Kitimat boil water advisory could last until the end of the week, District says it depends on river levels, rain

kitimatlogoThe District of Kitimat in an update on the boil water advisory says it could last until the end of the week. There is no immediate problem because the water is still being treated.

Kitimat Chief Administrative Officer Warren Waycheshen says the turbidity from the high water means that it is not possible to do a full sample on the safety of the water.   There are no delays due to the holiday weekend, the labs are open and ready, Waycheshen told Northwest Coast Energy News.

There  are no immediate dangers to Kitimat from the high water,  he said.

The District says:

October 11, 2015
The boil water advisory issued by the District of Kitimat will remain in place at this time. Until further notice, continue to boil water for 2 solid minutes before using it for cooking or drinking.

The District of Kitimat, with advice from Northern Health, will not consider terminating the advisory until two samples conclude there is not a health risk. Sampling is not expected to be complete until at least the end of the week of October 12, 2015 and could be longer if the rain continues.

The District is treating the water as usual. There is nothing to suggest contamination is occurring; however, as a precautionary measure please continue to boil water prior to use.

Turbidity in this case means high levels of particulate matter in the river, including sand and possibly salts.  Waycheshen said the Kitimat River rose four metres on Saturday, then dropped by about two metres overnight but with the later Sunday afternoon rain the river is rising once again.

The Environment Canada forecast issued at 4 pm Sunday, calls for rain for the next week.

Wind Warning continues

The Environment Canada wind warning for the north coast was continued this morning but there are currently no alerts in effect for Kitimat.

Wind warning in effect for:

North Coast – coastal sections
The third and final disturbance in this series of storms is moving onto the northern BC Coast. The front will cross the central coast tonight. Southeast winds up to 110 km/h will develop over Haida Gwaii near noon then spread to the North Coast – Coastal Sections and Central Coast – Coastal Sections this afternoon. Winds will shift to southwest with the passage of the front then diminish this evening.

Damage to buildings, such as to roof shingles and windows, may occur. High winds may toss loose objects or cause tree branches to break.

Wind warnings are issued when there is a significant risk of damaging winds.

Radley Park

Waycheshen says there probably has been some flood damage to Radley Park, but at this point  District staff are unable to get into the area to assess the damage.

Canadian, US Coast Guards to exercise with Alaska emergency ship towing system

The United States Coast Guard says the US and Canadian Coast Guards will “conduct a towing evolution using a State of Alaska Emergency Towing System” on Friday afternoon off Juneau, Alaska.

The participating vessels are the Canadian Coast Guard  Marine Service Vessel and  Ice Strengthened Medium Navaids Tender CCGS Bartlett and the US Coast Guard cutter USGC Maple.  Like the Barlett, the Maple is also a buoy tender.

CCGS Barlett (Canadian Coast Guard)
CCGS Barlett (Canadian Coast Guard)

In 2014, when the Russian vessel Simushir was adrift off Haida Gwaii, the towing system on the Canadian Coast Guard’s Gordon Reid was inadequate and the line snapped.  A commercial tug was hired to take the Simushir into port at Prince Rupert.   As Northwest Coast Energy News reported in October, 2014, the US Coast Guard deployed the Alaska Towing System to Haida Gwaii but it wasn’t used at that time despite a record of success by the US Coast Guard in towing vessels off Alaska waters.

Related:

When the Simushir was adrift,  Alaska was ready, BC and Canada were not

On the Simushir, Oceans Minister Shea takes ministerial responsibility to a new low, the bottom of the sea

 

 

 

 

When the Simushir was adrift, Alaska was ready, BC and Canada were not. Here’s why

When the Russian container ship Simushir lost power in heavy weather west of Haida Gwaii last Thursday and driven by westerly winds came dangerously close to the rocky coast, Canada and British Columbia had to scramble to get vessels to the ship and try to tow it out of danger to Prince Rupert.

Like all other issues on the west coast, the debate is raging.

Simushir
The Simushir tied up at the Ridley Island container port. (Prince Rupert Port Authority)

“Peter Lantin, president of the Haida Nation, told the media at the time, “It was luck.” On Tuesday, Lantin issued another statement, saying. ““Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone considers 20 hours a world class response time. The fact of the matter is that the federal government has little interest in protecting the west coast. From all indications their policy is to calculate an oil spill as an acceptable loss, based on a business model, not on the reality that coastal British Columbians live every day.”

It appears that the Simushir operation was lucky. The normal westerly winds that could have driven the ship onto the rocks of Haida Gwaii changed to southeasterly, keeping the Simushir off shore.

