British Columbia

B.C. lays out West Coast spill response needs ahead of expected federal plan

British Columbia's demands for a world-leading marine oil spill response has a long list of requirements. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to make an announcement with Transport Minister Marc Garneau at 3:50 p.m. ET and will carry it live.

Vessels, training centre, facility improvements and coast guard base worth about $200M

A spill response boat secures a boom around the bulk carrier cargo ship Marathassa after a bunker fuel spill on Burrard Inlet in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday April 9, 2015. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

British Columbia's demands for a world-leading marine oil spill response has a long list of requirements, including a coast guard base at Prince Rupert and a multimillion-dollar price tag for the federal government.

The B.C. and federal governments have been in talks for months to develop a West Coast spill response system, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government is expected to announce its plans on Monday. Trudeau is scheduled to make an announcement then hold a press conference with Transport Minister Marc Garneau at 3:50 p.m. ET and will carry it live.

A provincial Environment Ministry official said in advance of the expected announcement there are 11 gaps in marine safety on the B.C. coast the federal government must address to ensure world-leading spill preparedness and response.

The B.C. official spoke on a background basis and did not want to be identified.

In addition to the northern coast guard base, B.C.'s demands include monitoring systems to manage vessel traffic, a West Coast marine training centre and three new salvage vessels strategically located along the coast to be able to arrive at spill sites within three hours.

A detailed cost estimate was not provided, but the amounts attributed to the vessels, school, technical- and health-facility improvements and the coast guard base totals about $200 million.

Moratorium on tanker traffic a go?

One of the requirements is for the federal government to clarify its election campaign promise of a moratorium on oil tanker traffic in northern B.C.

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak did not directly comment on the expected federal announcement but cited two B.C. spill response reports in a statement issued on Friday.

Crews work to contain a diesel spill after the tugboat, Nathan E. Stewart, ran aground on Oct. 13, 2016 in the Seaforth Channel near Bella Bella. (Ian McAllister)

She said the 2013 Nuka Research report, commissioned by the provincial government, assessed current marine spill preparedness and response on the B.C. Coast, and a 2015 follow-up report identified world-leading practices.

"These studies lay the foundation for building a world-leading regime for marine spills which is the responsibility of the federal government," Polak said. "We have used it in our discussions with them as we work together on next steps."

She said the federal government's current marine response capacity is inadequate for the existing levels of marine traffic, "let alone factoring in potential pipeline expansion."

Spill response inadequate, says premier

Two major pipeline projects, Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain expansion and Enbridge's Northern Gateway, propose to move Alberta oil products to the B.C. coast where it will be shipped on tankers to Asian markets.

A 30-metre tug that sank off B.C.'s central coast near the Great Bear Rainforest last month prompted Premier Christy Clark to criticize the federal government's current inadequate spill response capacity on the West Coast.

"I have argued for five years now since I became premier that the spill response that we had on our coast is totally inadequate, not just for what some people argue should come if pipelines come from Alberta," she said earlier.

Officials say about 100,000 litres of diesel and 3,600 litres of lubricants on the sunken tug couldn't be contained during the spill.

Vessel traffic to increase

The Environment Ministry official said about 5,000 vessels a year ply B.C.'s southern shipping lanes. It's estimated that traffic will increase to 6,200 vessels over the next two years.

He said those vessels carry fuels and products of all varieties and many are not double-hulled as the oil tankers would be from the proposed pipelines.

The three proposed salvage vessels would be tugs and they should be based in Vancouver, Prince Rupert and Port Renfrew, on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, the official said.

The B.C. Institute of Technology should be the location of a centre for excellence in marine training and the hospital in Prince Rupert will require a heliport and new helicopter, the official said.

The construction costs of the proposed Prince Rupert coast guard base will be more than $6 million and operational costs for the base and 12 crew members are pegged at $700,000 annually.