Ottawa's plan for responding to a major oil spill in B.C. waters is outdated, and the province needs to strengthen its own response to spills on land, B.C.'s Environment Minister says.
In a news conference on Monday, Environment Minister Mary Polak made several references to the threat to B.C's coast from a poorly handled spill on water, which is a federal responsibility. On land, an area of provincial jurisdiction, Ms. Polak is promising tougher rules for pipelines and other major projects that would require companies to join – and finance – a preparedness and response organization to oversee the training, planning and co-ordination of emergency spill response.
"Put simply, what we have now is outdated. Our experience with smaller spills and near misses shows the province is not prepared for a major spill," she said of water incidents.
"Our goal is to have a world-leading spill regime in place, and we recognize we're not there yet. The recent spill in English Bay clearly illustrates we have a ways to go when it comes to marine spills."
The B.C. government has made world-leading spill response a precondition for new energy projects.
Government and industry responses to spills have come under scrutiny, particularly after a container ship leaked thousands of litres of bunker fuel into English Bay earlier this year. During Ms. Polak's announcement, the Coast Guard was cleaning up a modest diesel spill in Vancouver's False Creek.
Ms. Polak said new legislation and regulations for land-based response "will give British Columbians confidence that companies are better prepared in the event of a spill."
Ms. Polak noted that many of the province's new requirements will compliment Ottawa's marine-response plan, as some spills could affect both land and sea. Those requirements include practice drills, enhanced reporting, communication plans and environmental damage assessments after a cleanup.
The province also calls for strong government oversight that would provide clarity for resource companies, meet public and First Nations expectations, and maximize the protection of the environment.
In 2012, the B.C. Liberal government set five conditions for supporting oil-pipeline development, including successful completion of an environmental review, world-leading marine spill response, land oil-spill prevention, addressing aboriginal legal requirements, treaty rights and opportunities from such projects, and a "fair share" for B.C. of fiscal and economic benefits.
Ms. Polak said the province's new spill-response initiative began long before the pipeline project conditions were established, and was spurred by the increased shipping of hazardous materials from the resource industry.
"The vast majority of incidents to which we respond as a ministry have nothing to do with the oil and gas industry and everything to do with smaller types of industry," she said.
On Monday, diesel spilled into the waters near Granville Island, closing sections of a seawall to pedestrians.While the cleanup was largely over by mid-afternoon, the source and extent of the spill were unknown. Officials estimated it may have come from one boat, and been as little as 30 litres or as much as 5,000 litres.
Jeff Brady, a Canadian Coast Guard pollution response officer, said none of the diesel got into English Bay, but added he had never seen a spill of this size in False Creek.
Ms. Polak said she believed Monday's response was "quite efficient and quite effective."
In April, the Marathassa, a freighter at anchor in English Bay, accidentally discharged about 2,700 litres of bunker fuel. The Coast Guard was criticized for being slow to respond, but federal government officials said it met world standards.
Critics said a lack of co-ordination between government agencies caused the slow response.
Zeke Zajac, who works on the AquaBus docks in Granville Island, said he is concerned about the impact of spills on wildlife, as well as his own health. "They never get it all," he said. "I don't swim out there any more."