The American heavy duty tug  Barbara Foss just happened to be available. The Barbara Foss was towing a cargo barge between Prince Rupert and Whittier, Alaska. The barge was left in Prince Rupert and the tug headed out off the coast of Haida Gwaii a trip that took about 48 hours. (There are also  heavy duty Smit tugs at Prince Rupert which joined the operation on Hecate Strait to escort the Simushir into port.  There are now reports that the Simushir‘s owners chose to hire the Barbara Foss rather than Smit)

The Canadian Coast Guard vessel Gordon Reid tows the Simushir away from the coast of Haida Gwaii.  (Maritime Forces Pacific)
The Canadian Coast Guard vessel Gordon Reid tows the Simushir away from the coast of Haida Gwaii. (Maritime Forces Pacific)

It took the first Canadian Coast Guard vessel, the Gordon Reid, about 14 hours to reach the Simushir (according to Coast Guard officials the original report of 20 hours was wrong). The Gordon Reid did manage to get lines on the Simushir and pull the ship away from the coast, only have the tow lines part (break) three times. So the three Coast Guard vessels, two from Canada, the Gordon Reid and the Sir Wilfred Laurier and the US Coast Guard cutter Spar had to wait for the Barbara Foss to arrive.

Jonathan Whitworth, CEO of Seaspan, speaking to Mark Hume of The Globe and Mail,  “it was just bad luck” that none of the tugs that regularly work up and down the west coast were  available at the time.

Whitworth told The Globe and Mail that there are about 80 boats between Alaska and Vancouver that could have towed the Simushir to safety. He said that the fact there were no tugs in the immediate vicinity as a “fluke.”

“We certainly have large tugs operating in Haida Gwaii on log barges, for example. So it will be a 6,000-horsepower tug that would [typically] be in that area. It just so happened that over the weekend our two biggest tugs which transit that area were down south,” Whitworth told The Globe and Mail.

Whitworth said that permanently stationing tugs at Haida Gwaii would be both be unnecessary and too expensive.“If there had been a tug stationed in Haida Gwaii then it could have responded possibly quicker. But who’s going to pay for that?  Surprisingly from a tug owner it’s not going to be [my view] that there should be a tug every 50 metres up the coast.”

Effective response

In a news release, Rear Admiral Dan Abel, commanding the US Coast Guard 17th District, Alaska said.

“The trusted partnership we have with our Canadian counterparts continues to be a vital component to protecting lives at sea and mitigating potential maritime emergencies. We are pleased this case ended with a positive outcome; preparing for the worst case scenario is the first step in an effective prevention and response plan.”

The question now being asked up and down the BC coast has the provincial or federal governments really have an effective prevention and response plan? If the BC coast had trouble handling a container ship in trouble, how is it ever going to handle a Very Large Crude Carrier loaded with diluted bitumen?

According to the US Coast Guard, although the Simushir was adrift off the coast of Haida Gwaii, the incident triggered Alaska’s emergency response plan. “Coast Guard Sector Juneau deployed six members, including the sector’s commander, to Ketchikan to establish the foundation for a unified command and to exercise their sub area contingency plan with state and local partners.”

Key to Alaska’s response, is a system ready to go soon after a distress call is received. The Emergency Towing System (ETS) has prepackaged equipment that can be transferred to a disabled vessel either by helicopter or tug, depending on the size and position of the vessel in distress.

US Coast Guard C-130 Hercules and Skyhawk helicopter on standby at Sandspit airport.  The Hercules carried  one of Alaska's Emergency Towing Systems in case it was needed.  (US Coast Guard)
US Coast Guard C-130 Hercules and Skyhawk helicopter on standby at Sandspit airport. The Hercules carried one of Alaska’s Emergency Towing Systems in case it was needed. (US Coast Guard)

The United States Coast Guard deployed two of its Emergency Towing Systems last week to support the Simushir operation, one on a C-130 Hercules dispatched to Sandspit, the second on board the cutter Spar.

While the Alaska ETS systems were not used in the Simushir incident, how Alaska came up with the system is a lesson for British Columbia, for that state-wide program was started by the tiny municipality of Unalaska after a ship quite similar to the Simushir lost power and came within 15 minutes of running aground in Unalaska Bay.

Now just seven years later those Emergency Towing System packages are pre-positioned up and down the Alaska coast, while although Enbridge proposed the Northern Gateway in 2005, here in Canada both the provincial and federal governments make paper promises about a “world class” response system but so far nothing has happened.

