Is Canada Ready for an Oil Spill?

Vancouver Island

By Kathryn Stone 2015-05-01 07:45:57

Legislators and experts alike have been quick to criticize Canada’s ability to respond to oil spills following an April 8, bunker fuel spill in Vancouver’s English Bay. 

The spill occurred when the Cyprus-flagged bulk carrier Marathassa leaked approximately 2,700 liters of fuel into the surrounding waters. 

The mayor of North Vancouver voiced concerned this weekend over the speed of the response and oil spill expert Anita Burke, who has worked on emergency projects such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill, similarly expressed her disappointment over the handling of English Bay incident. 

According to reports at the time of the spill, Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, the company in charge of the clean-up effort, arrived four hours after the Canadian Coast Guard had been notified and didn’t have booms in place until twelve hours after initial reports. Typical international standard response times for such incidents are between fifteen minutes to a half hour. 

The Canadian government disputes criticism over the clean-up efforts and has stated that 80 percent of all fuel spilled in the bay had been recovered within a 36 hour window. Additionally, the coast guard has maintained that response efforts were met within international standards. 

Concern over Canadian spill preparedness comes in time with proposals to triple the number of tankers passing through the US, Canadian waters off Vancouver’s coast. Two pipelines, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline are currently pending approval, but if the plans are accepted, the number of tankers servicing the area would increase by around 650 per year. 

A December 2013 federal panel indicated that the Canadian spill response system was in need of upgrading. Some of the key issues the panel noted were an inability to respond to spills quickly, confusion over chain of command, and an overreliance on mechanical recovery equipment that suffers from low recovery rates. Additionally, the panel called for increased preparation for catastrophic scenarios and increased ability to fine spill response organizations. 

Currently, Canadian provinces have no jurisdiction over shipping and any policy updates would require a change to the constitution.