Pipe­line de­ci­sion means gaps in oil-spill re­sponse re­main

The Globe and Mail Metro (Ontario Edition) - - NEWS - JUS­TINE HUNTER VIC­TO­RIA

Ot­tawa’s prom­ises to en­hance ma­rine pro­tec­tions are in limbo af­ter court quashes Trans Moun­tain per­mits

The Sen­tinel 30 is a small work­boat, part of Canada’s en­hanced oil-spill re­sponse regime and docked at a ma­rina near Vic­to­ria. About the size of a small fish­ing boat, it is one of the few tan­gi­ble as­sets that have been de­liv­ered as part of a fed­eral plan to pro­tect the coun­try’s coasts.

The fed­eral govern­ment, when it ap­proved the ex­pan­sion of the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line, promised to im­prove ma­rine oil spill pro­tec­tion to help ad­dress con­cerns raised about flaws in cleanup op­er­a­tions for spills on the West Coast. Those prom­ises in­cluded the Oceans Pro­tec­tion Plan, which cov­ered all three coasts, and a sig­nif­i­cant ex­pan­sion of the Western Canada Ma­rine Re­sponse Corp., which han­dles spill re­sponse in B.C. wa­ters.

The western por­tions of those plans have been in limbo since a fed­eral Court of Ap­peal de­ci­sion quashed the en­vi­ron­men­tal per­mits for the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line ex­pan­sion in late Au­gust. The Western Canada Ma­rine Re­sponse had started spend­ing the money from a $150-mil­lion plan for new oil-spill re­sponse, but those com­mit­ments are now on hold.

Wash­ing­ton State leg­is­la­tors have long com­plained that Canada is a lag­gard in ad­dress­ing the need to pro­tect against oil spills in the shared wa­ters of the Sal­ish Sea, and the un­cer­tainty only adds to their ir­ri­ta­tion. The re­gion, which in­cludes the Strait of Ge­or­gia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound, is a busy ma­rine high­way for the ports of Van- cou­ver and Seat­tle, and Wash­ing­ton State shoul­ders the cost of the re­gion’s only emer­gency re­sponse tug.

The state passed leg­is­la­tion this year to in­crease re­sources to meet the present-day risks of an oil spill in the Sal­ish Sea, and state sen­a­tor Reu­ven Car­lyle said both ju­ris­dic­tions need to work to­gether to close gaps in re­sponse ca­pac­ity and ad­dress in­creas­ing traf­fic and the pos­si­bil­ity of spills.

“The re­search, the data, the science, is un­equiv­o­cal that the risks are es­ca­lat­ing ex­po­nen­tially, and Canada’s re­sponse is not com­men­su­rate to that risk,” Mr. Car­lyle said in an in­ter­view.

He said the eco­nomic and so­cial ties be­tween B.C. and his state run deep, and Ot­tawa’s in­sis­tence on hold­ing back needed in­vest­ments in spill re­sponse is un­set­tling to Wash­ing­to­ni­ans. “That’s why there is such deep sad­ness by what many of us see as a lack of grace and dig­nity in the na­tional govern­ment in Canada to­ward this shared, pre­cious re­source.”

Western Canada Ma­rine Re­sponse pro­vides spill ser­vices for Canada’s 27,000 kilo­me­tres of B.C. coast­line. The agency took out a loan to add new ser­vices, ex­pect­ing to re­pay it through tolls it would col­lect on the ex­panded Trans Moun­tain pipe­line.

The mea­sures were to in­clude 40 new ma­rine ves­sels at six bases from Ucluelet to the Vancouver Har­bour. Leases have been signed on the land for the bases, but con­struc­tion won’t be­gin un­til Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau’s govern­ment ad­dresses the court’s con­cerns – es­pe­cially the risk to the en­dan­gered south­ern res­i­dent killer whales in the Sal­ish Sea - and the pipe­line project re­sumes.

The Trans Moun­tain ex­pan­sion would in­crease the num­ber of tankers car­ry­ing crude oil that travel through these wa­ters from 44 last year to 408. Those new tankers would have stricter safety re­quire­ments, in­clud­ing ad­di­tional tug es­corts all the way to Port Ren­frew. But for the ex­ist­ing traf­fic, the rules have not changed.

