Alex Binkley on Vancouver oil spill

Vancouver oil spill shows Canada’s lack of readiness

'After what happened in English Bay, how can we trust them?'

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective
Image: Fuel leaks from a freighter in English Bay, Vancouver, BC, April 9, 2015. Detail of photo via warriorpublications.wordpress.com/2015/04/09/fuel-spill-fouls-vancouvers-english-bay-and-area-beaches.
 
Oil leaks from a freighter in English Bay, Vancouver, BC, April 9, 2015. Detail of photo posted at WarriorPublications.
 
However you want to describe it, Vancouver was lucky the fuel oil spill in its harbour was as small as it was because the clean-up system simply isn’t ready for a bigger disaster.
 
All the finger pointing among the politicians following the spill from a bulk freighter on its maiden voyage solved nothing and didn’t instill any public confidence.
 
Everyone from former senior Coast Guard members to top federal bureaucrats now retired have made that point over and over again.
 
They received plenty of media attention for their attacks. Fisheries Minister Shea promised in the Commons that an investigation would be conducted but her department was unable to say who would be doing it.
 
Retired Coast Guard Commander Fred Moxey cast doubt over federal claims that 80% of the spill of heavy bunker fuel from the ship into the English Bay spill. “I’ve been in hundreds of spills and never seen an 80 per cent recovery. Usually you recover 30% at most, more like 10, and that’s with an immediate response and a trained crew with sponges and straw pulling the oil out by hand.”
 
 
Image: A cleanup crew works on Third Beach following the recent English Bay oil spill. Detail of photo posted at CommonSenseCanadian.ca.
 
Too little, too late? A cleanup crew works on Third Beach following the recent English Bay oil spill. Detail of photo posted at CommonSenseCanadian.ca.
Federal officials are sticking with their 80% claim, which brings out more criticisms. Industry Minister James Moore’s attempts to blunt the criticisms have had little effect.
Moxey, a 35-year Coast Guard veteran, said the bottom of English Bay needs to be examined to see how much of the fuel remains in the water.
 
While much has been made about the 2013 closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard base in Vancouver, the real issue is how many hours passed before the Coast Guard and the west coast spill agency responded to.
 
Moxey insists it should have taken just minutes to respond to the spill not the 15 hours.
 
Harry Wruck attracted lots of media attention for his public flailing of the federal response to the spill. A retired Justice Department lawyer who advises the environment group Ecojustice, he told Vancouver media even moderate oil spills affect people and the environment for many years.
 
"Canada bungled its response (to the Vancouver spill), proving that its emergency protocols are ill-equipped to handle a spill of any size. … It is easy to take issue with the Coast Guard’s sluggish, wholly inadequate response to the spill, but I’m particularly troubled by its claim that it was able to recover 80% of what was spilled. Such a claim is, quite frankly, ludicrous.
 
“In most instances, recovering 10 or 15% of any spill is considered a success,” he said. “This is because it is impossible to determine with any precision how much oil is released during a spill: It can dissipate into the water, sink to the ocean floor, wash up on beaches, or escape into the air. Even the coast guard admits it is likely more than the 2,700 litres of fuel first reported actually spilled into English Bay. And if you don’t know how much oil has been released, it is impossible to clean it all up.
 
“Canadian politicians like to claim our environmental laws and regulations are world-class, but this is simply not true,” he added. “Whether we are looking at improving drinking water standards, regulating greenhouse gas emissions or prosecuting polluters, the laws and regulations that are supposed to protect Canadians and the environment are increasingly falling behind those of other industrialized nations.”
 
He went on to note that plans to run new oil pipelines through B.C. would bring more tanker traffic. The companies involved say, “Over and over we have challenged the companies’ safety records and Canada’s emergency response plans. Again and again, they tell us that Canadians have nothing to worry about. After what happened in English Bay, how can we trust them?”

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