“Very low levels” of Exxon Valdez oil threaten salmon and herring survival 25 years later

“Very low levels” of crude oil from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, are a threat to the survival of herring and pink salmon that spawn in the region, according to a study released today by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The study shows that embryonic salmon and herring exposed to very low levels of crude oil can develop hidden heart defects that compromise their later survival.

That means that the Exxon Valdez spill on March 24, 1989 may have had much greater impacts on spawning fish than previously recognized, according to the study published in  Nature’s online journal  Scientific Reports Very low embyronic crude oil exposures cause lasting defects in salmon and herring.

“These juvenile fish on the outside look completely normal, but their hearts are not functioning properly and that translates directly into reduced swimming ability and reduced survival,” said John Incardona, a research toxicologist at NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) in Seattle. “In terms of impacts to shore-spawning fish, the oil spill likely had a much bigger footprint than anyone realized.”

This is a juvenile pink salmon exposed to low levels of crude oil as an embryo. While these fish appear outwardly normal, they nevertheless developed heart defects that compromised their ability to swim. Fish that are less able to forage and avoid predators are much less likely to survive to adulthood. (NOAA)
This is a juvenile pink salmon exposed to low levels of crude oil as an embryo. While these fish appear outwardly normal, they nevertheless developed heart defects that compromised their ability to swim. Fish that are less able to forage and avoid predators are much less likely to survive to adulthood. (NOAA)

Previous research has shown that crude oil disrupts the contraction of the fish heart muscle cells. Embryonic fish exposed to trace levels of crude oil grow into juveniles with abnormal hearts and reduced cardiorespiratory function.

“With this very early impact on the heart, you end up with an animal that just can’t pump blood through its body as well, which means it can’t swim as well to capture food, form schools, or migrate,” said Mark Carls, toxicologist at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. “Crude oil is changing basic physiology, or what makes a fish a fish.”

The research builds on earlier work by the Auke Bay Laboratories, part of NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Fisheries Science Center, which found much reduced survival of pink salmon exposed as embryos to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) from crude oil.

“Our findings are changing the picture in terms of assessing the risk and the potential impacts of oil spills,” said Nat Scholz, leader of the NWFSC’s ecotoxicology program and a coauthor of the new study. “We now know the developing fish heart is exquisitely sensitive to crude oil toxicity, and that subtle changes in heart formation can have delayed but important consequences for first-year survival, which in turn determines the long-term abundance of wild fish populations.”

The Exxon Valdez aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound in May 1989. (NOAA)
The Exxon Valdez aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound in March 1989. (NOAA)

The Exxon Valdez spill was the largest in U.S. history, with extensive oiling of shoreline spawning habitats for Pacific herring and pink salmon, the two most important commercial fish species in Prince William Sound.

Herring larvae sampled in proximity to oil were visibly abnormal, and mortality rates were higher for pink salmon embryos at oil spill sites than unaffected regions.

The herring fishery collapsed three to four years after the spill, when the herring spawned in oiled areas reached reproductive maturity.

The paper notes that the contribution of the spill to the herring population collapse, if any, was never determined and remains controversial.

Other studies, however, tend to confirm the findings, including heart problems for fish exposed to the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon spill and even fish exposed to naturally occurring oil seeps.

Oil spill caused unexpected lethal impact on herring, study shows

Gulf oil spill caused heart defects in fish embryos new study finds

The new findings suggest that the delayed effects of the spill may have been important contributors to the declines.

 This image shows transient embryonic exposures to crude oil cause lasting reductions in the swimming speed of salmon and herring, months after additional juvenile growth in clean seawater. (NOAA)

This image shows transient embryonic exposures to crude oil cause lasting reductions in the swimming speed of salmon and herring, months after additional juvenile growth in clean seawater. (NOAA)

Scientists from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Alaska Fisheries Science Center temporarily exposed embryonic salmon and herring to low levels of crude oil from the North Slope of Alaska and found that both absorbed chemicals at similar concentrations in their tissues. The embryos were then transferred to clean seawater and raised as juvenile fish for seven to eight months.

Few of the exposed embryos were outwardly abnormal in any way. However, closer examination of the fish revealed subtle defects that could reduce their long-term survival.

Juvenile salmon exposed to oil grew more slowly, with those exposed to the highest concentrations growing the slowest. For salmon, early survival in the ocean is strongly influenced by juvenile growth, with smaller fish suffering higher loss to predators.

Scientists used swimming speed as a measure of cardiorespiratory performance and found that fish exposed to the highest concentrations of oil swam the slowest. Slower swimming is an indication of reduced aerobic capacity and cardiac output, and likely makes fish easier targets for predators.

Exposure to oil as embryos altered the structural development of the hearts of juvenile fish, potentially reducing their fitness and swimming ability. Poor swimming and cardiac fitness is also a factor in disease resistance.

Earlier studies on the ecosystem-scale crash of the Prince William Sound herring population  several years after the Exxon Valdez spill were based on higher levels of exposure to the oil. The new study shows that that cardiac injury occurs in normal-appearing fish that survive even lower level exposures.

The scientists reviewed data on measured oil concentrations in surface water samples collected in Prince William Sound after the oil spill and during the 1989 herring spawning season. Most of the 233 samples contained less oil than was believed to be toxic to herring at the time, based on visible gross developmental abnormalities. However, nearly all of the samples contained oil at or above concentrations shown in the new study to alter heart development.

If the Exxon Valdez spill impacted heart development among a large majority of fish that were spawned in proximity to oiled shorelines, the subsequent losses of juveniles to delayed mortality would have left fewer adults to join the population. Although not direct proof, this provides a plausible explanation for the collapse of the Prince William Sound herring stock four years later, when fish spawned during the oil spill would have matured.

The study concludes that the impacts of the Exxon Valdez spill on near shore spawning populations of fish are likely to have been considerably underestimated in terms of both the geographic extent of affected habitat and the lingering toxicity of low levels of oil. The findings will likely contribute to more accurate assessments of the impacts of future oil spills, Incardona said. “Now we have a much better idea of what we should be looking for,” he said.

That means, according to the study “that the impacts of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on populations of near shore spawning fish are likely to have been considerably underestimated, in term of both the geographic extent of affected habitats and the lingering toxicity of low levels of residual oil.”

The report calls for more studies of the sensitivity of the developing fish heart since the vulnerability “also has implications for other pollution sources in marine ecosystems, including increasing maritime vessel traffic and expanding land-based urban runoff.”

In 2013, the Northern Gateway Joint Review panel said this about the Exxon Valdez  oil spill.

Scientific studies after the Exxon Valdez spill indicated that the vast majority of species recovered following the spill and that functioning ecosystems, similar to those existing pre-spill, were established.

Species for which recovery is not fully apparent, such as Pacific herring, killer whales, and pigeon guillemots, appear to have been affected by other environmental factors or human influences not associated with the oil spill. Insufficient pre-spill baseline data on these species contributed to difficulties in determining the extent of spill effects.

Based on the evidence, the Panel finds that natural recovery of the aquatic environment after an oil spill is likely to be the primary recovery mechanism, particularly for marine spills. Both freshwater and marine ecosystem recovery is further mitigated where cleanup is possible, effective, and beneficial to the environment.

Natural processes that degrade oil would begin immediately following a spill. Although residual oil could remain buried in sediments for years, the Panel finds that toxicity associated with that oil would decline over time and would not cause widespread, long-term impacts.

Related

25th anniversary of Exxon Valdez disaster looms over Northern Gateway dispute

Enbridge Kalamazoo cleanup now set at $1.157 billion and growing

The cost of Enbridge’s cleanup from the spill at Marshall, Michigan in 2010 is now $1.157 billion the company said Friday as it released its second quarter results. That is an increase of $35 million from the estimates Enbridge released at the end of 2013 and the first quarter of 2014.

As of June, 2014, Enbridge faces possibly $30 million in fines and penalties from the United States government.

In its quarterly report Enbridge said

EEP   [Embridge Energy Partners] continues to perform necessary remediation, restoration and monitoring of the areas affected by the Line 6B crude oil release. All the initiatives EEP is undertaking in the monitoring and restoration phase are intended to restore the crude oil release area to the satisfaction of the appropriate regulatory authorities.

On March 14, 2013, as previously reported, the United States Environmental Protection Agency ordered in Enbridge to undertake “additional containment and active recovery of submerged oil relating to the Line 6B crude oil release.”

new Enbridge logoEnbridge says it has “completed substantially all of the EPA order, “with the exception of required dredging in and around Morrow Lake and its delta.”

“Approximately $30 million of the increase in the total cost estimate during the three months ended June 30, 2014 is primarily related to the finalization of the MDEQ approved Schedule of Work and other costs related to the on-going river restoration activities near Ceresco,” Enbridge reported.

Enbridge also said it is working with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality “to transition submerged oil reassessment, sheen management and sediment trap monitoring and maintenance activities from the EPA to the MDEQ, through a Kalamazoo River Residual Oil Monitoring and Maintenance Work Plan.”

Enbridge also said that costs may still go up, saying there continues to be the potential for “additional costs in connection with this crude oil release due to variations in any or all of the cost categories, including modified or revised requirements from regulatory agencies, in addition to fines and penalties and expenditures associated with litigation and settlement of claims.”

Enbridge said that “a majority of the costs incurred in connection with the crude oil release for Line 6B are covered by Enbridge’s comprehensive insurance policy…. which had an aggregate limit of  $650 million for pollution liability.” So far, Enbridge has recovered $547 million of the $650 million from its insurers. Enbridge is suing its insurers to recover the rest of the money.

That means that “Enbridge and its affiliates have exceeded the limits of their coverage under this insurance policy. Additionally, fines and penalties would not be covered under the existing insurance policy,” the company said.