Salica Frigo

Salica Frigo
Salica Frigo photographed in 2006 (Clipper/Wikipedia Commons)

The Salica Frigo incident in March 2007 was similar to the Simushir incident and like the Simushir, there was luck involved.

According to an Associated Press report at the time, quoting 2005 figures, Dutch Harbor and Unalaska was, for the 17th straight year,  the United States leading fishing port for seafood landings in poundage. Commercial fishermen offloaded 887.6 million pounds of fish and shellfish in 2005. The value of its catch, $166.1 million, was second to New Bedford, Mass.

About three years earlier, another ship, the 225 metre (738-foot) Selandang Ayu experienced engine problems, shut off its engines, drifted and ran aground Dec. 9, 2004, in Skan Bay on Unalaska Island’s west side.

Six crewmen died when a US Coast Guard helicopter trying to rescue them crashed. The Selandang Ayu broke in two and spilled an estimated 321,000 gallons of fuel oil, contaminating 54 kilometres (34 miles) of coastline. AP reported that at the time of the Salica Frigo incident in 2007, the cleanup for the Selandang Ayu was more than $100 million.

The Salica Frigo was 135 metre (443 foot) Spanish-flagged ship, the same size as the Simushir.

On Thursday, March 8, 2007, the Salica Frigo was partially loaded with seafood and tied up at dock in Captain’s Bay in Dutch Harbor, Alaska Winds were from the north, from 30 to 40 knots gusting to 60 to 70 knots. The winds began to drive the Salica Frigo away from the dock and the local marine pilot, Capt. Stephen Moreno, consulting with the captain, ordered the ship to sea to ride out the winds. “He really didn’t have enough ground tackle to safely anchor,” Moreno told the AP.

The AP report says Moreno guided the Salica Frigo out to sea, plotted a safe course and then the pilot returned to port. At about, 3 am on March 9, the engine failed. It was not until an hour later, at 4 am, according to KIAL News the Salica Frigo’s captain called the marine pilots and the Coast Guard.  North winds were blowing the ship back toward the harbor.

“If it had been from the south, he would have blown offshore,” Moreno told the AP.

The powerless ship drifted for more than three and a half hours toward the shore. Two tugboats came to the ship’s aid but could not establish lines to the stricken vessel.

Moreno and Coast Guard officials estimate the Salica Frigo was just 15 minutes from grounding when crew members were able to restart the engine at 6:43 a.m.

Emergency Towing System

Just weeks later, the Mayor of Unalaska,  Shirley Marquardt created and convened a “Disabled Vessel Workgroup” that was tasked with developing a “an emergency towing capability for disabled vessels in the Aleutians using locally available tugboats and an emergency towing system.”

For a demonstration project from July 20 to August 1, 2007, Unalaska had put together and purchased a system suitable for vessels up to 50,000 dead weight tons (DWT) while the state, the the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation was planning to purchase a system capable of towing vessel greater than 50,000 DWT.

The two types of Emergency Towing System packages are  pictured in the operations manual. (Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation)
The two types of Emergency Towing System packages are pictured in the operations manual. (Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation)

In a news release (pdf) at the time of the exercise, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said

In the last decade, several distressed or stricken vessels in the Aleutian Islands have adversely impacted the community of Unalaska. In a few cases, these incidents were the cause of environmental and economic repercussions.

In each situation, the vessel was a large tramper or cargo type ship, generally carrying fuel in bottom tanks, thus posing a significant pollution risk. Roughly 67% of port calls to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor in 2004 were either container ships or tramper/reefer vessels.

“These accidents can be devastating to Alaska’s environment and communities. Our goal is to enhance the ability of local assets to respond to distressed vessels in need of assistance due to engine failure,rudder failure, or any other failure which compromises the safe navigation of a vessel,” said DEC Commissioner Larry Hartig.

Tugs not always ready

ETS on tug
The Emergency Towing System deployed on a tug. (Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation)

The other point in the 2007 ADEC news release is a note that tugs are not always equipped for operations such the one involving the Simushir

Generally tug boats (primary responders in this area) have some capability of retrieving vessels but they are not dedicated to this service and therefore the equipment aboard is not representative of equipment needs in this highly specialized situation. The recommended emergency towing system
will enhance local assets with the ability to respond to an emergency with all the proper equipment necessary to retrieve a distressed vessel.

