British Columbia

What is bunker fuel?

The toxic spill in Vancouver's English Bay on Wednesday night has been identified as bunker fuel, otherwise known as residual fuel oil.

Bunker fuel, also known as residual fuel oil, is the fuel that powers commercial shipping

Toxic bunker fuel can be see in the waters of English Bay on Thursday, April 9, 2015. (CBC/Johanna Wagstaffe)

The toxic spill in Vancouver's English Bay has been identified as bunker fuel, otherwise known as residual fuel oil.

According to the oil industry's material data sheets, the oil is a complex blend of hydrocarbons derived from various refinery streams, usually residue from the oil refinery processes. It is recommended for use in marine diesel engines, boilers, furnaces and other combustion equipment.

The safety data sheet recorded by Shell Marine Fuel Oil in 2013, lists a number of hazards associated with the combustible material, including the possible presence of hydrogen sulphide, which is not only harmful if inhaled, but has a vapour that can also be trapped in clothing.

The list of possible effects are listed as:

  • Harmful if inhaled
  • Suspected of damaging fertility or the unborn child
  • May cause damage to organs or organ systems through prolonged or repeated exposure
  • May cause cancer

The fuel is also, according to Shell's data, extremely dangerous for the marine environment.

  • Very toxic to aquatic life
  • Very toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects


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