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

Work begins on Sooke’s Evergreen Centre expansion

More trees will be planted to replace those lost

Researchers head out from Sidney to explore Canada’s largest underwater volcano

The Explorer Seamount is as large as Greater Vancouver and full of previously undiscovered species

RCMP confirm foul play in death of 60-year-old Metchosin man

Police believe crime an isolated incident

Prolific offender found sleeping in Oak Bay resident’s car

Of 106 calls to 911 last week, eight were abandoned

RCMP identify Sidney bank robbery suspect, believe he is still on Vancouver Island

Warrant issued for arrest of North Vancouver man for TD Bank robbery

VIDEO: Dashcam video captures moment Victoria cyclist struck

Police seeking cyclist captured in video

UPDATE: Youth seen with gun at Nanaimo mall, suspect now in custody

Woodgrove Centre shut down during police incident

B.C. man dies from rabies after contact with Vancouver Island bat

Last known case of human rabies in B.C. was 16 years ago

Crown recommends up to two-year jail term for former Bountiful leader

Crown says sentence range should be 18 months to two years for Bountiful child removal case

VIDEO: Wolf spotted swimming ashore on northern Vancouver Island

Island wolf population estimated at under 150 in 2008, says VI-Wilds

Diversity a Canadian strength, Trudeau says of Trump tweets at congresswomen

Trudeau avoided using Trump’s name when he was asked about the president’s Twitter comments

Garneau ‘disappointed’ in airlines’ move against new passenger bill of rights

New rules codified compensation for lost luggage, overbooked flights

Canadian is detained in China on drug allegations: Chinese government

Detention of a Canadian in China comes as part a diplomatic dispute triggered by arrest of Huawei exec Meng Wanzhou

Rare white ravens spotted again in mid-Island

Nature photographer Mike Yip said mysterious birds back in Coombs area

Most Read