The Unalaska resident tugs Gyrfalcon and James Dunlap are the most consistent local assets in the Unalaska region, but there are many other tugs in the area at any one time and thus this system is intended to be universally deployable.

The demonstration project, a partnership between the town, the state, the Coast Guard and the private sector was successful.

ETS and helicopters
US Coast Guard helicopters deploy the Emergency Towing System (Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation)

In 2014, the Alaska Emergency Towing System project official website  says

An Emergency Towing System (ETS) is a pre-staged package of equipment that may be deployed in the event a disabled vessel requires assistance in accessing a place of refuge. A manual that instructs responders on the operations of system as well as procedures for deployment accompanies the system. The system is designed to use vessels of opportunity to assist disabled vessels that are in Alaskan waters. It consists of a lightweight high performance towline, a messenger line used in deploying the towline, a lighted buoy, and chafing gear. These components may be configured to deploy to a disabled ship from the stern of a tugboat or airdropped to the ship’s deck via helicopter.

In December 2010, Unalaska’s plan worked, the town’s ETS system was deployed to assist the disable cargo vessel Golden Seas. “This equipment, along with the availability of an appropriate sized towing vessel helped avert a possible grounding.” the ETS website says.

Since 2007, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has purchased and stored 10 inch Emergency Towing Systems at the USCG Air Station in Kodiak and Sitka, the Navy Supervisor of Salvage warehouse at Fort Richardson, and the Emergency Response warehouse in Adak, Alaska.

Alaska map
Map shows where the Emergency Towing System is deployed across Alaska/. (Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation)

The Emergency Towing System can be deployed by helicopter or by tug.  A helicopter can lower the tote or cage containing the towing gear onto the deck of the distressed ship. If the tote or cage is carried to the scene by a tug the crew the usual procedure is to use a helicopter to deploy the tote/cage to the distressed vessel or the tug crew. Depending on the circumstances, and although it is not part of the regular system, the tug crew can also line-gun projectile across the deck of the distressed ship so the crew can pull a “messenger line” attached to the tow line on board.

And as for Canada, Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, answering questions in the Commons Monday about the Simushir incident did nothing more than speak off a prepared script, answering two questions from Nathan Cullen, NDP MP for Skeena Bulkley Valley and from Joyce Murray, Liberal MP from Vancouver Quadra, she said future operations were the responsibility of the private sector,

The Russian ship lost power outside Canadian waters in very rough weather. The private sector provides towing service to the marine industry.
We are grateful that the Canadian Coast Guard was able to keep the situation under control in very difficult conditions until the tug arrived from Prince Rupert.

Whitworth told the Globe that with increased tanker traffic whether LNG or bitumen, the number of tugs on the coast will increase, a point also made by supporters of the various projects.

But without a real commitment from the government for marine safety on the west coast, it is clear, even with the prospect of Very Large Crude Carriers with bitumen or Liquefied Natural Gas tankers plying the coast, the Harper Government considers marine safety nothing more than a case of a paper ship upon a paper ocean.

With such indifference, it is likely that local communities up and down the British Columbia coast will have to follow the example of the small town of Unalaska, population  4,376 in 2010 and create the northwest coast’s own emergency system.

Editorial: On the Simushir, Oceans Minister Gail Shea takes ministerial responsibility to a new low—the bottom of the sea

On Monday, October 20, 2014, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Gail Shea, stood in the House of Commons during Question Period and proved she is not up for the job.

Answering questions from  Opposition MPs about the incident of the Russian container ship, Simushir, which drifted dangerously close to the coast of Haida Gwaii, Shea got up and read a prepared script, a script with answers which ignored centuries of the laws and custom of the sea, as well as Canada’s own laws and treaty obligations, answers probably written by what are now known as “the kids in short pants” in the Prime Minister’s Office.

There was a time in this country when some ministers of the Crown took their responsibilities seriously. That idea that has decayed over the years and now has been gutted by the adminstration of Stephen Harper. As Ottawa pundits have noted recently, only a small handful of cabinet ministers in the Harper government have any real responsibility and only those  are permitted to answer questions by themselves in the Commons. According to most Ottawa insiders, the less important ministers, like Shea, are basically told what to do by the prime minister’s office.

Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, visited the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Leonard J. Cowley on Friday, December 6,  2013, to examine the fast rescue craft launching mechanism for offshore fishery patrols with Regional Director, Fleet, Stephen Decker and Captain Kerry Evely, Commanding Officer. The Cowley conducts fisheries patrols and monitors fishing activities under Canada's commitment to the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization. (DFO)
Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, visited the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Leonard J. Cowley on Friday, December 6, 2013, to examine the fast rescue craft launching mechanism for offshore fishery patrols with Regional Director, Fleet, Stephen Decker and Captain Kerry Evely, Commanding Officer. The Cowley conducts fisheries patrols and monitors fishing activities under Canada’s commitment to the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization. (DFO)

If the House of Commons under Harper could fall any lower, Shea’s attitude (or more likely the PMO’s attitude)  on ship and coastal safety takes the Commons and ministerial responsibility to a new low—the bottom of the sea.

Nathan Cullen, NDP MP for Skeena Bulkley Valley, who represents Haida Gwaii first asked. “Mr. Speaker, on Friday, a Russian ship carrying more than 500 million litres of bunker fuel lost all power just off the coast of Haida Gwaii.The Canadian Coast Guard vessel, the Gordon Reid, was hundreds of kilometres away, and it took almost 20 hours for it to reach the drifting ship. Thankfully, favourable winds helped keep the ship from running aground, and a private American tugboat eventually towed it to shore. Is the minister comfortable with a marine safety plan that is based on a U.S. tugboat and blind luck in order to keep B.C.’s coast safe?”

Shea responded.

“Mr. Speaker, luck had nothing to do with the situation.  The Russian ship lost power outside Canadian waters in very rough weather. The private sector provides towing service to the marine industry. We are grateful that the Canadian Coast Guard was able to keep the situation under control in very difficult conditions until the tug arrived from Prince Rupert.”

Cullen tried again:

“Mr. Speaker, if the government really wanted to show its gratitude to the Canadian Coast Guard maybe it would not have cut $20 million and 300 personnel from its budget. Even after the Gordon Reid arrived, its tow cable snapped three times. The Russian ship was only about a third as big as the huge supertankers that northern gateway would bring to the very same waters off the west coast. How can Conservatives, especially B.C. Conservatives, back their government’s plan to put hundreds of oil supertankers off the B.C. coast when we do not even have the capacity to protect ourselves right now?”

Shea replied: “Mr. Speaker, this Russian ship lost power outside of Canadian waters. The Canadian Coast Guard responded and kept the situation under control, under very difficult conditions, until the tug arrived from Prince Rupert.

We as a government have committed $6.8 billion through the renewal of the Coast Guard fleet, which demonstrates our support for the safety and security of our marine industries and for our environment.”

Related Link: Canadian Coast Guard Mid-Shore Patrol Vessel program

Next to try was Liberal MP Lawrence MacAulay from Cardigan.

“Mr. Speaker, the Russian container ship that drifted off the west coast raises serious concerns about the response capability of the Canadian Coast Guard. This serious situation was only under control when a U.S. tugboat arrived.”

Again Shea read her script: “This Russian ship lost power outside Canadian waters.  On the west coast, the private sector provides towing services to the marine industry.’

The final attempt by Liberal Joyce Murray, from Vancouver Quadra, also led to a scripted answer. “ this was a private towing vessel that came to tow the vessel that was in trouble.”

Shea’s answers, especially her repeated reference to “territorial waters” set off a series of “What the…?” posts on Twitter from west coast mariners and sailors, wondering if Shea knew anything about maritime law.

The first question one must ask was Shea actually not telling the whole truth to the House of Commons (which is forbidden by House rules) when she said the Simushir was outside Canadian waters? The Haida Nation, in a news release, (pdf) says the Simushir was “drifting about 12 Nautical Miles North West of Gowgaia Bay located off Moresby Island off Haida Gwaii.”

International law defines territorial waters  as a belt of coastal waters extending at most 12 nautical miles (22.2 km; 13.8 mi) from the baseline (usually the mean low-water mark) of a coastal state.

As Shea’s own DFO website says Canada has exercised jurisdiction over the territorial sea on its east and west coasts out to 12 nautical miles since 1970, first under the Territorial Sea and Fishing Zones Act and now under the Oceans Act. The baselines for measuring the territorial sea were originally set in 1967. While the exact position can and should be confirmed by the ship’s navigation logs and GPS track, it is clear that the container vessel could have been at one point after it lost power within Canada’s territorial waters.

Even if the Simushir wasn’t exactly within territorial waters, the ship was in what again Shea’s own DFO website calls the “contiguous zone “an area of the sea adjacent to and beyond the territorial sea. Its outer limit measures 24 nautical miles from the normal baseline zone.” In any case, the Simushir was well within what Canada says is its “exclusive economic zone” which extends 200 nautical miles from the coastal baseline.