Insurance renewed

Enbridge said it has “renewed its comprehensive property and liability insurance programs under which the Company is insured through April 30, 2015 with a liability aggregate limit of $700 million, including sudden and accidental pollution liability, with a deductible applicable to oil pollution events of $30 million per event, from the previous $10 million.”

It adds:

In the unlikely event multiple insurable incidents occur which exceed coverage limits within the same insurance period, the total insurance coverage will be allocated among Enbridge entities on an equitable basis based on an insurance allocation agreement among Enbridge and its subsidiaries.

All Enbridge figures are in US dollars

The Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel required Enbridge that “its Northern Gateway’s Financial Assurances Plan must provide a total coverage of $950 million for the costs of liabilities for, without limitation, cleanup, remediation, and other damages caused by the Project during the operations phase. The plan should include the following components and minimum coverage levels.” (That figure in Canadian dollars)

Harper’s Northern Gateway strategy and why it will end up in a muddy mess

It appears that the Stephen Harper’s strategy for approving Northern Gateway has been revealed on background to The Globe and Mail’s Gary Mason. (Either it’s a revelation or a trial balloon).

It comes down to the idea that Harper will approve Gateway “in the national interest,” count on a vote split between the NDP and Liberals in British Columbia to avoid any consequences to the Conservative majority and then leave it up to Enbridge to actually get the job of building the pipeline and terminal project done.

Mason quotes “ a senior member of Mr. Harper’s government,” and while Mason doesn’t say what part of Canada the source is from, (unlikely in my view the source is from BC) what the member told Mason reveals that the Harper government is still mired in it the Matrix-world that has always governed its policy on Northern Gateway.

The first step, apparently coming in the next few days, is that the Harper government “rigorous” new tanker protocols for traffic along the west coast.

Tanker protocols
So the obvious question is, will these protocols be new or will the government simply be reannoucing paper policies that they did in the March 2013? How many of the recommendations of the tanker task force is the government actually going to accept?

Even if the protocols are new, just who is going to enforce those policies?

Mason says:

Even if Gateway and the Kinder Morgan expansion went ahead, he argued, B.C. would still only see about 60 per cent of the annual oil tanker traffic the neighbouring state of Washington deals with. And yet Washington has an exceptionally clean record when it comes to the safe transport of oil in and out of its harbours – this, he noted, while operating under marine safety regulations that are not as rigorous as the ones Ottawa intends to put in place for the shipment of oil along the West Coast.

There are a lot big problems with that statement.

First, there’s an organization that the Mason’s source may have heard of known as the United States Coast Guard. The United States rigorously enforces its “weak” regulations, while Canada’s Coast Guard is plagued by staff shortages and budget cuts.

Second, the State of Washington also rigorously enforces its environmental regulations, not only on the coast but across the state. I have been told by retired British Columbia forestry and environmental officials (not to mention Fisheries and Oceans) that there are often more state environmental watch dogs in most Washington State counties than in all of northern British Columbia where the Northern Gateway is supposed to be going.

The September 2013, report by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration on the export of Canadian bitumen sands through the US shows that the Washington Department of Ecology is working on strengthening regulations for both pipelines and (where it’s in state jurisdiction) tanker traffic. The same report says the state of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is updating its plans and possible regulations in anticipation that bitumen filled tanker traffic from Kitimat would come close to the coast en route to Asia.

Third, the coast of northern British Columbia is more rugged and stormy than the waters off Washington.

Who pays?

The one factor that the urban media seems to ignore, is the big question.

Who pays?

Who pays to enforce the 209 conditions that the Joint Review Panel imposed on the Northern Gateway project?

If the Harper government announces new tanker regulations in the coming days, who pays to enforce those regulations?

There were no provisions in the February budget for enforcing the 209 conditions. Rather there were continuing budget cuts to the very departments that the JRP ruled must be involved in the studying, planning, implementation and enforcement of the 209 conditions, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans and Transport Canada.

So while Mason says “The federal government will play its part in meeting the five conditions laid out by the B.C. government for support of the project,” the response must be “Show me the money!”

During the recent plebiscite campaign, Northern Gateway finally revealed its plans for the “super tugs” that will escort tankers along the coast and up Douglas Channel.  Owen McHugh, a Northern Gateway emergency manager said, “Adding these four or five tugs to the north coast provides a rescue capability that doesn’t exist in this format. So for any large commercial vessel that is traveling on our coast, this capacity to protect the waters of the north coast.”  Those tugs and Northern Gateway’s plans to station teams at small bases along the coast means that the company is, in effect, creating a parallel, private, coast guard on the BC Coast.

What about the Coast Guard itself? The Harper government has been gutting Coast Guard resources along the coast even before it had its majority. It closed and dismantled the Kitsilano Coast Guard station in Vancouver. There is more dependence on the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue volunteers, who have to raise money locally for modern rescue boats which cost up to $750,000. The money that government was “generously” giving to RCMSAR had to be split up to 70 stations in 42 communities along the coast as well as its administrative and training staff.

And speaking of boats, what about Coast Guard vessels on the coast? As the Globe and Mail has reported, the government’s shipbuilding program is already over budget  and behind schedule. The aim is  Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships  and new destroyers. With the crippling of HMCS Protecteur that has raised the concerns about the already troubled supply ship program.

Does anyone notice what is missing from that list? What’s missing are  better Coast Guard vessels just to police all the expected tanker traffic on the west coast (whether LNG or bitumen) and no mention of dedicated spill response vessels, which under the “polluter pay” policy will likely be left to private contractors (and hope that the ships are available at the time of a spill)

How will we know?

Then there is the question of how will people even know if the 209 conditions are being enforced; whether or not the reports demanded by the Joint Review Panel are going be sitting on the National Energy Board server and ignored.

There is every indication, given the government’s obsession with secrecy that until there is a disaster the Canadian public will never know what’s going on. Harper’s muzzling doesn’t just cover government scientists, it covers the lowest level of bureaucrats, as District of Kitimat Council found out when low level DFO bureaucrats refused to appear publicly before council to discuss the risk to the Kitimat River.

So the scenario is, according to Mason’s source

“I think once this decision is made, Enbridge could have shovels in the ground the next day,” the member said. “They are ready to go. This means the First Nations could start realizing profits from this right away, as opposed to the promised profits from LNG, which may never materialize. I think they need to think about that.”

First, as part of the blunders is that the Conservatives have always made is the assumption that eventually the First Nations of British Columbia can be paid off, ignoring the commitment of the First Nations, especially on the coast, to protect the environment that sustained them for thousands of years.

While the LNG market is volatile, the “member” forgets that most of the First Nations of British Columbia have opposed the Northern Gateway since Enbridge first floated the idea in 2001. The current LNG rush didn’t start until after Japan shut down its nuclear power plants after the March 2011 earthquake, The first major anti-Enbridge rally,  “The Solidarity Gathering of Nations” was held at Kitamaat Village in May 2010.

Writing off BC

It appears that Conservatives, in their election strategy have already written off Gateway opponents:

Still, there is a raw political calculus that needs to be taken into account. Polls measuring support for the pr.oject in B.C. vary, but generally have shown that anywhere from 55 to 60 per cent of the province opposes Gateway and 40 to 45 per cent support it. Isn’t that enough to scare off a government that needs critical votes in B.C. to win another majority?
“Let’s say 60 per cent are against it,” he said. “And that vote splits between the Liberals and the NDP come the next election. Who are the 40 per cent going to vote for?”

As for the cabinet, it has consistently shown its contempt for northwestern British Columbia  and that is unlikely to change.

Mason also speculates that Harper will approve Gateway to stick it to Barack Obama and the delays on Keystone XL. As he points out that’s a political, not an economic decision.

There are civil disobedience classes being held across northwestern BC  this month.  Access to Information requests by the Vancouver Observer revealed increased RCMP surveillance of the anti-Gateway movement.  There has always been talk of a “war in the woods” if the pipeline project is forced on an unwilling population.

So it comes down to a question that Mason and the Conservatives are avoiding. Mason’s source says Northern Gateway is crucial to the national interest:

“At the end of the day, you have to do what’s right, not what’s politically expedient,” he said. “You have to ask: What’s in the best interests of all Canadians?”

So given all that will the Harper government leave Enbridge to tough it out on its own?

Highly unlikely.

But will the Harper government, with its bean counting obsession on balancing the budget be willing to pay for all that is needed?

Highly likely.

There’s lots of marine clay along the pipeline route, laid down by ancient oceans. That brings to mind just one word. Quagmire, not just the wet, sticky BC mud but a political quagmire.

Gulf oil spill caused heart defects in fish embryos new study finds

There is more proof that the toxic agents in crude oil are damaging to the development of fish embryos.

A study, “Deepwater Horizon Crude Oil Impacts the Developing Hearts of Large Predatory Pelagic Fish,” to be published on March 25, shows that several Gulf of Mexico fish embryos developed serious defects in heart development following exposure to crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

This study is the first to analyze the effects of the primary toxic agents released from crude oil on several commercially important pelagic fish species that spawn in the Gulf of Mexico.

The research team, which included five researchers from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, concluded that, “losses of early life stages were therefore likely for Gulf populations of tunas, amberjack, swordfish, billfish, and other large predators that spawned in oiled surface habitats.”

“This study is the first to understand the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the early life development of commercially important fish in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Daniel Benetti, Rosenstiel School professor of marine affairs and policy and director of the Aquaculture Program. “The findings can be applied to fisheries management questions in marine regions where crude oil extraction is prevalent.”

The study in the March 25 issue in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), assessed the impacts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a toxic agent released from crude oil, from Deepwater Horizon oil samples on embryos of bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, and amberjack. Embryos were exposed to two different oil samples, one collected from surface skimming operations in the Gulf of Mexico and another from the source pipe attached to the damaged Deepwater Horizon wellhead.

