The tanker Everest Spirit bound for Kinder Morgan's oil export terminal on Burrard Inlet in Burnaby.

Oil spill response gap no surprise to Polak

Minister sees progress with feds, reforms in the works

Environment Minister Mary Polak says advice she got from staff in June on the inadequacy of B.C.’s oil spill response capability largely underscored what the government had already disclosed a year ago.

She was responding to the Freedom of Information release of her ministerial briefing book, which warned the environment ministry isn’t adequately staffed to meet existing oil spill risks, let alone those from proposed new export pipelines.

“Even a moderate-sized spill would overwhelm the province’s ability to respond and could result in a significant liability for government,” the document said.

On land, it noted, an hour-long spill from Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway project could spill 21,000 barrels of diluted bitumen into the B.C. wilderness.

Polak said in an interview little of the information came as a surprise.

The province last summer released a report that bluntly spelled out B.C.’s deficiencies to backstop its demand – issued at the same time – that any new heavy oil pipeline meet five key conditions, including world-leading marine and land spill protections.

Although her briefing book said spill safeguard requirements imposed on industry in both Washington State and Alaska are “far in excess of what is required in B.C.” the 2012 documents went into considerably more detail.

“That’s the entire basis for the work we have undertaken,” Polak said. “What I saw in the briefing notes just added to the urgency of conducting that work. It reminds you that while industry continues to develop and our economy grows, we have not over time kept pace with the changes.”

Proposals to improve both marine and land spill responses are in the works for release later this year or early 2014.

The land response initiative aims to improve prevention and cleanup measures not just for pipelines, but also for hauling petroleum by train or tanker truck.

Marine rules also must improve safety not just for oil tankers but less obvious sources of potential spills, Polak said, such as large cargo ships that carry as much bunker fuel oil as a small tanker.

NDP environment critic Spencer Chandra Herbert accused the province of stacking its oil spill advisory committee with industry representatives and said that’s unlikely to lead to world-leading spill prevention policies.

“The government is allowing the oil industry to dominate the discussion, when a major spill would devastate not only our environment but other key industries like fishing and tourism, whose interests should be represented at the table,” he said.

Polak said more sectors will be consulted, but added it’s reasonable to work closely with the industry at the outset to evaluate its operations and capabilities.

A land spill response corporation or cooperative funded by industry, similar to the one charged with cleanup of marine spills, is one potential option.

Petroleum movers want to be involved, she added.

“They recognize it’s part of the social licence they need to have in place to operate in this province,” Polak said.

Asked about the federal government’s decision to relocate its Vancouver oil spill response office to Quebec, Polak said it’s too soon to say what the impact may be.

“It’s a concern whenever you have change,” she said, but added B.C. may seek a different spill response coordination system.

“We believe we’ve seen progress,” Polak said of shifts in Ottawa’s approach to oil spill risks.

“We’ve moved from a place where there wasn’t a fullsome recognition on the part of the feds of our needs here on the west coast to the point where they appear to be interested in collaborating with us on this.”

Photo above: Environment Minister Mary Polak

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

West Shore RCMP looking for man wanted on four counts of breaching court conditions

Christopher Elliott, 28, described as Caucasian with black hair, brown eyes

Work has started on Malahat Skywalk, expected completion in 2021

$15-million project expected to open in spring, 2021

Victoria councillors advocate once again for free youth transit passes regionally

The idea was originally rejected by the Victoria Regional Transit Commission in August 2019

Province offers expertise to help Esquimalt clean up Gorge oil spill

A leaky home heating tank shed oil into ground and storm water systems

B.C. men’s life expectancy down for a third straight year

Opioid crisis held responsible for declining life expectancy

B.C. reports first coronavirus in Vancouver region

First patient visited Wuhan, China, reported symptoms

Greater Victoria’s wanted list for the week of Jan. 28

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Landowner hearings begin for Trans Mountain expansion in Alberta

Detailed route talks start in Spruce Grove, in B.C. communities soon

VIDEO: Canada looking to help 126 Canadians quarantined in China for coronavirus

China has confirmed more than 4,500 cases of the new virus, with more than 100 deaths

Baby Bear statue returned to be reunited with Mama and Papa in Island Secret Garden spot

Culprit left it near the Henry Road roundabout in Chemainus with a note attached

Alessia Cara to host and perform at 2020 Juno Awards

Multi-platinum Canadian singer-songwriter also up for six awards, including Artist of the Year

Watch out for scams, clickbait in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s death: Better Business Bureau

Kobe Bryant and his daughter were killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles

‘Very disrespectful’: Headstones at Okanagan cemetery damaged by excavation crew

Headstones at Enderby’s Cliffside Cemetery mistakenly driven over by excavation crew

Despite reports of decline, birds flocking to national parks in Canadian Rockies

Recent studies suggest overall bird population has slid by three billion since 1970

Most Read