Law of the Sea

So here is the first question about Shea’s competence.

How could she not know that the Simushir was well within Canadian jurisdiction, as defined by her own department’s website? Even if the minister hadn’t read the departmental website, wasn’t she properly briefed by DFO officials?

The second point, is that whether or not the Simushir was in  actually in Canada’s territorial waters is irrelevant. Custom going back centuries, and now the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea  and even the Canada Shipping Act all require the master of a capable vessel to render assistance once that vessel receives a distress call or sees that another vessel is in distress.

The Safety of Life at Sea Convention

… the master of a ship at sea which is in a position to be able to provide assistance, on receiving a signal from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance, if possible informing them or the search and rescue service that the ship is doing so.

And the Canada Shipping Act requires

Every qualified person who is the master of a vessel in any waters, on receiving a signal from any source that a person, a vessel or an aircraft is in distress, shall proceed with all speed to render assistance and shall, if possible, inform the persons in distress or the sender of the signal.

The master of a vessel in Canadian waters and every qualified person who is the master of avessel in any waters shall render assistance to every person who is found at sea and in danger of being lost.

Note the phrase any waters. Not just in Canadian territorial waters as the Shea, the minister responsible for the ocean seemed to imply in her Commons answers.

That once again calls into question Shea’s fitness to be a minister of the Crown.

If she did not know about the UN conventions on the law of the sea, of which Canada is signatory, or the Canada Shipping Act, she is not up for the job as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

If, as the minister responsible for oceans, she knew the law and was told by the PMO to mislead the House of Commons, she is is irresponsible and MPs should ask the Speaker if she actually broke the rules of the House.

 UN training document on the Law of the Sea Convention, including rescue at sea.  (pdf)

Regulation Seven of the Annex on Search and Rescue Services states

 Each Contracting Government undertakes to ensure that necessary arrangements are made for distress communication and co-ordination in their area of responsibility and for the rescue of persons in distress at sea around its coasts. These arrangements shall include the establishment, operation and maintenance of such search and rescue facilities as are deemed practicable and necessary, having regard to the density of the seagoing traffic and the navigational dangers, and shall, so far as possible, provide adequate means of locating and rescuing such persons.

Note that the regulation does not say within territorial waters, but “around its coasts.”

Rendering assistance

Canada has always rendered assistance to distressed vessels not just up and down the coast but around the world. Take the case of HMCS Chartlottetown. On February 3, 2008, HMCS Chartlottetown on anti-piracy and anti-terrorist patrol in the North Arabian Sea, spotted a rusty barge with some men stranded on the deck. It turned out the men were from Pakistan and that the vessel towing the barge had sunk with all hands, leaving only the men on the barge alive. The North Arabian Sea is far out side Canadian territorial waters.

In February, 2008. the crew of HMS Charlottown rescued the crew of a Pakistani barge that was drifting in the North Arabian sea after the tug that was hauling the barge sank. (MCS CHARLOTTETOWN’s approach team speaks to Pakistani crewmembers who were stranded on a barge after the vessel towing it sunk with their fellow crewmembers on board in the Northern Arabian Sea. MCS CHARLOTTETOWN’s approach team speaks to Pakistani crew members who were stranded on a barge after the vessel towing it sunk with their fellow crewmembers on board in the Northern Arabian Sea. (Cpl Robert LeBlanc,/Canadian Forces Combat Camera)
In February, 2008. the crew of HMCS Charlottetown rescued the crew of a Pakistani barge that was drifting in the North Arabian sea after the tug that was hauling the barge sank. (Cpl Robert LeBlanc,/Canadian Forces Combat Camera)

On must wonder then if the Harper Government, or at least Minister Shea is suggesting that this country ignore centuries of maritime law and custom and, in the future, pass that barge by because it was not in Canadian waters?

Perhaps buried in the next omnibus bill we will see the Harper Government restrict rescue at sea to Canadian territorial waters. Farfetched? Well that is what Minister Shea’s answer in the Commons seems to suggest.

Given the cutbacks to the Coast Guard services over the past few years, and if there are going to be large tankers, whether LNG or bitumen, on the west coast, it is an open question whether or not the Harper government has actually made  those “arrangements shall include the establishment, operation and maintenance of such search and rescue facilities as are deemed practicable and necessary, having regard to the density of the seagoing traffic and the navigational dangers, and shall, so far as possible, provide adequate means of locating and rescuing such persons.”