A vast number of the water samples collected at the Deepwater Horizon oil spill site had PAH concentrations exceeding the toxicity thresholds observed in the study, therefore researchers demonstrated the potential for losses of pelagic fish larvae during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

“Having access to the aquaculture facility and expertise at The Rosenstiel School positioned our team of UM scientists to address questions regarding the impacts of the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill on these important pelagic top predators.” said Martin Grosell, Maytag professor of ichthyology at The UM Rosenstiel School. “The present study is the first of several on the topic to emerge from efforts by scientists and graduate students at The UM Rosenstiel School.”

embryo
This is a mahi-mahi embryo approximately 36 hours post-fertilization. ( John Stieglitz, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science)

The embryos used in the study were collected from research broodstock located at land-based fish hatcheries in Australia and Panama. Test methods were developed and designed by Dr. Grosell and Dr. Benetti’s team at The UM Rosenstiel School’s experimental hatchery facility.

Exposure to each oil type produced virtually identical defects in embryos of all three tested species. For each species, oil exposures caused serious defects in heart development, and abnormalities in cardiac function, indicating crude oil cardiotoxicity. Bluefin tuna showed the highest percentage of larvae with the entire suite of defects, and their populations are currently listed by the IUCN as endangered due to historically low levels.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the northern Gulf of Mexico released more than four million barrels of crude oil into the surrounding waters during the seasonal spawning window for bluefin and yellowfin tunas, mahi mahi, king and Spanish mackerels, greater and lesser amberjack, sailfish, blue marlin, and cobia, all commercially and ecologically important open-ocean fish species.

“Vulnerability assessments in other ocean habitats, including the Arctic, should focus on the developing heart of resident fish species as an exceptionally sensitive and consistent indicator of crude oil impacts,” said the paper’s authors.

Another recent study of the Deepwater Horizon spill found that oil spills can trigger cardiac arrest in fish affected by the spill.

A study of an oil spill in San Francisco Bay in 2007 found “unexpected lethal impact on embryonic fish,” according to scientists from the University of California  at Davis  and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who spent two years on follow-up research after the spill.

The long term impact of the Exxon Valdez spill on the developing fish embryo is still being hotly debated.

 

Kitimat Votes: 25th anniversary of Exxon Valdez disaster looms over Northern Gateway plebiscite

On March 24, 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez plowed into Bligh Reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound,  spilling 260,000 to 750,000 barrels or 41,000 to 119,000 cubic metres of crude oil.

That was 25 years ago. The media loves anniversary stories and the Exxon Valdez look-backs and updates are already ramping up—right in the middle of the Kitimat plebiscite on the Northern Gateway pipeline and terminal project.

The hashtag #ExxonValdez25 is beginning to trend, based on a Twitter chat for Monday sponsored by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The voters of Kitimat who will have to cast their ballots on the Joint Review Panel’s interpretation of the Northern Gateway proposal will find once again that the JRP tilted toward the industry and downplayed the lingering risks from a major tanker disaster—and that means neither the pro nor the anti side can be happy with the events that will be marked on March 24, 2014.

The Exxon Valdez accident is part of the Joint Review Panel findings that the economic benefits of Northern Gateway outweigh the risks. The JRP generally accepted the industry position, taken by both Northern Gateway and by ExxonMobil that Prince William Sound has recovered from the Exxon Valdez incident, something that is fiercely debated and disputed.

One area that is not in dispute is that the Exxon Valez disaster brought laws that forced energy companies to use double-hulled tankers.  However, commercials that indicate that Northern Gateway will be using double-hulled tankers because the company respects the BC coast is pushing things a bit far, since those tankers are required by law.

Northern Gateway told the Joint Reivew Panel that

on a worldwide basis, all data sets show a steady reduction in the number
and size of oil spills since the 1970s. This decline has been even more apparent since regulatory changes in 1990 following the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which required a phase-in of double-hulled tankers in the international fleet. No double-hulled tanker has sunk since 1990. There have been five incidents of double-hulled tankers that have had a collision or grounding that penetrated the cargo tanks. Resulting spills ranged from 700 to 2500 tonnes

The Haisla countered by saying:

The Haisla Nation said that, although there have been no major spills since the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, there were 111 reported incidents involving tanker traffic in Prince William Sound between 1997 and 2007. The three most common types of incidents were equipment malfunctions, problems with propulsion, steering, or engine function, and very small spills from tankers at berth at the marine terminal. The Haisla Nation said that, in the absence of state-of-the-art prevention systems in Prince William Sound, any one of those incidents could have resulted in major vessel casualties or oil spills.

 

Related: What the Joint Review Panel said about the Exxon Valdez disaster

A local daily newspaper, The Anchorage Daily News sums it all up:

The herring of Prince William Sound still have not recovered. Neither have killer whales, and legal issues remain unresolved a quarter of a century later. Monday is the 25th anniversary of the disaster, in which the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef and spilled at least 11 million gallons of oil into the pristine waters of the sound.

Prince William Sound today looks spectacular, a stunning landscape of mountainous fjords, blue-green waters and thickly forested islands. Pick up a stone on a rocky beach, maybe dig a little, though, and it is possible to still find pockets of oil.

“I think the big surprise for all of us who have worked on this thing for the last 25 years has been the continued presence of relatively fresh oil,” said Gary Shigenaka, a marine biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Britain’s Sunday Telegraph headlined: Exxon Valdez – 25 years after the Alaska oil spill, the court battle continues

The legal dispute over the spill is still ongoing, with the Telegraph’s Joanna Walters noting:

[S]tate senator Berta Gardner is pushing for Alaskan politicians to demand that the US government forces ExxonMobil Corporation to pay up a final $92 million (£57 million), in what has become the longest-running environmental court case in history. The money would primarily be spent on addressing the crippled herring numbers and the oiled beaches.
“There’s still damage from the spill. The oil on the beaches is toxic and hurting wildlife. We can’t just say we’ve done what we can and it’s all over – especially with drilling anticipated offshore in the Arctic Ocean – this is significant for Alaska and people around the world,” she told The Telegraph.

An ExxonMobil spokesman then told The Telegraph, the energy sector’s standard response:

Richard Keil, a senior media relations adviser at ExxonMobil, said: “The overwhelming consensus of peer-reviewed scientific papers is that Prince William Sound has recovered and the ecosystem is healthy and thriving.”
But federal scientists estimate that between 16,000 and 21,000 gallons of oil from the spill lingers on beaches in Prince William Sound and up to 450 miles away, some of it no more biodegraded than it was at the time of the disaster.

The Sunday Telegraph chronicles which species have recovered in Exxon Valdez: Animal populations in Prince William Sound, Alaska

Overall, the Exxon Valdez disaster was, as US National Public Radio reported, a spur to science. But NPR’s conclusion is the exact opposite of that from the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel—at least when it comes to fish embryos.

Why The Exxon Valdez Spill Was A Eureka Moment For Science

Twenty-five years of research following the Exxon Valdez disaster has led to some startling conclusions about the persistent effects of spilled oil.
When the tanker leaked millions of gallons of the Alaskan coast, scientists predicted major environmental damage, but they expected those effects to be short lived. Instead, they’ve stretched out for many years.
What researchers learned as they puzzled through the reasons for the delayed recovery fundamentally changed the way scientists view oil spills. One of their most surprising discoveries was that long-lasting components of oil thought to be benign turned out to cause chronic damage to fish hearts when fish were exposed to tiny concentrations of the compounds as embryos.

(NPR also reports on the The Lingering Legacy Of The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill)

It seems that some species recovered better than others from the oilspill.

For example, the recovery of the sea otter population has received widespread media coverage, but with widely divergent points of view. The more conservative and pro-industry writers point to the recovery of the otter population, while environmental coverage stresses the quarter century it took for the otter population to rebound.

Scientific American online and other media outlets reported 25 Years after Exxon Valdez Spill, Sea Otters Recovered in Alaska’s Prince William Sound quoting a report from the U.S. Geological Survey that said that spill killed 40 percent of the 6,500 sea otters living in the sound and more in 1990 and 1991.USGS reported that the main sea otter population in the sound was 4,277 in 2013.

Although recovery timelines varied widely among species, our work shows that recovery of species vulnerable to long-term effects of oil spills can take decades,” said lead author of the study, Brenda Ballachey, research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “For sea otters, we began to see signs of recovery in the years leading up to 2009, two decades after the spill, and the most recent results from 2011 to 2013 are consistent with recovery

The Joint Review Panel generally accepted Northern Gateway’s and the energy industry’s evidence on the Exxon Valdez incident and concluded

The Panel’s finding regarding ecosystem recovery following a large spill is based on extensive scientific evidence filed by many parties, including information on recovery of the environment from large past spill events such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The Panel notes that different parties sometimes referred to the same studies on environmental recovery after oil spills, and drew different conclusions.

In its consideration of natural recovery of the environment, the Panel focused on effects that are more readily measurable such as population level impacts, harvest levels, or established environmental quality criteria such as water and sediment quality criteria.

The Panel finds that the evidence indicates that ecosystems will recover over time after a spill and that the post-spill ecosystem will share functional attributes of the pre-spill one. Postspill ecosystems may not be identical to pre-spill ecosystems. Certain ecosystem components may continue to show effects, and residual oil may remain in some locations. In certain unlikely circumstances, the Panel finds that a localized population or species could potentially be permanently affected by an oil spill.

Scientific studies after the Exxon Valdez spill indicated that the vast majority of species recovered following the spill and that functioning ecosystems, similar to those existing pre-spill, were established.
Species for which recovery is not fully apparent, such as Pacific herring, killer whales, and pigeon guillemots, appear to have been affected by other environmental factors or human influences not associated with the oil spill. Insufficient pre-spill baseline data on these species contributed to difficulties in determining the extent of spill effects.

