Oil spill response times in Burrard Inlet queried

A Western Canada Marine Response Corporation photo of its 2,500 tonne exercise in Howe Sound, September 2013. Belcarra Mayor Ralph Drew wants pre-staged oil spill response booms on Burrard Inlet. - Western Canada Marine Response Corporation photo
A Western Canada Marine Response Corporation photo of its 2,500 tonne exercise in Howe Sound, September 2013. Belcarra Mayor Ralph Drew wants pre-staged oil spill response booms on Burrard Inlet.
— image credit: Western Canada Marine Response Corporation photo

How quickly would an oil spill be cleaned up in Burrard Inlet?

That issue is the heart of a debate being stirred up by Belcarra's Ralph Drew at the same time an expert review panel is recommending changes in the way oil spill plans are developed and carried out.

Drew is calling for one-hour spill response standards in the inlet and pre-staged oil booms in sensitive areas off marine parks and conservation areas in Burnaby, Belcarra and North Vancouver.

But the agency responsible for oil clean up along B.C.'s west coast, including the inlet and Port Metro Vancouver, says equipment is already available and response times are already well within current standards.

"We definitely already have a significant amount of equipment in and around Burrard Inlet," said Michael Lowry, a spokesperson for the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation.

"The problem is, it's not pre-deployed, which is the standard for fast-response situations," explained Drew, who has written a letter to Kinder Morgan calling for booms to be oil-spill ready at three locations in the inlet.

Drew wants to see pre-staged booms in Burnaby west of Barnet Marine Park, Indian Arm at Admiralty Point in Belcarra Regional Park and Maple Wood Flats Conservation area in North Vancouver to protect sensitive marine life.

The issue arises as Kinder Morgan Canada prepares to file an application to twin the Trans Mountain oil pipeline, which would run from Alberta to the Westridge Terminal tanker facility in Burnaby (including about 7 km in Coquitlam), increasing the amount of oil transported to the facility and the number of tankers in the inlet.

Drew says no more than an hour should go by before response teams get to the site of a spill and begin to clean up.


But according to Lowry, WCMRC is already meeting that standard and surpasses response times required by the Shipping Act. He offers two examples of recent spills in the inlet to back his company's claim that it can respond speedily to an emergency. In 2007, he said WRMC responded within an hour to the Westridge spill from a punctured pipeline — a statement that Drew disputes  — and in April WCMRC responded to a spill at Suncor's storage facility in Burnaby within 31 minutes when canola oil was spilled.

"We don't set the standards but we do have emergency equipment in the harbor right now and we go above and beyond those numbers," Lowry said.

Standards currently in place require WRMC to get to a spill inside Port Metro Vancouver within six hours, with longer times depending on the size of the spill and how far away it is up the coast.

However, under the new regime proposed by the tanker safety expert panel, WCMRC would be required to come up with its own detailed Geographic Response Plan with specific time standards and resources for the conditions of the local region. In addition, an Area Response Plan would be developed with the Canadian Coast Guard taking the lead.

Enforcement would be up to Transport Canada, the panel suggests, although it doesn't currently have the resources or powers to do so.

The report also recommends a national strategy for dealing with oily debris and wildlife after a spill, which the panel says is currently lacking in cohesiveness because there are no strategies for cleaning and rehabilitating animals that do become oiled.

"The only requirements that currently exist for Response Organizations are related to scaring way wildlife in an attempt to prevent them from becoming oiled," the report states.


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