Now comes the question of the use of the tug Barbara Foss and the two Smit tugs that later joined to tow the Simushir into Prince Rupert harbour.

It is the responibility of the owner or manager of a disabled vessel, large or small, to contract with a tug or towing service to safely take it back to port. But, and it’s a big but, the tow begins only when it is safe to do so, if there is a danger of the ship foundering, sinking or running aground, it is the obligation of all the responding vessels to render assistance, not just the tug contracted to do the job.

(There are reports that the Simushir owners chose to hire the Barbara Foss rather than the heavy duty Smit tugs available at Prince Rupert. Jonathan Whitworth, CEO of Seaspan told Gary Mason of The Globe and Mail that there are about 80 boats on the west coast, capable of  heavy-duty towing, but noted that as in the case of the Simushir, those vessels may not be available when needed)

While around the Lower Mainland of BC, even a small boat that has run out of gas or has engine trouble can get commercial assistance from many service providers, the same is not true of the north coast, or at Haida Gwaii, where are no such regular services. Seapan’s Whitworth told The Globe and Mail there is often a 6,000 horsepower log hauling tug that works off Haida Gwaii. but he also noted that it would be too expensive to have a tug permanently moored on the archipelago.

That means mariners who run out of gas or have engine trouble, say on Douglas Channel, have to call Prince Rupert Coast Guard radio and request assistance either from nearby vessels or from the volunteer Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue  service. RCMSAR policy says that a the rescue boat will not tow a vessel if “commercial assistance is reguarly available.” If commercial assistance is not available RCMSAR is only obligated to tow the boat as far as a “safe haven,” where the boat can tie up safely or contract for that “commercial assistance.”

Here on Douglas Channel the safe haven is usually Kitimat harbour and thus during the summer frequently either a good  Samaritan vessel or RCMSAR take the disabled vessel all the way to MK Bay.

Shea’s pat answer to the Opposition questions only betrayed the fact that the east coast minister is woefully ignorant of conditions on the northern coast of British Columbia.

In the old days, a minister who screwed up so badly would be asked to resign. That never happens any more. Ministerial responsibility has sunk to the bottom of the sea.

The bigger picture question seems to be. Why, if the Harper government is so anxious to get hydrocarbons, whether bitumen or natural gas to “tide water” does it keep going out of its way to show its contempt for the people who live on Canada’s west coast?

A note for the voters of Prince Edward Island, where Shea is the member for Egmont. Consider this, if a ship gets into trouble outside the 12 mile limit, trouble that could threaten your beautiful red sandy beaches, you’re likely on your own.

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.

Kitimat votes: High turnout expected for Gateway ballot but what will the results mean to Kitimat?

No Enbridge t-shirts
Members of the Haisla Nation wear No Enbridge t-shirts at the finals of the Kitamaat Open Basketball Tournament, April 6, 2014. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

A high turnout is expected Saturday for the non-binding plebiscite where residents of the District of Kitimat can, perhaps, say yes or no to the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. In some ways, it all depends on how people interpret the convoluted question.

Warren Weychasen, Kitimat’s Deputy Administrative Officer said Thursday 910 people voted during advance polls on April 2 and April 9, compared to 470 over the two days of advance voting in the 2011 municipal election.

Even who can vote has can be the matter of heated debate. Members of the Haisla Nation who live in Kitamaat Village feel strongly that they should have a voice, even though legally they live outside the municipal boundaries. “It’s our land they’re talking about,” one Haisla member, who wouldn’t give his name, said Friday as he was getting off the Village bus at City Centre.

The District also decided to allow residents of Kitimat who have been here longer than 30 days to vote, even if they are not Canadian citizens.

Another group that can’t vote, many from outside the northwest region, are living at the Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization Camp or at smaller camps for the developing LNG projects. An informal poll of those workers at City Centre Friday showed that if camp workers had been allowed to cast a vote, many would have voted “yes,” something the opponents of Northern Gateway said they feared would overwhelm local residents.

The $6.5 billion project would see two pipelines, one carrying oil sands bitumen from Alberta to the port of Kitimat, and a second carrying a form of natural gas used to dilute the bitumen from Kitimat to Alberta. The bitumen would then be loaded onto tankers for shipment to Asia along environmentally sensitive areas of the British Columbia coast.

Janet Holder
Enbridge Vice President Janet Holder talks about the Northern Gateway project at an Open House April 8. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Northern Gateway’s campaign has concentrated on the promise of 180 permanent direct local jobs worth $17 million and more spinoff jobs for contractors and suppliers. The company also promises that the District will receive $5 million in property taxes.

