We feel bet­ter when ‘it’s’ cov­ered

The Compass - - OPINION - — Har­vey Jarvis is the projects man­ager with FFAW-Uni­for

It is com­fort­ing to know that if there is an oil spill in the bays or in the off­shore of New­found­land Labrador, we need not fret be­cause it’s all “cov­ered.”

In a nut­shell, we have tens of mil­lions of dol­lars of re­sponse equip­ment in a ware­house in Mount Pearl, and if an oil spill hap­pens the equip­ment can be de­ployed and op­er­ated by as few as 40 trained re­spon­ders.

That should make us all feel cozy and warm, yes?

Be­fore we get real com­fort­able we should re­mind our­selves of two re­cent events.

In Notre Dame Bay, the Mano­lis L sank in 1985 with 500 tons of fuel on board and sat there, out of sight and out of mind, un­til the spring of 2013 when it sprang a leak. Shortly af­ter the oil be­came vis­i­ble, peo­ple were de­ployed to the site and equip­ment was used to as­sess and in­stall patches to cover the leaks. Even af­ter much ef­fort there have been re­ports the oil is still float­ing to the sur­face. We clearly haven’t got this one cov­ered.

In Sept- Iles, Que­bec, dur­ing the overnight of Aug. 31, there were 5,000 liters of oil spilled into Sept- Iles Bay. Ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports there have been up to 20 boats and 200 peo­ple de­ployed to clean up the spilled oil. In sum­mary, there were about 32 bar­rels of oil spilled into the bay, and nearly 60 days later, 20 boats us­ing so­phis­ti­cated and spe­cial­ized equip­ment and with 200 peo­ple de­ployed still had not been able to cover it. Should we be fret­ting yet? Given that we still haven’t fixed a prob­lem that be­gan nearly 30 years ago when a ship sank, and given that there were 200 peo­ple de­ployed to re­spond to a 32 bar­rel spill in Que­bec, and given that if an oil tanker with tens of thou­sands of bar­rels of oil sinks to­day we will only have about 90 New­found­land and Labrador re­spon­ders trained and avail­able, we prob­a­bly should be fret­ting, don’t you think? But wait, there’s more. The two re­cent events clearly should give us some rea­son for con­cern if a spill hap­pens close to shore. But what if a spill oc­curs off­shore?

Two hun­dred miles off­shore the sea-state is far dif­fer­ent than it is, for ex­am­ple, in­side Kelly’s Is­land in Con­cep­tion Bay. Chances are the tens of mil­lions of dol­lars worth of equip­ment will be in­ef­fec­tive in the rough, open ocean. The only op­tion avail­able to us to cover the spill will be to use chem­i­cal dis­per­sants.

Dis­per­sants are chem­i­cals that are sprayed on a sur­face oil slick to break the oil down into smaller droplets so that they are more read­ily and quickly able to mix with the wa­ter.

Dis­per­sants do not re­duce the amount of oil that had been spilled and re­main­ing in the en­vi­ron­ment, but sim­ply pushes the spilled oil un­der­wa­ter. The ac­tion of de­ploy­ing the chem­i­cal dis­per­sant will see to it that the oil spill is not vis­i­ble but it also means that we will now have both the chem­i­cal dis­per­sant and the spilled oil into the ocean en­vi­ron­ment. Both are toxic to things bi­o­log­i­cal.

Why would we de­lib­er­ately re­lease a toxic chem­i­cal into the en­vi­ron­ment? The an­swer is sim­ple; the chem­i­cal sinks the spilled oil so it is out of sight and out of mind.

We didn’t re­spond to the Mano­lis L site in Notre Dame Bay un­til the oil be­came vis­i­ble. As has hap­pened else­where, there will come a time when we will de­lib­er­ately spill chem­i­cal dis­per­sants on top of spilled oil to en­sure that the oil sinks and be­comes in­vis­i­ble. If it’s not vis­i­ble, it’s cov­ered!

Speak­ing of things vis­ual, most of us are dis­gusted at the sight of sea birds suf­fer­ing and dy­ing as a re­sult of be­ing cov­ered by sticky black toxic oil. Re­spon­ders to the Mano­lis L site de­ployed noise mak­ers to keep seabirds away from the oil, and in the off­shore chem­i­cal dis­per­sants, will also be used to keep oil away from seabirds. To our credit we try and pro­tect crea­tures with feath­ers but what about crea­tures with fins?

We will in­ten­tion­ally spill chem­i­cals into the en­vi­ron­ment and let them sink along with spilled crude oil. We will know­ingly and ac­cept­ingly dis­perse th­ese two toxic sub­stances into the space where crea­tures with fins feed, mi­grate and re­pro­duce. For­tu­nately though, and un­like sea birds, crea­tures with fins are be­neath the waves, out of sight, and there­fore quite eas­ily out of mind.

Since the prob­a­bil­ity of crea­tures with fins be­ing cov­ered with some­thing other than wa­ter is quite real, shouldn’t we be just a lit­tle more proac­tive? Shouldn’t we be de­mand­ing that things that are not vis­i­ble are given the same at­ten­tion as those that are vis­i­ble? Or maybe we should just sim­ply con­tinue to sleep qui­etly know­ing that some­one has “it” cov­ered?

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