British Columbia·Photos

Oil spill response crews prepare for the worst

Crews tasked with cleaning up oil spills in B.C's waters were out in Vancouver Habour on Wednesday preparing strategies on how to respond to oil spills in areas that will need protection first.

Crews devise strategies for areas that will need protection first

Booms were strung and exact anchor points were recorded in a two-page document that will be used to help reduce decision making time. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Crews tasked with cleaning up oil spills in B.C's waters were out on the water on Wednesday preparing strategies on how to respond to oil spills in areas that need protection first. 

The protection strategy is only one part of a spill response protocol that also includes containment and recovery. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

"​The idea behind it is that we are identifying coastal sensitives ahead of a spill," said Michael Lowry with Western Canada Marine Response Corporation.

"A sensitivity could be an environmental sensitivity or could be a cultural sensitivity. Today we are focusing on cultural sensitivities at Stanley Park that have been identified by the local First Nations," Lowry said. 

The Western Canada Marine Response Corporation's Michael Lowry says sensitive coastal areas can be environmental or cultural. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)
Crews were out in Vancouver Harbour to set up booms and scope out where and how to best anchor them. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

After plotting out locations that will need protection first, crews dropped booms and sought out the best places to anchor them — be it on a tree, rock or infrastructure — they then captured and logged the information. 

"Having this information ahead of time allows us to have a quick rapid response," said Jocelyn Gardner, a response readiness supervisor with WCMRC. 

"These strategies we are developing are really useful for that first 72 hours," Gardner said. 

Jocelyn Gardner, a response readiness supervisor, says rehearsing strategies will allow them to respond more quickly. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)
Booms were deployed from the vessels along the shoreline at Stanley Park as part of the exercise. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

WCMRC was the same company tasked with cleaning up the English Bay oil spill in April 2015 where 2,700 litres of bunker C fuel spilled from the cargo ship MV Marathassa. 

The response time to that spill was criticized for being too slow when it came to notifying the city and clean up crews, and experts called it "disappointing" and "embarrassing."

Along with Western Canada Marine Response Corporation crews, representatives from the Squamish Nation and Tsleil-Waututh Nation were also there to observe and ensure protection of culturally sensitive sites. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Even though, today's procedure wasn't carried out for that spill — because it was too small and was heading west out of English Bay — it's supposed to help speed up response time if a bigger spill happens in the future.

"It gives you a snapshot of what your sensitives are in the area, what kind of equipment you need to protect them, how many people you need ... so a lot of your pre-planning is done in a quick two-page format," said Gardner.

Skyler Johnston advises crews on what to do next and when to send out or retrieve the booms. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)
So far, the organization has produced 380 protection strategies for B.C.'s coast. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)
The crew says having this information will speed up decision-making when an oil spill occurs. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

This protection strategy is only part of the spill response protocol but happens simultaneously with containment, in which a team will use a boom to wrap the vessel that is polluting, and recovery, where the team recovers the oil that has already escaped the vessel.

So far, the organization has produced nearly 400 protection strategies for B.C.'s coasts. 

Crews drag in booms heavy with water after the drills are finished. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)
Crews say bringing in the boom is the most difficult and least pleasant part of the job because its weight after sitting in the water makes it difficult to maneuver. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)