In total, the government reported 169 “pollution incidents” in Canadian waters involving oil tankers and other vessels since 2001. But it said that in the “vast majority of cases,” there were no pollutants found in the water.
“In 53 incidents, it was determined that some cleanup or threat mitigation operations were necessary,” said the document, signed by federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield. “For 51, of these incidents, the polluter assumed management of the response and the coast guard monitored the polluter’s response in the capacity of federal monitoring officer.”
In the other two cases, the coast guard either conducted the cleanup operations or was listed as a “resource agency” that provided “advice and guidance” to the polluter, according to the information, provided in response to questions from Liberal MP Joyce Murray.
“In the majority of the 53 level three incidents, response operations took anywhere from one to several days to complete, depending on the nature of the incident and various factors involved,” said Ashfield in the document.
The longest cleanup took two months to complete, following the King Darwin tanker spill of 723,000 litres of oil at Dalhousie, N.B., on Sept. 27, 2008 during a transfer to a NB Power generating station. Ashfield also said that it was not possible “to discern the total costs” for government in response to spills, in terms of staffing time for investigations or monitoring pollution response activities, along with vehicle use, fuel and deployment of coast guard equipment.
But polluters are “ultimately responsible for all reasonable costs” associated with cleaning up from incidents and their related damage under the Marine Liability Act, Ashfield said in the document, noting two cases in which the polluters were held liable for 100 per cent of recorded costs — the King Darwin spill as well as another spill of 4,000 litres of crude oil at the Hibernia Loading Point involving Vinland, an energy company.
Murray, a former British Columbia environment minister who now represents a federal riding in Vancouver, said she raised the questions in response to warnings from the auditor general’s office last December that suggested the coast guard and other federal departments and agencies were ill-equipped to respond to spills.
“We know there are spills, we know we don’t have capacity to clean them up federally and to me that was just another argument (about) the risk of tanker traffic around the Queen Charlotte (or) Haida Gwaii islands (of B.C.),” said Murray. “What’s really inappropriate is that the government has taken a decision on one competitor’s pipeline project, which is the Enbridge pipeline to Kitimat (on the B.C. coast) and said that they are supporting that pipeline while it is still under review. So I’m going to keep working to stop tanker traffic around (Haida Gwaii).”
She added that separate research released by the Library of Parliament revealed higher incidents of spills and suggested that the government considered a 15 per cent cleanup of a spill site was sufficient in response to an accident.
The various federal government stakeholders all agreed in December to review their emergency planning response to incidents.
Frank Stanek, a spokesman for Fisheries and Oceans, said that despite the number of cases reported in Ashfield’s response, there were no “major” spills. The majority of cases involved “minor operational oil spills” from vessels refuelling or during oil loading or unloading operations, and when vessels ran aground, he said.
The “level three” category could also include an accident involving a recreational boat spilling diesel fuel at a marina and requiring a cleanup as a result, he added.