Based on the evidence, the Panel finds that natural recovery of the aquatic environment after an oil spill is likely to be the primary recovery mechanism, particularly for marine spills. Both freshwater and marine ecosystem recovery is further mitigated where cleanup is possible, effective, and beneficial to the environment.

Natural processes that degrade oil would begin immediately following a spill. Although residual oil could remain buried in sediments for years, the Panel finds that toxicity associated with that oil would decline over time and would not cause widespread, long-term impacts.

The Panel finds that Northern Gateway’s commitment to use human interventions, including available spill response technologies, would mitigate spill impacts to ecosystems and assist in species recovery..

It is clear, however, from the local coverage in Alaska and from the attention of the world’s media that Prince William Sound has not fully recovered from the Exxon Valdez incident (it may yet in who knows how many years). Anger and bitterness still remains among the residents of Alaska, especially since the court cases are dragging on after a quarter century.

Those are the kinds of issues that Kitimat residents will face when they vote in the plebiscite on April 12. Just who do the people of Kitimat believe, those who say the chances for a spill are remote and the environment and the economy will quickly recover? It probably depends on whether or not you consider 25 years quick. Twenty-five years is quick in geological time but it is a third or a half of a human life time.

As for the residents of Kitamaat Village, and probably many people in Kitimat, Haisla Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross summed it up in a Facebook posting on Sunday

If this happens in Kitamaat, all those campaigning for Enbridge will pack up and leave for another coastline to foul. Haisla don’t have much of a choice. We would have to stay and watch the court battles on who should pay what.

Ross is right. Whether it’s Prince William Sound or Douglas Channel, the people who live the region are stuck with the mess while the big companies walk away and the lawyers get rich.

 

Anniversary stories (as of March 23, 2000 PT)

Alaska Media

Valdez Star
First Associated Press story on Exxon Valdez Oil Spill reprinted

KTUU

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill 25th Anniversary: Alaskans Remember

Alaska Dispatch

Exxon Valdez oil lingers on Prince William Sound beaches; experts debate whether to clean it up

While Alaska’s Prince William Sound is safer, questions linger about preventing oil spills

Recalling the shock and sadness of Exxon Valdez spill 25 years ago

How the Exxon Valdez spill gave birth to modern oil spill prevention plans

Seward City News
25 years later Exxon Valdez memories still stink

Bristol Bay Times
Exxon lesson: Prevention, RCACs the key to avoiding future disaster

Anchorage Daily News
Red Light to Starboard: Recalling the Exxon Valdez Disaster

Exxon Valdez photogallery

25 years later, oil spilled from Exxon Valdez still clings to lives, Alaska habitat

 

World Media
Al Jazeera
The legacy of Exxon Valdez spill
The tanker ran aground 25 years, but the accident continues to harm the environment and human health

Vancouver Sun
Opinion: Oil spills — the 10 lessons we must learn Reality check: Next incident would ruin coastal economy

Seattle Times

Promises broken by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, 25 years later

SFGate

25 years since the Exxon Valdez spill

CNN
After 25 years, Exxon Valdez oil spill hasn’t ended

Kitmat Votes: What the Joint Review Panel said about the Exxon Valdez disaster

Excerpts from the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel report relating to the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Northern Gateway told the Joint Reivew Panel that

on a worldwide basis, all data sets show a steady reduction in the number
and size of oil spills since the 1970s. This decline has been even more apparent since regulatory changes in 1990 following the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which required a phase-in of double-hulled tankers in the international fleet. No double-hulled tanker has sunk since 1990. There have been five incidents of double-hulled tankers that have had a collision or grounding that penetrated the cargo tanks. Resulting spills ranged from 700 to 2500 tonnes

The Haisla countered by saying:

The Haisla Nation said that, although there have been no major spills since the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, there were 111 reported incidents involving tanker traffic in Prince William Sound between 1997 and 2007. The three most common types of incidents were equipment malfunctions, problems with propulsion, steering, or engine function, and very small spills from tankers at berth at the marine terminal. The Haisla Nation said that, in the absence of state-of-the-art
prevention systems in Prince William Sound, any one of those incidents could have resulted in major vessel casualties or oil spills.

There were disputes about how the Exxon Valdez affected species in the Prince William  Sound area:

Northern Gateway said that, although crabs are known to be sensitive to toxic effects, they have been shown to recover within 1 to 2 years following
a spill such as the Exxon Valdez incident. Northern Gateway said that Dungeness crab was a key indicator species in its assessment of spill effects.

Northern Gateway said that potential effects to razor clams are not as well studied. It said that sediment toxicity studies after the Exxon Valdez spill did not suggest significant effects on benthic invertebrates. Following the Exxon Valdez and
Selendang Ayu oil spills in Alaska, food safety closures for species such as mussels, urchins, and crabs were lifted within 1 to 2 years following the
spill.

In response to questioning from the Council of the Haida Nation regarding potential spill effects on herring, Northern Gateway said that herring were a key indicator species in its spill assessment.
Northern Gateway said that the Exxon Valdez spill did not appear to cause population-level effects on Prince William Sound herring.

As did throughout its report, the Joint Review Panel gave great weight to Northern Gateway’s evidence:

 

Northern Gateway said that potential effects of oil stranded on the shorelines and in the intertidal environment were assessed qualitatively with particular reference to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. It said that the entire intertidal zone along affected
shorelines would likely be oiled, coating rocks, rockweed, and sessile invertebrates. Some of the diluted bitumen could penetrate coarse-grained intertidal substrates, and could subsequently be remobilized by tides and waves. There were
relatively few shoreline areas with potential for long oil residency. Northern Gateway said that the stranded bitumen would not be uniformly distributed, and that heavy oiling would likely be limited to a small proportion of affected shoreline. Northern
Gateway said that, compared to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the simulation suggested that more dilbit would be distributed along a shorter length of shoreline.

Northern Gateway said that, due to the relatively sheltered conditions in Wright Sound, and in the absence of cleanup, most of the stranded oil would be weathered or dispersed into the marine environment within 3 to 5 years. It said that,
while weathering and dispersal could represent an important secondary source of hydrocarbon contamination of offshore or subtidal sediments, the weathered hydrocarbons themselves would have lower toxicity than fresh dilbit.

Northern Gateway assessed potential effects on key marine receptors including marine water quality, subtidal sediment quality, intertidal sediment
quality, plankton, fish, and a number of bird and mammal species. The company said that acute effects from monocyclic aromatic hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene may briefly occur in some areas. Acute effects from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were not likely due to their low water solubility.
Northern Gateway said that chronic adverse effects on the subtidal benthic community were not predicted. After a large spill, consumption advisories for pelagic, bottom-dwelling and anadromous fish, and invertebrates from open
water areas and subtidal sediments would probably be less than 1 year in duration. Northern Gateway said that consumption advisories for intertidal communities and associated invertebrates, such as mussels, could persist for 3 to 5 years or longer in
some sheltered areas.

But dilbit is different from heavy crude

In response to questions from the Haisla Nation and the United Fishermen and Allied
Workers Union, Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that, although it had a great deal of information on conventional oils, the results of research conducted on the biological effects of conventional oil products may not be true for dilbit or unconventional products. Fisheries and Oceans Canada said that it was not in a
position to quantify the magnitude and duration of impacts to marine resources

The United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union said that, because there are so many variables, each spill is a unique event, and some results will be unknowable. It said that a spill the size of the Exxon Valdez incident would affect the entire ecosystem
in the project area, and that recovery to pre-spill conditions would be unlikely to ever occur. It said that a spill the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill would likely have similar effects in the project area because marine resources in the project area are
similar to those in Prince William Sound. It argued that the cold, sheltered, waters of the Confined Channel Assessment Area would likely experience reduced natural dispersion and biodegradation of oil, leading to heavier oiling and longer recovery
times than seen in Prince William Sound and elsewhere.

The United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union said that patches of buried oil from the Exxon Valdez oil have been found on sand and gravel beaches overlain by boulders and cobbles. It said that effects from a tanker spill associated with the
Enbridge Northern Gateway Project would likely be more severe than the Exxon Valdez oil spill due to the more persistent nature of dilbit and the lack of
natural cleaning action in the sheltered waters of the Confined Channel Assessment Area.

The Gitxaala Nation’s experts said that large historical spill events are not necessarily good indicators of what will happen in the future. They
argued that each spill has unique circumstances and there is still significant uncertainty about the effects of major spills.
The Gitxaala Nation concluded Northern Gateway had failed to adequately consider the potential consequences on ecological values of interest to the Gitxaala.

Gitga’at First Nation said that a spill of dilbit greater than 5,000 cubic metres would result in significant, adverse, long-term, lethal, and sublethal effects
to marine organisms, and that effects would be particularly long-lasting on intertidal species and habitats. It also said that effects from a tanker spill associated with the project would probably be more severe than the Exxon Valdez oil spill, due to
the more persistent nature of dilbit and the lack of natural cleaning action in the sheltered waters

The JRP told how Nothern Gateway looked at the scientific evidence:

The company used a case study approach and reviewed the scientific literature for environments similar to the project area. The review examined 48 spills, including the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, and 155 valued ecosystem components from  cold temperate and sub-arctic regions. Northern Gateway said that the scientific evidence is clear that, although oil spills have adverse effects on biophysical and human environments, ecosystems and their components recover with time.

Pacific herring, killer whales, and pink salmon were species that were extensively studied following the Exxon Valdez spill and were discussed by numerous participants in the Panel’s process.

As referred to by the Haisla Nation, Pacific herring are listed as “not recovering” by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. The Trustee Council said that, despite numerous studies to understand the effects of oil on herring, the causes constraining population recovery are not well understood.

