British Columbia

Oil spill responders overstating containment capability: B.C. conservation group

A B.C. conservation group is challenging statements made by the company responsible for responding to oils spills on the South Coast, saying it has overstated its spill containment capability.

'Their existing equipment is designed for floating oil, and bitumen behaves differently than typical crude'

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)

A B.C. conservation group is challenging statements made by the company responsible for containing oil spills on the South Coast, saying it has overstated its spill response capability.

"I would echo what the Ministry of Environment says, that we are not ready for a spill on this coast," said Lori Waters with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, pointing to Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC).

As National Energy Board hearings continue on the proposed expansion to Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Pipeline, WCMRC says it could successfully contain a 10,000 ton oil spill within 10 days, as required by the federal government.

"Today we have in place equipment that well exceeds that number," Michael Lowry, communications manager for WCMRC, told CBC's On the Island on Friday.

But the Raincoast Conservation Foundation finds that claim misleading.

The province said earlier this month it is unable to support the Trans Mountain oil pipeline. (Kinder Morgan)

"Their existing equipment is designed for floating oil, and bitumen behaves differently than typical crude," said Waters in an interview with CBC's On the Island. In a statement, Raincoast cited a report that found bitumen to be heavier than other oils, and therefore more likely to sink in water.

"If WCMRC can't respond to a small spill of traditional oil such as the Marathassa — which took 12 hours to get booms around it — then I have really no confidence that they would be able to respond to a larger spill, particularly of bitumen," she said.

In an effort criticized by industry observers, WCMRC took 12 hours to contain the oil spilling from the MV Marathassa in Vancouver's English Bay in April 2015.

Redacted plans

Spill safety has been a contentious issue since before the Marathassa incident. As part of the federal review process of the proposed Trans Mountain expansion, Kinder Morgan — which is a part owner of WCMRC — was required to submit an emergency spill response plan.

The plan they submitted was heavily redacted, with company leadership citing corporate security concerns as the cause.

"We're just wrapping up the final arguments in the Trans Mounain NEB hearing, it seems odd to me that that material isn't well on the table," said Waters.

"That really should have been part and parcel of the hearings, we should have all been able to read that material and we should all know what it says so that we can make judgements about whether they are equipped to respond."


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