Are we pre­pared for an oil spill?

The Compass - - OPINION - — Har­vey Jarvis is the projects man­ager for the Fish, Food and Al­lied Work­ers (FFAW)

Pla­cen­tia Bay has been called “The Far Greater Bay” and it is known to be one of the most eco­log­i­cally di­verse re­gions on the globe. It has the same num­ber of is­lands as a year has days, and it is prob­a­bly the fog­gi­est area in the en­tire At­lantic coast. A drive through the Doe Hills will con­firm that.

It also has more oil tanker traf­fic than any other bay in Canada.

As ref­er­enced in a re­port en­ti­tled “reg­u­lat­ing oil tankers in Cana­dian waters” by Dar­ryl An­der­son and Joe Spears, the 2008 crude petroleum flow through Come-By-Chance was greater than any of the other ma­jor crude oil tanker ports in Canada.

The amount of oil flow­ing through Port Metro Van­cou­ver was only nine per cent of that flow­ing through Come-By-Chance.

When the to­tals from the six ma­jor crude oil tanker ports in Canada were added to­gether, Come-By-Chance and the New­found­land Off­shore made up 49 per cent of the to­tal.

Trans­port Canada, in 2007, pub­lished a re­port en­ti­tled “En­vi­ron­men­tal Oil Spill As­sess­ment for the South Coast of New­found­land.”

Ma­jor is­sues raised in­cluded the lack of in­fra­struc­ture along the south coast and the re­sponse equip­ment that was avail­able was not lo­cated in ar­eas of high­est risk.

The re­port con­cluded that the area that in­cluded Pla­cen­tia and St Mary’s Bays was three to 10 times more likely to have a se­ri­ous oil spill than any­where else in the area from Pouch Cove to Chan­nel-Port aux Basques.

Soon af­ter the April 2010 oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mex­ico the lack of pre­pared­ness be­came clearly ev­i­dent.

The first re­sponse was very late and, when any­thing did hap­pen, it was dis­or­ga­nized.

It has since been rec­og­nized that the quick de­ploy­ment of a group of well-trained first re­spon­ders could have helped lessen the en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age caused by that spill.

Con­trast that with the mes­sage prior to the spill — Don’t worry. The risks are low and our re­sponse plan will han­dle it. Sound fa­mil­iar? Trans­port Canada said its 2007 as­sess­ment was con­ducted to un­der­stand the risks and to al­low it to make de­ci­sions re­gard­ing the cost ef­fec­tive­ness of im­ple­ment­ing mea­sures to re­duce those risks.

It is now 2013 and I am spec­u­lat­ing that:

1. Since most (if not all) of the re­sponse equip­ment is in stor­age in a ware­house in Mount Pearl, the lack of first re­sponse equip­ment close to the sea bird sanc­tu­ary at Cape St. Mary’s, the lob­ster fish­ing grounds in Pinch Gut or the cod fish­ing grounds near the Bread and Cheese, must be due to the lack of ware­house space in those ar­eas.

2. There is a com­pany con­tracted to im­ple­ment a first re­sponse plan how­ever, the list of first re­spon­ders is very short. Hav­ing a list of ge­o­graph­i­cally dis­trib­uted, pre­pared and well trained first re­spon­ders from the fish­ing in­dus­try is not pos­si­ble be­cause there are only about 2,000 fish har­vesters from which to choose.

3. Ad­vances in nav­i­ga­tional and com­mu­ni­ca­tion equip­ment have been sig­nif­i­cant over the last decade and that has helped to re­duce the risk of an oil tanker run­ning aground in foggy Pla­cen­tia Bay. Those tech­no­log­i­cal and com­mu­ni­ca­tional ad­vances make it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble for any ves­sel to run aground.

It is of course quite ob­vi­ous that those three points have been con­tam­i­nated by a deliberate spilling of sar­casm. We do not have the re­sponse equip­ment in the right places nor do we have a group of well-trained and ge­o­graph­i­cally dis­trib­uted first re­spon­ders for one rea­son only — oil com­pa­nies and reg­u­la­tors thinks it is not cost ef­fec­tive. In­stead they point to the nav­i­ga­tional and com­mu­ni­ca­tion aids that, they say, mit­i­gate the risks.

For those that also feel that com­mu­ni­ca­tion and nav­i­ga­tional ad­vances have re­duced the risks of a tanker run­ning aground (and spilling its cargo) and is jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the lack of equip­ment and trained re­spon­ders, please ask your­self two ques­tions — how is it pos­si­ble for the Blue Put­tees to run aground in Chan­nel Port Aux Basque Har­bour in July and how is it pos­si­ble for the Pla­cen­tia Bay Pi­lot boat (the one that guides tankers into and out of Pla­cen­tia Bay) to have run aground off Arnolds Cove the first week of Au­gust?

Now ask your­self this ques­tion — are we be­ing fed the same hog­wash by the oil com­pa­nies and reg­u­la­tors that Bri­tish Petroleum was feed­ing the cit­i­zens of the Gulf of Mex­ico prior to the blowout of 2010?

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