Northern Gateway said that scientific evidence indicates that a combination of factors, including disease, nutrition, predation, and poor recruitment
appear to have contributed to the continued suppression of herring populations in Prince William Sound.

Northern Gateway said that 20 years of research on herring suggests that the Exxon Valdez oil spill is likely to have initially had localized effects on herring eggs and larvae, without causing effects at the population level. Northern Gateway said
that, even after 20 years, the effects of the spill on herring remain uncertain. It said that there has also been convergence amongst researchers that herring declines in the spill area cannot be connected to the spill.

Northern Gateway said that herring stocks along the entire coast of British
Columbia have been in overall decline for  years and that herring were shown to recover within 1 to 2 years following the Nestucca barge spill.

A Gitxaala Nation expert noted the uncertainty in interpreting the decline of herring following the Exxon Valdez oil spill and said that the debate is not likely to ever be settled.

The Living Oceans Society said that the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council reported that some killer whale groups suffered long-term damage from initial exposure to the spill. Northern Gateway’s expert said the research leads him to
conclude that the actual effects on killer whales of the Exxon Valdez spill are unknowable due to numerous confounding factors. He said that the
Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council has not definitively said that killer whale mortalities can be attributed to the spill. A Government of Canada
expert said that the weight of evidence suggests that the mortality of killer whales was most likely related to the spill.

Northern Gateway said that mass mortality of marine fish following a spill is rare. In response to questions from the Haisla Nation, Northern Gateway said that fish have the ability to metabolize potentially toxic substances such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. It said that international experience with oil spills has demonstrated that fin fishery closures tend to be very short in duration.
Northern Gateway said that food safety programs for fin fish conducted following the Exxon Valdez spill and the Selendang Ayu spill in Alaska indicated
that the finfish were not affected by the spill and that the fish were found, through food safety testing programs, to be safe to eat.

The Haisla Nation referred to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council report that discussed the complexities and uncertainties in the recovery status of pink salmon. It said that, by 1999, pink salmon were listed as recovered and that the
report noted that continuing exposure of embryos to lingering oil is negligible and unlikely to limit populations.

Northern Gateway said that the longterm effect of the spill on pink salmon survival is
best demonstrated by the success of adult returns following the spill. Northern Gateway said that, in the month following the spill, when there was still
free oil throughout Prince William Sound, hundreds of millions of natural and hatchery pink salmon fry migrated through the area. It argued that these fish would arguably be at greatest risk from spill-related effects but that the adult returns 2 years later were one of the highest populations ever. Northern Gateway said that sockeye and pink salmon appear to have been unaffected by the Exxon Valdez spill
over the long term.

In response to questions from the Council of the Haida Nation and the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union, Northern Gateway said that effects
on species such as seaweed, crabs, and clams have been shown to be relatively short-term, with these species typically recovering within 2 years or less
following a spill, depending on circumstances.

Northern Gateway said that, based on the Exxon Valdez spill, the level of hydrocarbons dissolved or suspended in the water column would be expected
to be substantially lower than those for which potential toxic effects on crabs or fish may occur.

In response to questions from BC Nature and Nature Canada, Northern Gateway said that the Exxon Valdez oil spill indicates which species of birds are most susceptible to oiling. Seabirds are generally vulnerable to oil spills because many species spend large amounts of time at sea. Diving seabirds such as murres are particularly vulnerable to oiling because they spend most of their time on the surface, where oil is found, and tend to raft  together. Thus, these species often account for most of the bird mortality associated with oil spills.

More than 30,000 seabird carcasses, of which 74 per cent were murres, were recovered following the Exxon Valdez spill and it was initially estimated
that between 100,000 and 300,000 seabirds were killed. However, detailed surveys of breeding murres in 1991 indicated no overall difference from pre-spill levels confirming rapid recovery of this species.

Northern Gateway said that, although potential toxicological effects from oil spills on
birds have been well documented in laboratory studies, the ultimate measure of recovery potential is how quickly birds return to their natural abundance and reproductive performance. It said that recovery is often difficult to measure due to
significant natural variation in populations and the fact that the baseline is often disputed. It said that this can lead to misinterpretation of results depicting recovery.

At the request of Environment Canada, Northern Gateway filed two reports on the susceptibility of marine birds to oil and the acute and chronic effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on marine birds. Northern Gateway said that marine birds are
vulnerable to oil in several ways such as contact, direct or indirect ingestion, and loss of habitat.
It said that many marine bird populations appear to have recovered from the effects of the Exxon Valdez spill, but some species such as harlequin ducks and pigeon guillemots have not recovered, according to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee
Council. It said these reports demonstrate that marine birds are susceptible to marine oil spills to varying degrees depending on the species, its life
history and habitat, and circumstances associated with the spill.
Northern Gateway concluded that:
• Marine, freshwater, and terrestrial environments recover from oil spills, with recovery time influenced by the environment, the valued ecosystem components of interest, and other factors such as spill volume and characteristics
of the oil. Depending on the species and circumstances, recovery can be quite rapid or it can range from 2 to 20 years. Other scientific reviews have indicated that recovery of marine environments from oil spills takes 2 to 10 years.
• Different marine ecosystem components recover at different rates. Recovery time can range from days or weeks in the case of water quality, to years or decades for sheltered, soft sediment marshes. Headlands and exposed rocky shores can take 1 to 4 years to recover.
• Little to no oil remained on the shoreline after 3 years for the vast majority of shoreline oiled following the Exxon Valdez spill,
• The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council concluded that, after 20 years, any remaining Exxon Valdez oil in subtidal sediment is no longer a concern, and that subtidal communities are very likely to have recovered.
• Because sheltered habitats have long recovery times, modern spill response gives high priority to preventing oil from entering marshes and other protected shoreline areas.
• Valued ecosystem components with short life spans can recover relatively rapidly, within days to a few years. Recovery is faster when there is an abundant supply of propagules close to the affected area. For example, drifting larvae from
un-oiled marine and freshwater habitats will rapidly repopulate nearby areas affected by a spill.
• Plankton recovery is typically very rapid.
• Seabed organisms such as filter feeders may be subject to acute effects for several years, depending on location, environmental conditions, and degree of oiling.
• Marine fisheries and other human harvesting activities appear to recover within about 2 to 5 years if the resource has recovered and has not been affected by factors other than the oil spill.
• Protracted litigation may delay resumption of fisheries and other harvesting.
• Local community involvement in spill response priorities and mitigation plans can reduce community impacts and speed recovery of
fisheries and harvesting activities.
• A long life span typically means a long recovery time, in the case of bird and mammal populations that can only recover by local reproduction rather
than by immigration from other areas.
• Fast moving rivers and streams tend to recover more quickly than slow flowing watercourses, due to dispersal of oil into the water column by turbulence, which can enhance dissolution, evaporation, and microbial degradation.
• Drinking water and other water uses can be affected by an oil spill for weeks to months. Drinking water advisories are usually issued. Groundwater use may be restricted for periods ranging from a few weeks to 2 years, depending on
the type of use.

• Groundwater can take years to decades to recover if oil reaches it. Groundwater does not appear to have been affected in the case of Enbridge’s Kalamazoo River spill, near Marshall, Michigan.

• Freshwater invertebrates appear to have recovered within 2 years in several cases.
• Freshwater fisheries may recover fully in as little as four years, with signs of partial recovery evident after only a few months. The ban on consumption of fish in the Kalamazoo River was to be lifted approximately two years following
the spill.
• Human activities are affected by factors such as cleanup activities, safety closures and harvesting bans. These typically persist for months to a few years.
• Appropriate cleanup can promote recovery, while inappropriate cleanup techniques can actually increase biophysical recovery time.
Modern spill response procedures carefully consider the most appropriate treatment for the oil type, level of contamination, and habitat type.
The Living Oceans Society noted the following in relation to potential recovery of the marine environment following a spill:
• Physical contamination and smothering are primary mechanisms that adversely affect marine life, particularly intertidal organisms.
• Birds and mammals suffer the greatest acute impact when exposed to oil at or near the water surface.
• Marine communities have variable resiliency to oil spills, from highly tolerant (plankton, kelp beds), to very intolerant (estuaries and sea otters). Impacts to communities and populations are very difficult to measure due
to lack of scientific methods to measure long term,sublethal, and chronic ecological impacts.
• As the return of the marine environment to the precise conditions that preceded the oil spill is unlikely, a measurement of spill recovery can be
based on a comparison of un-oiled sites with oiled sites of similar ecological characteristics.
• The Exxon Valdez oil spill killed many birds and sea otters. Population-level impacts to salmon, sea otters, harbour seals, and sea birds appear to have been low. Wildlife populations had recovered within their natural range of variability after 12 years.
• Intertidal habitats of Prince William Sound have shown surprisingly good recovery. Many shorelines that were heavily oiled and then cleaned appear much as they did before the spill. There is still residual buried oil on some beaches. Some mussel and clam beds have not fully recovered.
• The marine environment recovered with little intervention beyond initial cleaning. Natural flushing by waves and storms can be more effective than human intervention.
• Wildlife rescue and rehabilitation efforts had a marginal beneficial effect on the recovery of bird and mammal populations
• The impacted area of Prince William Sound had shown surprising resiliency and an ability to return to its natural state within the range of natural variability.
• The Exxon Valdez oil spill had significant and long-lasting effects on people and communities.

