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Oil spill in Vancouver Reinforces British Columbian Concerns

Originally Published on the ECOreport

Eight days after the mayors of seven British Columbian cities issued a joint press release calling on the federal government to put the Trans Mountain Morgan pipeline project on hold, there was an oil spill in Vancouver’s English Bay. Recriminations about the inadequate response would soon be flying. A Coast Guard press release says a boater notified them at 5:10 pm on April 8. An hour later, they give the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) notice to stand-by for a potential response. “WCMRC was officially activated at 8:06 p.m. and their crews arrived on scene at 9:25 p.m. with multiple vessels.” Skimming operations began immediately. The leaking vessel, MV Marathassa, was surrounded by a containment boom by 5:53 am the next morning. The finger-pointing began after that.


The city of Vancouver was not informed of the incident until just before 6 am. Mayor Gregor Robertson blamed gaps in the coordinated response by provincial and federal government for the slow response.

“If this had been a larger spill it would’ve been a total catastrophe,” he said.

“Somebody needs to do a better job of protecting the coast, and the coast guard has not done it,” Premier Christy Clark told reporters in her Vancouver office.

Federal Industry Minister James Moore called their remarks “inappropriate” and praised the response team for recovering around 80% of the estimated 2,700 liters of bunker fuel in 36 hours.

WCMRC says this was done within 20 hours of their starting clean-up operations.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May blames the federal government for the unacceptable spill response time.

“In the last few years, over a chorus of outrage and objections by British Columbians, Stephen Harper closed the Kitsilano Coast Guard station, the Vancouver Environment Canada station of Environmental Emergencies and the Marine Mammal Contaminants Programme within DFO,” she said.

Prior to the closure, Kitsilano was the busiest station on the coast. Crews responded to ocean related emergencies in ten minutes.


“I would like to respond to speculation in the media and confirm that the Kitsilano station never provided these types of environmental response operations, and its presence would not have changed how we responded to this incident,” said Jody Thomas, Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard.

Though a spokesperson for Kinder Morgan said, “it has nothing to with us,” the pipeline company owns the controlling interest in the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation.

“We need to know if the outsourcing and privatization of spill response contributed to the unacceptable delays and if it is in fact cost-effective for taxpayers?” said Ken Melamed, the Green Party’s Finance Critic and candidate for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea-to-Sky Country.

The incident also underlines British Columbia’s greatest concern about the proposed expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline. If this project goes forward, every year close to 400 oil tankers could be loaded in Burnaby. They will sail past Vancouver, which is in the running to become the world’s greenest city, and out through the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Asia. These cities see little benefit from the increase of tanker traffic, and a major oil spill could be devastating.


Many of the 2,000 unanswered questions submitted to the National Energy Board (NEB) pertained to oil spills and oil spill responses. A spokesperson for the NEB said Kinder Morgan did not have to reply because “sufficient information has been filed from the existing EMP documents to meet the Board’s requirements at this stage of the process”.

On March 31, 2015, the cities of Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, City of North Vancouver, Victoria, Squamish and Bowen Island issued a joint press release:

It has become apparent that the NEB process does not constitute a “public hearing” and is completely inadequate to assess the health and safety risks of a proposed pipeline through major metropolitan areas, and the potential risks of shipping bitumen oil to Burnaby and through Burrard Inlet, the Salish Sea, and along the coastline of British Columbia.

We have serious concerns that the current NEB panel is neither independent from the oil industry proponents nor ready or able to assess the ‘public interest’ of British Columbians.

It is no longer a credible process from either a scientific evidentiary basis, nor from a public policy and public interest perspective.

This is not a “public hearing.” It has become apparent that the evidence presented by Kinder Morgan will never be tested by cross-examination. The second and final round of Intervenor Requests by written questions is nearing completion, and is proving to be inadequate. The proponent has failed to answer the majority of questions submitted by municipalities and other intervenors, and in IR round one the NEB panel has failed to require reasonable answers. Because of the inadequacies inherent to the review process, hundreds of questions critical to public safety and environmental impacts remain unanswered.

Eight days before the spill, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said, “The current hearing process does not allow for consideration of some of the most damaging aspects of the proposal – the inadequacy of emergency plans; the potential for marine oil spills; the effects of the project on climate change, and the threat it poses to our local economy.”

Photo Credits: The spill area in 2012: Siwash Rock and ships and sunset (in 2012) by colink via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); Oil Spill Clean-up in English Bay by Kent Lins via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); English Bay Three Days Before the Spill by Kent Lins via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); Horseback beach patrol along English Bay (long before spill) by Ruth Hartnup via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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Roy L Hales

is the President of Cortes Community Radio , CKTZ 89.5 FM, where he has hosted a half hour program since 2014, and editor of the Cortes Currents (formerly the ECOreport), a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of British Columbia. He is a research junkie who has written over 2,000 articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.

Roy L Hales has 441 posts and counting. See all posts by Roy L Hales