With Inadequate Oil Spill Response System In Place, BC Coast Is At Risk

By August 21, 2017Hot Topic
Submitted.  By announcing that it will consider legal options to prevent the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, the B.C. government has taken a positive first step in protecting our coast from a toxic oil spill. However, both the Federal and NDP government need to enhance B.C.’s oil spill response system before exposing it to any further risk.  The bungling by different authorities to contain and clean up fuel and chemical leakage from a sinking boat in the Fraser River, near Mission this spring, is highlighting just how far British Columbia will need to advance before having the “world-class” oil spill response system promised by the former Christy Clark Liberal government.

One of the conditions stipulated by the B.C. government for approving the Kinder Morgan pipeline project was the creation of a ‘world class spill response system’. It is now left to the NDP to deal with the increased risks that southern B.C. faces due to the clearance of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, without a proper spill response system in place.  Construction of the pipeline is scheduled to start next month. The B.C. government announced yesterday that the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project was not in B.C.’s interest and it would use every tool, including legal options, to defend B.C.’s coast.

The way in which authorities dealt with a recent incident on the Fraser river highlights the deficiencies of B.C.’s spill response system. On March 24th, Canadian Coast Guard reported that the 129-foot fishing vessel Lightship LV76, built in 1904, had sunk in approximately 50 feet of water in the Fraser River. In the ensuing days and weeks, public concerns escalated as efforts appeared to be hampered by an apparent lack of clarity about the amount of contaminant spilled, which government agency was responsible for spill response, the responsibilities of the owner of the vessel and poor communications (see backgrounder below).

“If the recent spill from a sunken vessel near Mission is any indication, clearly we do not have a “world class spill response system”, said Ken Malloway, co-chair of the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance, which supports 22 First-Nations from Tsawwassen to Yale.“ In light of this, the approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline seems premature and ill-advised.”

The B.C. government cleared the project stating that its condition for the ‘world class spill response’ was met, but it is still in the initial stages of putting together an improved spill response regime. Until a robust spill response system exists, risky projects like the Kinder Morgan project should not proceed. Moreover, First Nations’ free, prior and informed consent must be sought while developing a spill response regime, since it involves the protection of their lands and waters.

Do we really have a ‘World Class Spill Response System’ in place?
Several large projects have been cleared along the Fraser River, an already congested waterway, without adequate consideration of the risks and the ability of authorities to deal with these risks. Although these areas fall within our territories, First Nations consent has not been sought on spill response initiatives related to these projects.

With little progress made on setting up such a ‘world class spill response system’, the Christy Clark government approved the Kinder Morgan project in January 2017, two months after the Federal government passed the project in November last year. It is still unclear what criteria were used and what measures have been taken to determine that the spill response system in B.C. is, or will soon be, ‘world class’.

Kinder Morgan approved by Federal government without a plan on how to manage the associated risk
The Federal government identified southern B.C. as one of the four areas in Canada that are at highest risk of an oil spill. It is in the process of developing an Area Response Plan to deal with oil spills. Before creating the Area Response plan, a risk assessment is being developed.

The risk assessment is likely to highly underestimate the risk, since it is using past and current ship traffic to estimate risk, rather than future estimates once oil tanker traffic increases due to the Kinder Morgan pipeline.  So, the world class spill response, which will be designed based on the results of the risk assessment, will not proactively anticipate, and plan for, increased ship traffic due to the Kinder Morgan project. It will always be a step behind.

The proposed pipeline is likely to increase tanker traffic by seven times, and increase the risk of spills in the Burrard Inlet even further, according to Tsleil Waututh Nation’s Assessment Report of the Trans Mountain Pipeline and Tanker Expansion Proposal.

However, the Kinder Morgan pipeline project was cleared before the Federal government even had a risk assessment framework in place as part of its Area Response Planning in southern B.C. To date, the Federal government does not have the results of its risk assessment. And, expensive work related to the Kinder Morgan pipeline and associated projects such as the Fraser Surrey Docks has started even before this risk assessment is complete.

B.C. government has not sought the prior consent of First Nations on proposed Spill Response Regulations
The B.C. government is yet to table regulations for the Environmental Management Act, 2016, which it introduced in order to usher in a new spill response regime. The regulations will be tabled in the house without gaining the prior consent of First Nations. While the B.C. government has held information workshops on spill response with First Nations, it has not presented the regulations to First Nations for their consent or input. Both the B.C. government and the Federal government intend to develop separate Area or Regional Response plans. In our experience, there is a lack of co-ordination and collaboration between the two governments.

Both Provincial and Federal governments are still trying to figure out how to deal with the cumulative effects of development and industrialization in southern B.C. and the risks they pose to this already vulnerable ecosystem. Last November, the Federal government announced $1.5 billion funding for oceans protection after clearing the Kinder Morgan project. It is concerning that billions of tax-payers’ dollars are being used to prepare for the high risk of accidents created by the fossil fuel industry. Avoiding the high risk involved in fossil fuel extraction and transportation, and moving towards the Federal government’s climate mitigation commitments, would perhaps be a better option.

The government should seek the prior consent of First Nations in spill response prevention and planning. Prevention could include the decision to decline projects that pose a serious threat to this precious and highly overdeveloped ecosystem and the populations that are dependent on it for their well-being. It is clear from the sinking of a large dilapidated vessel near Mission that there are currently risky gaps in the Provincial and Federal spill response mechanisms. First Nations have long-term interests in sustainable development that ensures the protection of ecosystems, and need to be involved in decisions about the use of the Fraser River, monitoring and risk management, including spill response.

The Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance (LFFA) is a voice for the First Nations of the Lower Fraser River. We are a First Nations organization that works collaboratively and holistically to manage our fishery and to support our cultural and spiritual traditions for future generations. The LFFA serves 22 member First Nations from Tsawwassen to Yale. www.lffa.ca

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