Questioning experts

The Panel posed a series of questions to experts representing Northern Gateway, federal government participants, and the Gitxaala First Nation regarding the potential recovery of marine ecosystems following a large oil spill.
Northern Gateway said that past marine spills have demonstrated that, over time, the environment will recover to a pre-spill state, and that most species fully recover. It said that species associated with the surface of the water tend to be most susceptible to oil spills, and that cleanup efforts can help direct and
accelerate natural restoration processes.
Federal government experts generally agreed with Northern Gateway’s responses, although they stressed that effects could be felt in areas other than the water surface, such as intertidal and subtidal zones. They said that it is difficult to define
and assess effects and recovery, depending on the species and availability of baseline information.
They said that most species may fully recover over time, and that the time frame for this recovery can be extremely variable depending on species and circumstances.
The Gitxaala Nation’s experts noted the potential for effects on species at the water surface and in intertidal areas, and noted exceptions to the notion that
the marine environment will naturally restore itself.
They said that full recovery can occur, depending on the circumstances, but is not guaranteed. They said that it is difficult to assess spill effects in the absence
of adequate baseline information.

 

Despite the quarter century of studies on the Exxon Valdez inicident, the paucity of studies prior to the spill mean that arguments will continue over “baseline information.”

Participants told the Panel that a lack of baseline information has often made it difficult to separate spill-related effects from those that were caused by natural variation or other causes not related to a spill.

Northern Gateway acknowledged the need for adequate baseline information. Parties such as Coastal First Nations, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and the Gitxaala Nation said that Northern Gateway had provided insufficient baseline information to assess future spill-related effects. The Kitsumkalum First Nation asked how
spill-related effects on traditionally harvested foods could be assessed in the absence of baseline information.

The Haisla Nation noted the importance of collecting baseline data in the Kitimat River valley to compare with construction and spill-related impacts. The Haisla Nation submitted a report outlining important considerations for a baseline
monitoring program. One recommendation was that the program should engage stakeholders and be proponent-funded. In response to questions
from Northern Gateway, the Haisla Nation noted that a design along the lines of a before/after control/impact model would be appropriate.

In response to these comments, Northern Gateway noted its commitment to implement a Pipeline Environmental Effects Monitoring Program. Northern Gateway’s
proposed framework for the monitoring program indicates that a number of water column, sediment, and biological indicators would be monitored.
The Raincoast Conservation Foundation said that one of the principal lessons learned from the Exxon Valdez oil spill was the importance of collecting abundance and distribution data for non-commercial species. Because baseline information was
lacking, spill effects on coastal wildlife were difficult to determine. Environment Canada also noted the importance of adequate baseline information to
assess, for example, spill-related effects on marine birds.

Northern Gateway outlined the baseline measurements that it had already conducted as part of its environmental assessment. It also said that is
would implement a Marine Environmental Effects Monitoring Program. Northern Gateway said that the initial baseline data, plus ongoing monitoring,
would create a good baseline for environmental quality and the abundance, distribution, and diversity of marine biota. In the event of an oil spill
it would also help inform decisions about restoration endpoints.

Northern Gateway said that it would provide Aboriginal groups with the opportunity to undertake baseline harvesting studies. In response to questions from the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union, Northern Gateway said that baseline information gathered through the environmental effects monitoring program would also be relevant to commercial harvest management and for assessing compensation claims in the event of a spill.
The Kitimat Valley Naturalists noted the ecological importance of the Kitimat River estuary.

The Joint Review Panel, in its conclusions and ruling, generally agreed with the energy industry that affects of a major oil spill would be temporary.

The Panel heard evidence and opinion regarding the value that the public and Aboriginal groups place on a healthy natural environment.

The Panel finds that it is not able to quantify how a spill could affect people’s values and perceptions.
The Panel finds that any large spill would have short-term negative effects on people’s values, perceptions and sense of wellbeing.

The Panel is of the view that implementation of appropriate mitigation and compensation following a spill would lessen these effects over time. The
Panel heard that protracted litigation can delay recovery of the human environment.

The Panel heard that appropriate engagement of communities in determining spill response priorities and developing community mitigation plans can also lessen effects on communities. Northern Gateway has committed to the development
of Community Response Plans
The Panel’s finding regarding ecosystem recovery following a large spill is based on extensive scientific evidence filed by many parties, including information on recovery of the environment from large past spill events such as the Exxon Valdez
oil spill. The Panel notes that different parties sometimes referred to the same studies on environmental recovery after oil spills, and drew different conclusions. In its consideration of natural recovery of the environment, the Panel focused
on effects that are more readily measurable such as population level impacts, harvest levels, or established environmental quality criteria such as
water and sediment quality criteria.
The Panel finds that the evidence indicates that ecosystems will recover over time after a spill and that the post-spill ecosystem will share functional attributes of the pre-spill one. Postspill ecosystems may not be identical to pre-spill ecosystems. Certain ecosystem components may continue to show effects, and residual oil
may remain in some locations. In certain unlikely circumstances, the Panel finds that a localized population or species could potentially be permanently affected by an oil spill. Scientific studies after the Exxon Valdez spill indicated that the vast majority of species recovered following the spill and that functioning ecosystems, similar
to those existing pre-spill, were established.
Species for which recovery is not fully apparent, such as Pacific herring, killer whales, and pigeon guillemots, appear to have been affected by other
environmental factors or human influences not associated with the oil spill. Insufficient pre-spill baseline data on these species contributed to
difficulties in determining the extent of spill effects.
Based on the evidence, the Panel finds that natural recovery of the aquatic environment after an oil spill is likely to be the primary recovery
mechanism, particularly for marine spills. Both freshwater and marine ecosystem recovery is further mitigated where cleanup is possible, effective, and beneficial to the environment.
Natural processes that degrade oil would begin immediately following a spill. Although residual oil could remain buried in sediments for years, the Panel finds that toxicity associated with that oil would decline over time and would not cause
widespread, long-term impacts.

The Panel finds that Northern Gateway’s commitment to use human interventions,
including available spill response technologies, would mitigate spill impacts to ecosystems and assist in species recovery. Many parties expressed concerns about potential short-term and long-term spill effects on resources that they use or depend on, such as drinking water, clams, herring, seaweed, and fish. The weight of
evidence indicates that these resources recover relatively rapidly following a large oil spill.

For example, following the Selendang Ayu and Exxon Valdez spills in Alaska, fin fish were found, through food safety testing programs, to be safe to eat. Food safety closures for species such as mussels, urchins, and crabs were lifted within 1 to
2 years following the spills.
The actual time frame for recovery would depend on the circumstances of the spill. Until harvestable resources recover, various measures are typically put in place, such as compensation,harvest restrictions or closures, and provision of
alternative supply.
It is difficult to define recovery of the human environment because people’s perceptions and values are involved. This was made clear to the
Panel through oral statements and oral evidence.
The Panel finds that oil spills would cause disruptions in people’s lives, especially those people who depend on the marine environment for sustenance, commercial activities and other uses. The extent and magnitude of this disruption
would depend on the specific circumstances associated with the spill. The Panel views recovery of the socio-economic environment as the time when immediate impacts and interruption to people’s lives are no longer evident, and the
natural resources upon which people depend are available for use and consumption.
The Panel heard that assessing the potential recovery time of the environment is often complicated by challenges in separating background or unrelated events from spill-related effects. There can be natural variation in species populations,
and other natural and human-induced effects can also make it difficult to determine which impacts are spill-related and which are not.
The Panel notes that Northern Gateway has committed to collect baseline data and gather baseline information on harvest levels and values through initiatives such as its Environmental Effects Monitoring Program, Fisheries Liaison
Committee, and traditional harvest studies. The Panel finds that these commitments go beyond regulatory requirements and are necessary. This information would contribute to assessments of spill effects on resource harvesting values,
post-spill environmental recovery, and loss and liability determinations.
The Panel is of the view that it is not possible to predict a specific time in which overall recovery of the environment may occur. The time for recovery would depend on the type and volume of product spilled, environmental conditions,
the success of oil spill response and cleanup measures, and the extent of exposure of living and non-living components of the environment to the product spilled. Recovery of living and non-living components of the environment would
occur over different time frames ranging from weeks, to years, and in the extreme, decades.
Even within the same environmental component, recovery may occur over different time frames depending on local factors such as geographic location, the amount of oiling, success of cleanup, and amount of natural degradation.
Based on the physical and chemical characteristics described for the diluted bitumen to be shipped and the fate and transport modelling conducted, the Panel finds that stranded oil on shorelines would not be uniformly distributed on
shorelines and that heavy oiling would be limited to specific shoreline areas. The Panel accepts Northern Gateway’s prediction that spilled dilbit could persist longer in sheltered areas, resulting in longer consumption advisories for intertidal
communities and associated invertebrates than in more open areas.

Based on the scientific evidence, the Panel accepts the results of the
chronic risk assessment that predicted no significant risks to marine life due to oil deposition in the subtidal sediments.
For potential terrestrial and marine spills, the Panel does not view reversibility as a reasonable measure against which to predict ecosystem recovery. No ecosystem is static and it is unlikely that an ecosystem will return to exactly the same
state following any natural or human induced disruption. Based on the evidence and the Panel’s technical expertise, it has evaluated whether or not functioning ecosystems are likely to return after a spill. Requiring Northern Gateway to
collect baseline data would provide important information to compare ecosystem functions before and after any potential spill.

The Panel finds that Northern Gateway’s ecological and human health risk assessment models and techniques were conducted using conservative assumptions and state of the art models. Combined with information from past spill events, these assessments provided sufficient information to inform the Panel’s deliberation on
the extent and severity of potential environmental effects. The Panel finds that this knowledge was incorporated in Northern Gateway’s spill prevention strategies and spill preparedness and response planning. Although the ecological risk assessment
models used by Northern Gateway may not replicate all possible environmental conditions or effects, the spill simulations conducted by Northern Gateway provided a useful indication of the potential range of consequences of large oil spills in
complex natural environments.

