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

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

Gwen Spencer Hethey is one of four athletes being inducted into the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame this year. Here, she is pictured with her mentor Major Frederick Richardson. (Courtesy of Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame)
Four new names added to Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame

Matt Pettinger, Gwen Spencer Hethey, Peter Lawless and Roger Skillings being inducted

The District of Saanich is accepting nominations for the 2021 Environmental Awards until June 1 at 4 p.m. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Nominations now open for Saanich’s 21st annual Environmental Awards

Awards recognize individuals and organizations making Saanich more sustainable

Rotary Club of Victoria-Harbourside president Angus Macpherson visited the Wear2Start Society boutique in Victoria to present a cheque to the society’s vice-president Alessandra Ringstad (left) and president Angela Mangiacasale. (Courtesy of Wear2Start)
Rotary club donates over $11,000 to Greater Victoria non-profit for women

Wear2Start Society provides clothing for women in need

Adrienne Rogers (LPN) and Tracy McConnell (RN) on the Victoria Hospice Unit. (Photo courtesy of Victoria Hospice)
Victoria Hospice bereavement counsellors dealing with a tsunami of grief

Last year, Victoria Hospice provided end-of-life care to more than 1,000 people

Paddles sit stacked and ready at a rowing regatta on Elk Lake in 2018. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria junior girls rowing team nabs first in national Row to Tokyo challenge

Young Victoria City Rowing Club members row more than 2,250 km

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

RCMP are looking for information on an alleged shooting attempt near an elementary school in Smithers March 10. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News/Stock)
UPDATE: Man killed in brazen daylight shooting at Vancouver airport

Details about the police incident are still unknown

Pieces of nephrite jade are shown at a mine site in northwestern B.C. in July 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Tahltan Central Government MANDATORY CREDIT
Indigenous nation opposes jade mining in northwestern B.C.

B.C.’s Mines Act requires operators to prepare a plan to protect cultural heritage resources

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman’s body found in Kootenay National Park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

People pass the red hearts on the COVID-19 Memorial Wall mourning those who have died, opposite the Houses of Parliament on the Embankment in London, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. On May 3, the British government announced that only one person had died of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kirsty Wigglesworth
For a view of a COVID-19 future, Canadians should look across the pond

Britain, like Canada, is one of the only countries in the world to delay second doses for several months

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton superstar McDavid hits 100-point mark as Oilers edge Canucks 4-3

NHL scoring leader needs just 53 games to reach century mark

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

Most Read