The mayor of Vancouver isn't the only one concerned about Canada's ability to respond to a major oil spill. Turns out, authorities in Washington State have also been raising alarms about the ruinous impact a significant leak could have on the waters of Puget Sound and beyond.
Documents obtained by The Globe and Mail are extraordinary in the level of blunt disapproval aimed at Canadian bodies responsible for responding to spills. And the much-criticized reaction of the Canadian Coast Guard to the bunker fuel discharged in English Bay recently by the vessel MV Marathassa likely only confirmed U.S. officials' worst fears about our spill-response capabilities.
There is much to marvel at in the correspondence released under a Freedom of Information request. However, one observation made in a briefing note to the state's governor stands out for its jaw-dropping assessment at how our standards stack up against those used by our neighbours to the south: "B.C. lacks authority over marine waters and their federal regime is probably a couple of decades behind the system currently in place in Washington State …"
A couple of decades? This is not American braggadocio at play here. This is the opinion of officials working in the state's ecology department writing, with great concern, to Governor Jay Inslee in 2013. It goes on.
The briefing note to the governor was direct and urgent, noting that Canadian industry was transferring risk to Washington State because of "weaker standards" in Canada, with the potential result costing "billions of dollars in harm."
"We need to have a level playing field with the Port of Vancouver," the note said.
The Marathassa spill, and now this international criticism, couldn't come at a worse time for Kinder Morgan, which wants to triple the capacity in its pipeline between Edmonton and Burnaby. The National Energy Board is currently holding hearings into Kinder Morgan's proposal, which would see a tripling of the number of tankers currently entering Vancouver's harbour, a thought that horrifies Mayor Gregor Robertson.
Premier Christy Clark, meantime, has made developing a world-class marine oil spill response regime one of her five conditions for allowing pipeline development in the province. If the efforts to clean up the Marathassa leak are any indication, however, Canada is still a long way from fulfilling the Premier's demand in this area.
I don't think we have heard the end of U.S. concern about the threat expanded oil pipelines in B.C. pose to the sanctity of shared Canada/U.S. coastal waters. American authorities know that our oil-spill problem would quickly become their oil-spill problem, too. Consequently, they have a huge stake in what is happening here around the development of a comprehensive oil-spill response strategy.
If the Americans have legitimate worries about our ability to react swiftly to any type of marine accident involving oil, we should want to hear about them. I would hope that the B.C. and federal governments would want to know what Washington state officials and others are so concerned about. Why do they hold our Coast Guard in such low regard?
The Vancouver mayor has been criticized in many quarters for his stand against the Kinder Morgan project. His critics have often scoffed at his suggestions that an oil spill in the harbour would be a disaster for which we are not properly prepared to respond.
As it turns out, he is not the only person who holds that view. Others with knowledge and expertise in this area also believe Canada isn't remotely ready to handle a major oil spill. And that should concern us all.