How oil spills kill fish: new study points to cardiac arrest; possible implications for humans

Oil spills kill fish. That’s well known. Now scientists say they have found out why oil spills kill adult fish. The chemicals in the oil often trigger an irregular heartbeat and cardiac arrest.

A joint study by Stanford University and the US National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration have discovered that crude oil interferes with fish heart cells. The toxic consequence is a slowed heart rate, reduced cardiac contractility and irregular heartbeats that can lead to cardiac arrest and sudden cardiac death.

The study was published Feb. 14, 2014 in the prestigious international journal Science and unveiled at the convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago.

The study is part of the ongoing Natural Resource Damage Assessment of the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Scientists have known for some time that crude oil is known to be “cardiotoxic” to developing fish. Until now, the mechanisms underlying the harmful effects were unclear.

Exxon Valdez

Studies going back to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989 have shown that exposure to crude oil-derived chemicals disrupt cardiac function and impairs development in larval fishes. The studies have described a syndrome of embryonic heart failure, bradycardia (slow heart beat), arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) and edema in exposed fish embryos.

After the Gulf of Mexico spill, studies began on young fish in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill. The two science teams wanted to find out how oil specifically impacts heart cells.

Crude oil is a complex mixture of chemicals, some of which are known to be toxic to marine animals.

Past research focused on “polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons” (PAHs), which can also be found in coal tar, creosote, air pollution and stormwater runoff from land. In the aftermath of an oil spill, the studies show PAHs can persist for many years in marine habitats and cause a variety of adverse environmental effects.

The scientists found that oil interferes with cardiac cell excitability, contraction and relaxation – vital processes for normal beat-to-beat contraction and pacing of the heart.

Low concentrations of crude

The study shows that very low concentrations of crude oil disrupt the specialized ion channel pores – where molecules flow in and out of the heart cells – that control heart rate and contraction in the cardiac muscle cell. This cyclical signalling pathway in cells throughout the heart is what propels blood out of the pump on every beat. The protein components of the signalling pathway are highly conserved in the hearts of most animals, including humans.

The researchers found that oil blocks the potassium channels distributed in heart cell membranes, increasing the time to restart the heart on every beat. This prolongs the normal cardiac action potential, and ultimately slows the heartbeat. The potassium ion channel impacted in the tuna is responsible for restarting the heart muscle cell contraction cycle after every beat, and is highly conserved throughout vertebrates, raising the possibility that animals as diverse as tuna, turtles and dolphins might be affected similarly by crude oil exposure. Oil also resulted in arrhythmias in some ventricular cells.

“The ability of a heart cell to beat depends on its capacity to move essential ions like potassium and calcium into and out of the cells quickly.” said Barbara Block, a professor of marine sciences at Stanford. She said, “We have discovered that crude oil interferes with this vital signalling process essential for our heart cells to function properly.”

Nat Scholz, leader of the Ecotoxicology Program at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle said.”We’ve known from NOAA research over the past two decades that crude oil is toxic to the developing hearts of fish embryos and larvae, but haven’t understood precisely why.”

Long term problems in fish hearts

He added: “These new findings more clearly define petroleum-derived chemical threats to fish and other species in coastal and ocean habitats, with implications that extend beyond oil spills to other sources of pollution such as land-based urban stormwater runoff.”

The new study also calls attention to a previously under appreciated risk to wildlife and humans, particularly from exposure to cardioactive PAHs that can also exist when there are high levels of air pollution.

“When we see these kinds of acute effects at the cardiac cell level,” Block said, “it is not surprising that chronic exposure to oil from spills such as the Deepwater Horizon can lead to long-term problems in fish hearts.”

The study used captive populations of bluefin and yellowfin tuna at the Tuna Research and Conservation Center, a collaborative facility operated by Stanford and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. That meant the research team was able to directly observe the effects of crude oil samples collected from the Gulf of Mexico on living fish heart cells.

“The protein ion channels we observe in the tuna heart cells are similar to what we would find in any vertebrate heart and provide evidence as to how petroleum products may be negatively impacting cardiac function in a wide variety of animals,” she said. “This raises the possibility that exposure to environmental PAHs in many animals – including humans – could lead to cardiac arrhythmias and bradycardia, or slowing of the heart.”

Tuna spawning

The Deepwater Horizon disaster released over 4 million barrels of crude oil during the peak spawning time for the Atlantic bluefin tuna in the spring of 2010. Electronic tagging and fisheries catch data indicate that Atlantic bluefin spawn in the area where the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig collapsed, raising the possibility that eggs and larvae, which float near the surface waters, were exposed to oil.

Blue fin tuna
An Atlantic bluefin tuna ( ©Gilbert Van Ryckevorsel/TAG A Giant/Courtesy Standford University)

The spill occurred in the major spawning ground of the western Atlantic population of bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico. The most recent stock assessment, conducted in 2012, estimated the spawning population of the bluefin tuna to be at only 36 percent of the 1970 baseline population. Additionally, many other pelagic fishes were also likely to have spawned in oiled habitats, including yellowfin tuna, blue marlin and swordfish.

Block and her team bathed isolated cardiac cells from the tuna in low dose crude oil concentrations similar to what fish in early life stages may have encountered in the surface waters where they were spawned after the April 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

They measured the heart cells’ response to record how ions flowed into and out of the heart cells to identify the specific proteins in the excitation-contraction pathway that were affected by crude oil chemical components.

Fabien Brette, a research associate in Block’s lab and lead author on the study said the scientists looked at the function of healthy heart cells in a laboratory dish and then used a microscope to measure how the cells responded when crude oil was introduced.

“The normal sequence and synchronous contraction of the heart requires rapid activation in a coordinated way of the heart cells,” Block said. “Like detectives, we dissected this process using laboratory physiological techniques to ask where oil was impacting this vital mechanism.”

Related: Oil spill caused “unexpected lethal impact” on herring, study shows

 

Haisla consultation reply outlines flaws in Northern Gateway Joint Review report

Haisla NationThe Haisla Nation response to the federal government’s request for consultation on the Joint Review Panel report on the Northern Gateway lists what the First Nation sees as flaws in the panel’s assessment of the project. (The Haisla filed their first list of flaws in the JRP in a court challenge).

In the response, seen by Northwest Coast Energy News, the Haisla are objecting to both the government’s and the JRP’s attitude toward the idea of consultation as well as some of the specific findings by the panel. The Haisla also fault the JRP process for refusing to take into consideration reports and studies that were released after the evidentiary deadlines.

Overall, the Haisla say

 The JRP report is written in a way that prevents an assessment of how or whether the JRP considered Haisla Nation concerns and of how whether the JRP purports to address the Haisla Nation’s concerns. Further the JRP Report is lacking n some of the fundamental justification required to understand how arrived at its recommendations.

So what are the Haisla concerns?

In the document filed with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the Haisla say:

 The proposed project carries with it an inordinate amount of risk to Haisla Nation Territory. The Haisla Nation is being asked to play host to this proposed project, despite the risk the proposed project poses to the land waters and resources relied on by the Haisla Nation for sustenance and cultural heritage. The risk includes a huge risk to Haisla Nation aboriginal rights to trap, hunt and fish, to gather seafood and gather plant materials. It could result in significant damage to the Haisla Nation cultural heritage—its traditional way of life…..

The terminal site is one of the few areas suitable for terminal development in our territory. It is also home to over 800 Haisla Nation Culturally Modified Trees (CMTs). Northern Gateway proposes to irrevocably alter the land, the use of the land and access to this land for the duration of the proposed project, which is anticipated to be at least 80 years. This irrevocable alteration includes the felling of our CMTS….

By seeking to use Haisla Nation aboriginal title land for the proposed project, Northern Gateway will be effectively expropriating the economic value of this land. Northern Gateway is proposing to use Haisla Nation aboriginal title land for a project with no benefit to the Haisla Nation and which is fundamentally at odds with Haisla Nation stewardship principles.

 

Obstructed clear understanding 

The Haisla say that “Canada has failed to adhere is own framework” for the JRP because in the Aboriginal Consultation Framework says “Federal departments will be active participants in the JRP process to ensure the environmental assessment and consultation record, is as accurate and complete as possible.”

The Haisla say “Canada provided limited written evidence to the JRP” and goes on to say that the “federal governments not only failed to provide relevant information but also obstructed a clear understanding of project impacts.”

Among the evidence relevant to Northern Gateway that the federal government was “unable or unwilling to provide” includes:

  •  Natural Resources had expertise on acid rock damage and metal leaching but did not include evidence on that in their evidence
  •  Fisheries and Oceans did not have a mandate to conduct an assessment of the potential toxicological effects of an oil spill.
  •  Environment Canada did not review or provide information on the spills from pipelines.
  • The federal government witnesses were unable to answer questions about the toxicity of dispersant.
  • Environment Canada was asked if it had studies of the subsurface currents and the movement of submerged oil. Environment Canada told the JRP did not measure hydrodynamic data but relies on DFO. DFO cold not provide any witnesses to the JRP with expertise on subsurface currents.

 

In the formal response on the JRP report, Haisla also say:

  •  The JRP has concluded that the risk of a large spill form the pipeline in the Kitimat River Valley is not likely, despite very significant information gaps relating to geohazards, leak detection and spill response.
  •  The JRP has concluded that a large spill would result in significant adverse environmental effects. However, the JRP appears to base a finding that these effects are unlikely to occur on an unreasonable assumptions about how widespread the effects could be or how long they would last. The JRP has not considered the extent to which a localized effect could impact Haisla Nation.
  •  The JRP relies on the concept of “natural recovery” as mitigation of significant adverse effects. The Haisla Nation asked the JRP to compel information from Northern Gateway about the applicability of its evidence to species found in Haisla National Territory. The JRP, however, refused to compel this evidence from Northern Gateway.
  •  The JRP has accepted at face value that Northern Gateway would shut down its pipeline within 13 minutes in the event of a rupture and has failed to consider the effects of a large spill that is not detected with this timeframe through the control centre (or was in the case of Kalamazoo, is detected by the control centre but is systematically mischaracterized and ignored).

