A fuel spill this month off the beaches of Vancouver proves more needs to be done before British Columbia will allow construction of new heavy oil pipelines, the west coast province’s premier said.
An estimated 2,700 liters of bunker fuel leaked from the Marathassa, a grain ship in Vancouver’s English Bay, sparking political wrangling, with the mayor and province accusing the federal government of a slow response and cleanup.
The emergency heightened concern that a bigger spill would have a devastating impact on the coastal province situated between landlocked Alberta oil sands and global markets.
The Marathassa showed B.C. is not ready to contain a marine oil spill, Premier Christy Clark said.
“What we did learn is we aren’t sufficiently coordinated in the harbor between levels of government,” Clark said in a telephone interview with Bloomberg News on Friday. “We have got our work cut out for us to make sure that we raise our game on this.”
Clark laid out five conditions three years ago for major pipeline projects to be approved in her province, one of which is “world-class” marine spill response.
“None of those projects can go ahead until” the conditions are met, she said.
Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway project and Kinder Morgan Inc.’s Trans Mountain expansion both have routes that would run through British Columbia.
Marine-spill response is the responsibility of the federal government, which has been criticized for closing a marine base in Vancouver. Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard Jody Thomas said in an April 12 statement, however, that the closing “would not have changed how we responded to this incident,” since the facility was not involved in spill response.
Department of Fisheries and Oceans funding for Environmental Response Services, which handles oil spill cleanup, will be C$17 million ($13.9 million) this year, up from C$12.9 million in 2014-2015 and C$10.3 million the year before, government figures show. The number of staff has also increased.
Nonetheless, the federal New Democratic Party said it would make a motion in Parliament on Monday to reverse the closing of Vancouver’s Kitsilano coast guard facility. “This spill needs to be a wake-up call,” NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said in a written statement. “Conservative cuts are threatening the B.C. coast.”
In a written statement, a Coast Guard spokesman defended the agency’s response, saying vessels were dispatched to the spill site within 25 minutes of the first complaint and skimmers were on the water within four hours to contain the spill.
While the urgent response has been completed, the Coast Guard “will continue to clean the trace pollution that washed up on the shores of Burrard Inlet, and to monitor and plan for the potential long-term effects of the spill,” spokesman Frank Stanek said in an e-mail Monday.
Clark’s government sparred with the federal Conservatives in the days after the spill, which was reported April 8, though she struck a conciliatory tone in the interview Friday.
“This isn’t a product of one federal government not providing adequate spill response,” Clark said. “It’s a product of 50 years of federal government ignoring the West Coast’s needs in this regard. And this federal government has begun to really think about it. But we’ve to go from thinking about it, to making it happen.”