Nunavut fuel spills are down, but accidents still happen

Reports show that about 100,000 litres of oil spill every year in Nunavut, with the highest number of spills in Iqaluit.
In 2011, 87,000 litres of gasoline spilled from the tank farm in Resolute, Nunavut. Over a million litres of fuel have been spilled in the territory since its creation in 1999. (Government of Nunavut photo)

Reports show that about 100,000 litres of oil spill every year in Nunavut, with the highest number of spills in Iqaluit.

Since the territory was created in 1999, more than one million litres of oil and gas have been spilled in Nunavut, according to the Hazardous Materials Spill Database.

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Some spills happen in the summer, when oil is offloaded from boats to giant tanks where it's stored for the winter.

Others happen closer to home, as fuel tanks are refilled with home heating fuel.

“The more handling of the product, the more chances there are of spills,” said Robert Eno, Nunavut’s director of environmental protection.

Overall, spills have dropped significantly since the 1970s, when for several years in a row, spills of between 300,000 and 700,000 litres were reported.

"The trend is generally downwards, but every once in a while we'll get a blip,” said Eno.

This graph charts petroleum product spills in Nunavut from 1971 to 2014. (Government of Nunavut)

For example, in 2007, about 150,000 litres of oil spilled from a broken fuel line at an unmanned North Warning System site on Brevoort Island.

Four years later, a crack in a containment berm led to another spill there of about 14,000 litres of jet fuel that leaked into the mouth of Cumberland Sound. 

In 2011, about 87,000 litres of gasoline spilled out of the tank farm in Resolute, partly due to holes in the berm liner. 

Most spills involve diesel, a heating oil for furnaces.  

Most happen around spring time.

Small spills preventable

Eno said many spills are preventable with routine maintenance.

“A lot of our heating oil tanks spills are because the tanks are rusting out. They've been around for too long. We get some because of trucks backing into heating oil tanks or because fuel lines are breaking."  

Eno reminds people to check their home heating fuel tanks regularly.

Nunatta Environmental Services helps clean up fuel spills.

Axel Have is the chairman of the board of directors.

“It's nasty stuff. If you don't clean it up, the kids are going to step in it, bring it in the house," said Have. "As time goes on it'll leach away from the house. It'll get into creeks which end up in the ocean. It'll affect aquatic life."  

All spills of more than 100 litres on land and 5 litres on ice must be reported, but Officials encourage people to report any spill so it can be cleaned up as soon as possible.

When it comes to the cost of clean-ups, the law says the polluter pays.