A study on oil spill preparedness commissioned by the B.C. government suggests efforts to clean up tanker spills would leave most of the oil on the ocean.
In six of seven live spill exercises done on the waters of the Dixon Entrance and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, more than 65 per cent of the spill remained on the water at the end of the five-day simulation, according to the $106,000 study by Nuka Research released Thursday. In the seventh exercise, 49 per cent of the oil remained in the water.
The tests focused on how the industry-funded Western Canada Marine Response Corporation would apply its spill-response resources along the B.C. coast. It is certified to respond to a 10,000-tonne spill in marine waters.
Percentages of oil recovered, depending on the exercise, ranged from three to 31.
Environment Minister Mary Polak said Thursday the report provides information that will assist the B.C. Liberal government in managing its commitment to five basic conditions as a threshold for approving heavy oil projects.
"We know now quite clearly where we need to act in terms of seeing better resourcing for Western Coast Marine Response Corporation, for example. That's a place where industry is going to have to become more involved, and that probably means greater funding to that organization," Ms. Polak said in an interview.
Ms. Polak said the report bolsters the B.C. government's concern that the industry is not ready to clean up spills and the federal government needs to prepare contingency measures.
"It's no longer just the provincial government saying, 'We need to do more.' We now have the evidence before us that points to the gaps that we have, not only with respect to prevention and preparedness, but in our response and our ability to restore the environment after an incident," she said.
She said the report also points to the need for new regulations from the federal government – measures she expects Ottawa will implement in coming months as a result of an expected tanker safety expert panel report.
In Vancouver, federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said, in an interview, that he has not yet read the Nuka report in detail, but that he welcomes it.
"We have been working closely with the B.C. government. We have our own tanker safety expert panel which will be reporting fairly soon. Our two governments share the same objective. The way we articulate it is world-class safety standards for the transportation of our energy, be it by pipeline, rail or tanker. So anything which advances that objective is obviously positive," he said.
The three-volume report covers existing marine-spill response regimes, a study of vessel traffic, including hydrocarbons being shipped or used for fuel, and an analysis of international best practices.
At one point, it notes that while a world-class spills response system cannot be created overnight, there are tangible improvements that can be quickly adopted. Among those are transparency and better response plans.
Ms. Polak said the report will guide B.C's talks with the federal government and industry.
Eric Swanson of the Dogwood Initiative, a public interest group with a focus on resource issues, said the report is a "great start" toward increasing spill response for existing oil traffic, but poor at analyzing the risk of Gateway or a proposed expansion of an existing Kinder Morgan pipeline from Alberta to the Lower Mainland.
NDP environment critic Spencer Chandra Herbert says the report has some value in showing how little oil can be recovered in spills, but he remains concerned that the Liberals seem somewhat supportive of heavy oil projects.
With reports from Justine Hunter