As part of the consultation process the Haisla want 22 changes to the JRP report, changes which echo the Haisla Final Written Argument that was filed at the end of the hearings.

It says:

 The Panel should find that potential impacts to asserted Haisla Nation aboriginal rights and title from the proposed project are such that project cannot be found to be in the public interest in the absence of meaningful consultation… The current status of engagement and the federal government imposition of a 6-month time limit to complete consultation raise serious concerns that meaningful consultation will not be possible. Therefore the proposed project is not in the public interest.

Among the others are:

  • The JRP should have determined the significant of adverse effects to rare ecological communities that cannot mitigated.
  • The JRP should have provided more information to allow a reasonable assessment of the risk of a spill from the pipelines.
  • The JRP would have considered all factors to contribute to the risk of a spill.
  • The JRP should have found that Northern Gateway’s assessment of the toxicity of an oil spill because it did not consider the full range of products to be shipped nor did it consider the potential pathways of the effect of a toxic spill, whether from a pipeline, at the marine terminal or in the case of a tanker spill
  • The evidence had not demonstrated that Northern Gateway’s spill response would be able to mitigate the effects of a spill either at the pipeline, at the Kitimat marine terminal or from a tanker spill.
  • The JRP did not consider the impact of the Kitimat Marine Terminal on their cultural and archaeological heritage, including culturally modified trees.

Related

Ottawa’s Northern Gateway consultation with First Nations limited to three simple questions and 45 days: documents

Haisla ask cabinet to postpone Northern Gateway decision to allow for adequate consultation with First Nations

Haisla response lists evidence rejected by Northern Gateway Joint Review

Haisla response lists evidence rejected by Northern Gateway Joint Review

Members of the Joint Review panel make notes at Kitamaat Village (Robin Rowland)
Members of the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel, left to right, Kenneth Bateman, chair Sheila Leggett and Hans Matthews make notes at the June 25, 2012 hearings at the Haisla Recreation Centre, Kitamaat Village. A map of Douglas Channel can be seen behind the panel. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The Haisla Nation in their response to the Crown on the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel details four studies, three Canadian and one American that were released after the Joint Review evidentiary deadline had passed, evidence that the Haisla say should be considered in any consideration of the Northern Gateway pipeline, terminal and tanker project. (The American report from the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration was released after the JRP final report)

JRP chair Sheila Leggett’s constant citing of rules of procedure and her stubborn refusal to consider new evidence and studies in a dynamic situation that was changing rapidly was one of the reasons that many people in the northwest said the JRP had lost credibility.

The Haisla say: “It is incumbent upon Canada to consider and discuss the information in these reports as part of a meaningful consultation process…” and then lists “key findings” that have potential impacts on aboriginal rights and title:

The West Coast Spill response for the government of British Columbia which found:

  • Most oil spilled into the marine environment cannot be cleaned up
  • There is a disconnect between planning and actual repose capability
  • Canada’s spill response is “far from world class.”

The Transport Canada Ship Oil Spill Preparedness and Response study:

  • Douglas Channel will go from low risk to high risk for pills if the project goes ahead
  • The study recommends preparation for a “true worst case discharge” rather than “the credible worst case discharge” as proposed by Northern Gateway
  • Canada needed a much more rigorous regulatory regime covering tankers.

The joint federal government technical report on the properties of bitumen from the Canadian Oil Sands:

  • There are uncertainties on how diluted bitumen would behave in a marine environment.
  • Northern Gateway did not provide adequate information about sediment levels to allow for proper study of interaction with diluted bitumen
  • Dispersant may not be effective.
  • Weathered diluted bitumen would “reach densities at which it will sink freshwater without mechanical or physical assistance.”

The US National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration report on Transporting Alberta Oil sands:

  • Diluted bitumen has “significant differences from conventional crudes.’ (The JRP used conventional crude as a benchmark in its findings)
  • The physical properties of diluted bitumen “fluctuate based on a number of factors.
  • Pipeline operators may not have detailed information related to products in the pipeline at the time of a spill
  • There is a lack of experimental data on the weathering behaviour of oil sands product which limits the ability of spill response organizations “to understand and predict the behaviour and fate of oil sands products in freshwater, estuarine and saltwater environments.”

 
Related

Ottawa’s Northern Gateway consultation with First Nations limited to three simple questions and 45 days: documents

Haisla ask cabinet to postpone Northern Gateway decision to allow for adequate consultation with First Nations

Haisla consultation reply outlines flaws in Northern Gateway Joint Review report

 

Two JRP conditions are already outdated, Cullen says

Skeena Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen says at least two of the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel’s 209 conditions may already be outdated.

In a news release January 15, 2013, Cullen said, “The requirement of $950 million in spill insurance was recently called into question as reports surfaced of cleanup costs at the sites of Enbridge’s 2010 Michigan spill surpassing $1.035 billion.”

The $1.035 billion figure was contained in Enbridge’s American arm, Enbridge Energy Partners, latest filing for the third quarter over 2013 with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
Cullen went to say that, “The JRP’s order for Enbridge to carry out new research on the behaviour of diluted in bitumen in a marine environment has been questioned following the publication of an Environment Canada study confirming that diluted bitumen will sink in saltwater in high waves and where sediment is present.”

Cullen is referring to a study by Environment Canada Emergencies Science and Technology,Fisheries and Oceans Canada Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research and Natural Resoures Canada on bitumen that was completed in November and released this week.

The study found

. Like conventional crude oil, both diluted bitumen products floated on saltwater (free of sediment), even after evaporation and exposure to light and mixing with water;
. When fine sediments were suspended in the saltwater, high-energy wave action mixed the sediments with the diluted bitumen, causing the mixture to sink or be dispersed as floating tarballs;
(The use of the term “tarball” in this report follows convention in the literature and refers to the consistency of floating, heavily-weathered oil. It does not describe the chemical composition of the product.)
. Under conditions simulating breaking waves, where chemical dispersants have proven effective with conventional crude oils, a commercial chemical dispersant (Corexit 9500) had quite limited effectiveness in dispersing dilbit;
. Application of fine sediments to floating diluted bitumen was not effective in helping to disperse the products;
. The two diluted bitumen products display some of the same behaviours as conventional petroleum products (i.e. fuel oils and conventional crude oils), but also significant differences, notably for the rate and extent of evaporation.

Read the report:Properties, Composition and Marine Spill Behaviour, Fate and Transport of Two Diluted Bitumen Products from the Canadian Oil Sands (pdf)
The Joint Review Panel found that dilbit was “ no more likely to sink to the bottom than other
heavier oils”

The Panel acknowledges the variety of opinions from experts regarding the behavior and fate of oil spilled in aquatic environments. These experts generally agreed that the ultimate behavior and fate of the oil would depend on a number of factors, including the volume of oil spilled, the physical and chemical characteristics of the product, and the environmental conditions at the time.

The Panel finds that likely oil behaviour and potential response options can be predicted from knowledge of the type of oil spilled and its physical and chemical characteristics. Details of oil behaviour and response options cannot be specified until the actual circumstances of a spill are known.

The Panel is of the view that, if placed along a spectrum of: tendency to submerge; persistence; and recovery difficulty, dilbit would be on the higher end of the spectrum, similar to other heavy oil products.

The Panel accepts evidence from previous spills showing that, in response to circumstances at the time, the behaviour of heavier oils, including conventional oils and synthetic crudes, can be dynamic. Some oil floats, some sinks, and some is neutrally buoyant and subject to submergence and overwashing.

Although the project would transport different types of oil, the majority of the evidence presented during the hearing process focussed on whether dilbit is likely to sink when spilled in an aquatic environment. In light of this, the Panel has chosen to focus its views on dilbit. The Panel heard that the fate and behaviour of dilbit has not been studied as much as that of other oils.

Although there is some uncertainty regarding the behavior of dilbit spilled in water, the Panel finds that the weight of evidence indicates that dilbit is no more likely to sink to the bottom than other heavier oils with similar physical and chemical properties.

The Panel finds that dilbit is unlikely to sink due to natural weathering processes alone, within the time frame in which initial, on-water response may occur, or in the absence of sediment or other particulate matter interactions. The Panel finds that a dilbit spill is not likely to sink as a continuous layer that coats the seabed or riverbed.

“It hasn’t even been a month since the JRP released their 209 conditions, and it seems like we’re already seeing some of them become obsolete,” Cullen said.

“Throughout the review process, the JRP continually ignored the situation in Michigan as it unfolded before our eyes. They saw the spill caused by Enbridge’s negligence, which was worsened by Enbridge’s incompetence, and how it brought untold damage to the local ecosystem and cost over $1 billion US. But the 209 conditions didn’t reflect what we learned about Enbridge’s history or its culture, or what we’ve learned about diluted bitumen at all.”

The Joint Review process was set up to deliver a positive verdict, according to Cullen, regardless of what the real life case studies in Michigan had already shown. “To say that it won’t cost as much – if not more – to respond to a spill in a remote corner of northwestern BC during winter than it was in Michigan in the middle of July is ridiculous,” Cullen said.

“What’s even more astonishing is that we asked repeatedly for these studies on the behaviour of diluted bitumen in the marine environment to be part of the Joint Review Panel’s assessment. That the government waited until after the JRP had given its conditional yes to release these findings is not only appalling but also highly suspect.

Cullen says there are two key questions that the Harper government now must answer. “What kind of protection is the government providing when it lowballs on the insurance for oil spills? And what kind of oversight is it giving Canadians when the verdict is given before the evidence is released?”