Ot­tawa is de­ter­mined to see the pipe­line ex­pan­sion com­pleted, and main­tains that it will pro­ceed with the Oceans Pro­tec­tions Plan no mat­ter what. But two years af­ter an­nounc­ing the “largest in­vest­ment ever made” to pro­tect the coun­try’s coasts, many of the de­tails are still be­ing worked out. There is no time­line for the changes, other than a com­mit­ment to launch con­sul­ta­tions. Ot­tawa has or­dered equip­ment for six new radar sta­tions in B.C., but it is not clear when they will be in­stalled. Two emer­gency res­cue tugs are also promised for the west coast, but nei­ther are in­tended for the in­land wa­ters of the Sal­ish Sea.

The need for shared re­spon­si­bil­ity in these shared wa­ters was made plain 30 years ago.

In 1988, the tow ca­ble be­tween the tug Ocean Ser­vice and its oil­laden barge, the Nes­tucca, snapped in Grays Har­bor, WA. The crew re­versed the tug in an at­tempt to re-at­tach the ca­ble, rip­ping a gash in the barge. Days later, Cana­dian of­fi­cials were in­formed that the leak­ing barge had been hauled out to the open ocean, where 870,000 litres of Bunker C oil dis­persed in choppy con­di­tions.

As the oil spread over an area from the shores of Ore­gon to Bri­tish Columbia’s rocky coast, tens of thou­sands of mi­gra­tory birds were killed. Fish­eries were closed, and sub­merged oil smoth­ered crab traps 24 fath­oms deep off Tofino.

The Cana­dian re­sponse to the Nes­tucca spill was slow and un­co­or­di­nated, marred by bu­reau­cratic in­fight­ing. An in­ter­nal re­port on the in­ci­dent for the Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans called for bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween U.S. and Cana­dian of­fi­cials, more re­search on the longterm ef­fects of oil on wildlife and habi­tat, and im­proved tac­tics to clean up sub­merged oil. The lo­cal In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties played cru­cial roles in the clean-up and “should be en­cour­aged in fu­ture con­cerns and con­tin­gency plan­ning as a ma­jor com­po­nent of the re­sponse ef­fort,” the re­port con­cluded.

To­day, those rec­om­men­da­tions are still in the works.

Brian Woot­ton, re­gional di­rec­tor of in­ci­dent man­age­ment for the Cana­dian Coast Guard, says new re­sources are flow­ing to the Coast Guard as a re­sult of the Oceans Pro­tec­tion Plan. His en­vi­ron­men­tal re­sponse team has grown from 17 to 45 peo­ple, and it is train­ing In­dige­nous first re­spon­ders who live in coastal com­mu­ni­ties.

Cross-bor­der and in­ter-agency co-op­er­a­tion has been im­proved, he added. Mr. Woot­ton was in the uni­fied com­mand post in 2015 for the re­sponse to the oil spill from the bulk grain car­rier MV Marathassa in Vancouver’s English Bay.It was the first time that the Cana­dian Coast Guard in­vited other agen­cies to be part of an emer­gency re­sponse, but the cleanup ef­fort was be­set by de­lays and mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion as fuel washed up on prized Vancouver beaches. The lessons learned there prompted changes that are help­ing to build trust with their U.S. coun­ter­parts, he said.

The Coast Guard’s abil­ity reach out, and train and ex­er­cise with part­ners, “has been strained through­out my ca­reer.” But last Oc­to­ber, Mr. Wooton’s team par­tic­i­pated in the largest ma­rine dis­as­ter ex­er­cise in Cana­dian Coast Guard his­tory. That ex­er­cise in the Sal­ish Sea brought in crew and as­sets from the United States, lo­cal gov­ern­ments, and a dozen In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties to prac­tice an oil-spill re­sponse.

“For that kind of col­lab­o­ra­tion, you need a high de­gree of trust and a high de­gree of reg­u­lar par­tic­i­pa­tion,” Mr. Woot­ton said. “In terms of gap-fill­ing, we have come a long way.”


A Cana­dian Coast Guard ex­er­cise takes place in the Sal­ish Sea in 2017, bring­ing in crew and as­sets from the United States, lo­cal gov­ern­ments and a dozen In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties to prac­tice an oil-spill re­sponse.

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