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

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said a lack of experienced crew members and the inability to detect navigational errors is what led to a Sooke search and rescue boat running aground in February 2019. (Twitter / @VicJRCC_CCCOS)
TSB: Sooke search and rescue boat crash caused by ‘misinterpretation of navigational information’

Crew members were lacking experience and unable to detect navigational errors

The intersection of Highway 14 and Grant Road was closed after Tuesday night’s windstorm. (Aaron Guillen - Sooke News Mirror)
Sooke makes progress on storm cleanup

Crews clear tons of debris from fallen trees to rocks

Forty-two residential properties in Oak Bay were assessed the speculation and vacancy tax in 2019 for a total of $693,000. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
74 Oak Bay property owners paid $693,000 in spec tax

42 properties were assessed with the SVT in 2019

Staff at Artemis Place Secondary were shocked to find that one of the student-built greenhouses on the campus was stolen overnight on Jan. 11. (Artemis Place Society/Facebook)
Saanich school hopes to catch greenhouse thief red-handed

Student-built greenhouses stolen from Artemis Place Secondary on Jan. 11

Jail cell - Reporter file photo
Two of Greater Victoria’s most notorious teenaged killers have parole privileges extended

Derik Lord gets overnight privileges while Kelly Ellard’s are extended

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
536 COVID cases, 7 deaths reported as B.C. find its first case of South African variant

Henry said 69,746 people have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine.

Nanaimo RCMP seek public assistance after numerous tire slashings between Jan. 12-14. (News Bulletin file)
Police seek public’s help after ‘tire slashing spree’ in central Nanaimo

Ten reports of slashed tires in the last three days, say Nanaimo RCMP

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials says it will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Letisha Reimer died Nov. 1, 2016 after being stabbed at Abbotsford Senior Secondary.
No evidence that killer was in ‘psychotic state’ during Abbotsford school stabbing: Crown

Second day of closing arguments at ‘not criminally responsible’ hearing for Gabriel Klein

Seiners fill the waters between Comox and Nanoose Bay during roe herring fishery. file photo, Pacific Wild
Quota debate heats up on the eve of Vancouver Island herring fishery

Industry and conservationists weigh in how much catch should be allowed as DFO decision coming soon

Alan Davidson was sentenced to almost six years for abusing seven boys in the late 1970s and early 1990s. (Canadian Press file)
Full parole granted to former Mountie, sports coach convicted of sex abuse of boys

Alan Davidson convicted of abusing boys in B.C. and Saskatchewan in late ’70s, early ’90s

The first COVID-19 vaccine arrives in B.C. in temperature-controlled containers, Dec. 13, 2020. (B.C. government)
More vaccine arrives as B.C. struggles with remote COVID-19 cases

Long-term care homes remain focus for public health

Most Read