West Coast Marine Response Corp. crews deploy oil spill response equipment during an exercise in B.C. waters.

Oil spill responders ‘not happy’ with federal office closure

Staff shift comes amid plans to twin pipeline, increase tankers

The federal government’s decision to close its emergency oil spill office in Vancouver will not deprive B.C. of actual boots on the ground in the event of a spill in local waters.

But the designated responders who would contain and clean up the oil are concerned their local federal advisors will be relocated to Quebec.

“We’re not happy with it,” said Bruce Turnbull, spokesman at the Western Canada Marine Response Corp.

A total of 42 Environment Canada employees in the Pacific region are affected by cost-saving shifts announced in the federal budget to carve $3.78 million from the Environmental Emergencies Program.

B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake said Ottawa has indicated only five of the federal staffers do spill-related work and only as advisors, not as actual responders in the field.

Western Canada Marine Response (formerly Burrard Clean) crews would respond with booms and skimming vessels if a tanker spilled oil in B.C. waters.

But Turnbull said they might also call in Environment Canada staff to serve in key incident command roles, act as environmental unit leaders or to act as technical advisors in areas such as First Nations or fisheries concerns.

Federal staff will still be available – by phone from Montreal or Gatineau.

“I’m hesitant to say it’s not going to work,” Turnbull said. “It could be a new learning curve. It could cause issues.”

He said he preferred frequent, direct contact with locally based federal staff, adding such relationships can be important when multiple agencies must coordinate their response to a crisis at 2 a.m.

The decision comes in the wake of Kinder Morgan’s announcement it will seek to twin its Trans Mountain pipeline and nearly triple the amount of oil it will carry here from Alberta.

If approved, the number of oil tankers loading in north Burnaby would jump more than five-fold to at least 300 a year.

NDP energy critic Peter Julian, the MP for Burnaby-New Westminster, said it’s “reckless and dangerous” for Ottawa to close the west coast’s only federal spill response office while it expedites reviews for pipeline projects that will increase oil tanker traffic.

“For the Conservatives to say to British Columbians, ‘In the event of an environmental catastrophe, leave a voice mail message in Ottawa,’ is shameful,” he said.

Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent said the move to centralize staff won’t increase risks to the environment.

“These employees were not cleaning up spills. They were providing information about environmentally sensitive land and species at risk,” he said.

The federal government has promised more money for the Coast Guard and Transport Canada, as well as an extra $35 million over two years for tanker safety and $13.5 million for increased pipeline inspections.

“I can assure British Columbians that the response capability of all levels of government is sufficient and that capability will increase to match any potential expansion of oil tanker traffic,” Lake added.

For more on the issue of increased oil tanker exports, see our Oil & Water series.

Just Posted

Local leaders of all ages honoured at National Philanthropy Day event

Awards in six categories given to Victoria residents who are leaders in giving back

‘Toxic’ chosen as the Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries

Other top contenders for 2018 include ‘gaslighting’ and ‘techlash’

Temperature records broken in Esquimalt Harbour and four other B.C. cities

The last temperature record in Esquimalt Harbour was set in 1999

Shoebox Project reaches out to women in crisis

Boxes are distributed to transition homes

Trudeau offers to help Pacific islands face climate change impact

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with the leaders from the Pacific island nations on Saturday during the APEC Summit in Papua New Guinea

Canadian military’s template for perfect recruits outdated: Vance

Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of defence staff says that the military has to change because the very nature of warfare is changing, particularly when it comes to cyber-warfare

RCMP bust illegal B.C. cannabis lab

Marijuana may be legal but altering it using chemicals violates the Cannabis Act

Canada defeats Germany 29-10 in repechage, moves step closer to Rugby World Cup

Hong Kong needs a bonus-point win over Canada — scoring four or more tries — while denying the Canadians a bonus point

Avalanche Canada in desperate need of funding

The organization provides avalanche forecasting for an area larger than the United Kingdom

B.C. teacher’s Amazing Race takes students on Canada-wide adventure

Agassiz high school students say they had the experience of a life time

Don’t sign USMCA until LGBTQ language excised, U.S. lawmakers urge Trump

The trade agreement, forged after 13 months of tense negotiations between Canada and the U.S. is scheduled for Nov. 30

US official: US intel says prince ordered Khashoggi killing

Vice-President Mike Pence told reporters that ‘the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was an atrocity.’

Most Read