Dangers on British Columbia coast
Grounding of tug and barge, returning from Alaska, demonstrates BC falls short of offering ‘world class’ marine response system
For Petroleum News
The British Columbia’s inability to measure up to its 2012 pledge to establish a “world-leading marine oil response, prevention and recovery system” before any approval of increased oil tanker traffic on the Pacific Coast was highlighted Oct. 13 when a tug and barge ran aground on the central B.C. coast.
The U.S.-registered tug Nathan E. Stewart was pushing barge DBL 55 on a return trip from Alaska to Vancouver when it sank near Bella Bella, threatening a clam bed that yields C$150,000 a year for the Heiltsuk First Nation.
Luckily, the tug was left with only 190,000 liters of diesel, while the 287-foot barge was empty.
But a 2011 incident report filed by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation showed how bad the incident might have been after the combined tug and barge had an engine failure near Cape Fairweather in the Gulf of Alaska.
The report said the tug had capacity for 45,000 gallons of diesel and 500 gallons of lube oil, while the fuel barge could carry 2.2 million gallons of diesel fuel, 1,028 gallons of aviation fuel and 700 gallons of other petroleum products.
In that event, the tug and barge were brought to safety under tow and no fuel was spilled.
At Bella Bella, a fuel slick spread into an area treasured for its clam bed, which Heiltsuk Chief Marilyn Slett said could take “years or decades before we are able to harvest again.”
Diesel recovery underwayEfforts are still underway in remove diesel fuel from the sunken tug, which the Coast Guard and local volunteers tried to contain, while a full response team took 20 hours to arrive at the scene from Prince Rupert.
The accident site is part of a Voluntary Tanker Exclusion Zone, but the Nathan E. Stewart is small enough that it is permitted to travel within the B.C. Inside Passage and also holds a waiver that allows it to operate without Canadian pilots on board.
However, Canada’s Transport Minister Marc Garneau intervened Oct. 17 by revoking the exemption that allowed Nathan E. Stewart and other vessels operated by its owner Texas-based Kirby Corp. to work in the area without a pilot.
He said the incident “underlines the need for changes in the way we respond to marine pollution incidents ... and why I am currently working on a coastal strategy to improve marine safety.”
The Heiltsuk leaders said the spill demonstrates the need for a ban on all oil tankers and tanker barges along the B.C. north coast before any approvals are granted to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project and Kinder Morgan’s planned expansion of its Trans Mountain export pipeline.
29 groundings last yearLast year, 29 groundings were reported along the B.C. coast, according to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.
Ingmar Lee, an environmental activity who lives near Bella Bella, has been warning for years about the risks associated with allowing barges to ply the B.C. coast, arguing that “one little mistake, one power failure ... and within minutes you are on the rocks.”
B.C. Premier Christy Clark, commenting on the incident, said she has argued for five years “that the spill response on our coast is totally inadequate,” not just in the event of increased oil tanker traffic but “for what we have now going up and down our coast.”