipments out of Vancouver to 890,000 bpd from a C$5.4 billion expansion of its Trans Mountain system, which could increase tanker movements in British Columbia waters by 1,000 a year.
The Nuka Report also said there is a shortage of escort tugs north of Vancouver, no rescue tugs (placing that responsibility on commercial tugs) and insufficient trained pilots — although Enbridge has indicated it has a plan to deal with those deficiencies — while there are no federal or provincial laws to compensate communities for long-term environmental damage.
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has made a “world-class” oil recovery response system one of five conditions to gain her government’s endorsement of pipelines from the oil sands to the Pacific coast that also include a “fair share” of revenues for British Columbia and full consultation with First Nations.
Karen Wristen, executive director of Living Oceans Society, said her organization presented findings similar to those in the Nuka report to the Northern Gateway environmental review panel three years ago.
She said the “sad thing is we could have been moving ahead on some of these issues if everybody hadn’t been denying they were issues to begin with,” noting the experts estimate it could take 10 years to “create, equip and drill a team capable of responding to a major oil spill.”