A panel of three experts who have extensive experience with oil spills spoke at an event at Simon Fraser University on April 29, 2015. One of the conclusions of the panel discussion was that Vancouver is still very much unprepared for an oil spill.
The recent spill of bunker oil in English Bay may provide an indication of how diluted bitumen would behave in a spill, said Michelle Blondsmith. One of the first people to notice the spill, Rob O’Dea, was in a sailboat in English Bay around 4:10 pm on April 8th (a CBC interview is available here). While O’Dea immediately reported the spill, it took until 9:25pm for the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) to arrive on the scene. It was past midnight when the oil containment efforts kicked in full gear. The recently closed Kitsilano Coast Guard station had an oil response boat and would have been able to respond to a spill within minutes.
Resident Rob O’Dea had also reported tarballs under the water column; it’s unclear how much of the original bunker fuel has actually been cleaned up. Ambleside Beach only reopened on April 28th, after multiple clean-up operations. There is a still a closure in place for fisheries in English Bay (for crab, shellfish and groundfish).
Dr. Riki Ott holds a degree in fisheries from the University of Washington and was on the ground for Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster; further details on her work are available on the website alertproject.org. Dr. Ott said that oil is much more toxic than we thought, and noted that after 26 years the herring fishery still hasn’t recovered around the Exxon Valdez spill. The contingency plans drawn up for dealing with oil spills considered dealing with medium oil (“conventional oil”) and not heavier tarsands “dilbit.” There may not be adequate technology to clean up diluted bitumen, as this substance sinks in water. There are also many health risks associated with dispersants such as Corexit that were used in the BP Gulf Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Anita Burke stressed that we are not adequately prepared for an oil spill, and suggested “if you can’t clean it up, you can’t ship it.” She was also flabbergasted by the fact that the ship responsible for the spill, the MV Marathassa, was allowed to leave Canadian waters without the crew being held responsible for the spill. In America, the oil companies are required to disclose contingency plans (by contrast, this information can be kept secret in Canada). Burke holds the City responsible for not getting people off the beaches after the spill, and for not having a local emergency response plan. The CBC has further details on the spill clean-up operations in a recent article: Vancouver oil spill response ’embarrassing,’ says international expert – Anita Burke calling for re-opening of Kitsilano Coast Guard station in wake of English Bay spill (April 29, 2015).
Burke has heard from the First Nations that the Coast is sacred, and noted, “there’s no price on sacred.”
An article on News 1130 noted six points of action suggested by Burke: “Vancouver isn’t ready for another fuel spill: experts at SFU forum” (Joanne Abshire, Apr 30, 2015). The points are as follow (reproduced from News1130):
1. Re-open the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station
2. Conduct public open formal readiness assessment to determine if we are ready
3. Do a post incident investigation and collaborate with First Nations, the public, and neighbours in Washington and Alaska that have a lot of expertise
4. Start having joint response drills with all the responsible parties physically in English Bay and practice
5. Have UBC and the Vancouver Aquarium coordinate in aquatic research, know what to do with the animals and protect them
6. Hold spill conferences in Vancouver every other year and bring experts from all over the world to share knowledge