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One-hour oil spill response urged for Burrard Inlet

An oil tanker flanked by tugs in Burrard Inlet near the Second Narrows. - File
An oil tanker flanked by tugs in Burrard Inlet near the Second Narrows.
— image credit: File

Kinder Morgan's proposal to speed up oil spill response times is still inadequate to protect the sensitive environment in Burrard Inlet, says one Metro Vancouver mayor.

Belcarra Mayor Ralph Drew was responding to the pipeline firm's pledge to dramatically improve the emergency response as part of its application to twin the Trans Mountain pipeline.

"What they proposed is a big picture generic plan, which is a big improvement over the previous one," he said. "But what I'm looking for are specific plans tailored for specific locales."

Kinder Morgan's Dec. 16 application to the National Energy Board calls for five new spill response bases to be established around southern Vancouver Island and at Roberts Bank. Two or three of them would be staffed around the clock.

It also calls for several additional response vessels and an increase in the number of staff from 30 to more than 90 at the Western Canada Marine Response Corp., an industry-funded spill response cooperative.

Kinder Morgan says the improvements together would cut spill response times from six hours to two around Port Metro Vancouver and from 18 hours to six hours beyond the port through the southern Gulf Islands and up the west side of Vancouver Island.

Drew said he thinks the maximum response time should be one hour in Burrard Inlet, not two, since WCMRC is based right there and the inlet has a unique combination of sensitive habitats, recreational and tourism values, as well as important fisheries.

He said a one-hour response guarantee could be achieved by pre-staging containment booms and other spill response gear at key points around the inlet.

"Those basically let you rapidly draw the curtain to protect specific areas while you proceed to skim and do the mop up," Drew said. "Otherwise the tide's going to deposit that oil all over the sensitive intertidal zone within hours."

Drew said he believes WCMRC is reluctant to commit to tailored strategies because that would make it more harder to meet targets in those areas on a 24/7 basis.

He noted a federal report released two weeks ago that was critical of the current spill response capability indicated there was a need to examine specific sites with a view to developing specific strategies.

WCMRC claims it was on scene in one hour in 2007 when a backhoe hit the Kinder Morgan pipeline in Burnaby and caused a spill of oil that partly reached the inlet.

Drew said that response time has been disputed, but added it was in the middle of the day in summer in ideal conditions.

He said responders must assume the next accident – whatever it is – will come at the most difficult possible time.

"It could happen in dark and stormy weather on a winter weekend, maybe Christmas Eve, with everyone on vacation and nobody responding to the callout."

Kinder Morgan's pipeline project would mean a seven-fold increase in shipments through the inlet, to about 400 oil tankers a year.

Belcarra will likely seek intervenor status so it can press for improvements in the plan at National Energy Board hearings expected next year.

Kinder Morgan's proposal calls for WCMRC to have equipment on hand that can clean up what it calls a credible worst-case loss to sea of 20,000 tonnes of oil – the contents of two of a tanker's loaded tanks, or about a quarter of its capacity.

Kinder Morgan's application calls for escort tugs to accompany tankers all the way from the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby to open ocean at the entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait, instead of on just portions of the shipping route.

The pipeline firm has also proposed a moving bubble zone around tankers that other vessels couldn't enter as an additional safety measure to prevent collisions.

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