Northern Gateway also emphasized its commitment to safety and the environment, saying that the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel that held two years of hearings on the project, has made many of the company’s voluntary commitments a mandatory part of the conditions for granting permission to go ahead.

The main opponent, Douglas Channel Watch, maintains that the risk from either a tanker accident or pipeline breach is too high for the small number of jobs Northern Gateway will bring to the community.

Advance voting
District residents vote in the advance poll, Wednesday, April 9. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Controversial question

Even the question, as chosen by the District of Kitimat Council, is controversial, because it focuses on the 209 conditions placed on the project by the Joint Review Panel:

Do you support the final report recommendations of the Joint Review Panel (JRP) of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and National Energy Board, that the Enbridge Northern Gateway project be approved, subject to 209 conditions set out in Volume 2 of the JRP’s final report?

After the district council decided on that question, debate on the wording continued through several council sessions in January and February.

Public delegations, some from Douglas Channel Watch, told council that there should be a simple yes or no question.

On January 13, Donny van Dyk, Northern Gateway’s local manager for coastal aboriginal and community relations, told council that the company preferred a series of simple questions, because “We avoid an adversarial feeling plebiscite and we generate dialogue and debate amongst the plebiscite but also so we as a proponent can come away with value and create a better project.”

Council rejected a proposal for a series of simple of questions, leaving voters to decide on whether or not they supported the Joint Review recommendations. That raised the question of whether voters would make their choice on some of the provisions of the report and not the project itself.

What does it mean?

That means that even Council is unsure of what the vote will mean.

The main reason for holding the non-binding plebiscite is that it fulfills a promise from an all candidates meeting during the municipal election in November 2011, where every candidate agreed to “poll” the citizens of Kitimat on Northern Gateway.

After the new council took office, on Jan. 16, 2012, it voted to hold some sort of poll or vote to find out whether the community supports the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project. At the time, it was unclear after the vote how the survey would take place.

For the almost two years of the Joint Review Panel, the District of Kitimat did little more than act as spectators when the JRP was in town, claiming its neutrality policy precluded participation.

The District could have participated without violating the neutrality provisions, but chose not to do so. It’s now clear that decision angered the Haisla Nation, as Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross said in a letter to the media, “the District stood by and did nothing”

The debate in the District of Kitimat Council on March 3 showed that even members of council were uncertain what the vote would mean.

Councillor Corinne Scott said, “As much as we wanted to know what the feeling of the community is, all we know so far is that we’re split. What the percentage of split is, we don’t know,” said Scott.

Councillor Phil Germuth said the vote is not on the project itself, but on the Joint Review decision. “We’re asking about 209 conditions that nobody understands fully. Even Enbridge doesn’t fully understand them.”

Councillor Edwin Empinado said once the results are known, that would give the District “more bargaining power” in future dealing with company and the federal government, a sentiment echoed by Douglas Channel Watch which admits the vote will do little more than send a message to Ottawa.

It was Northern Gateway’s decision to put major resources into the campaign that raised the profile of what was originally intended as way of discovering the feeling in the small community. With the ruling from the Joint Review Panel that Northern Gateway is in the national interest and the final decision in the hands of the federal cabinet, it is equally uncertain what effect, if any, the vote will have on Ottawa.

Acrimonious debate

Throughout the hearings, most people in Kitimat kept their views to themselves. When the campaign began in earnest, which in turn, triggered a fierce and often acrimonious debate on social media, mainly on the Facebook group Kitimat Politics, showing the divide in the community, although it appears from the comments that there are more opponents than supporters on the forum. The e-debate on Kitimat Politics is continuing up to the last minute Friday night and will likely get hotter once the results are known.

The adversarial feeling that van Dyk had said the company wanted to avoid was amplified in the past month when Northern Gateway began an aggressive public relations campaign with newspaper ads, glossy brochures and a door-to-door campaign by employees, some brought in from Alberta.

When news of Northern Gateway’s campaign effort spread on social media, which in turn prompted a counter campaign using the hashtag #adsforkitimat. Ads created by people from across BC were posted on Facebook and YouTube.

Campaign signs
Campaign signs on Haisla Blvd. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Campaign spending

Douglas Channel Watch positioned itself as the David vs. the Enbridge Goliath.

On Monday, Murray Minchin of Douglas Channel Watch told Council, “When Kitimat and northern BC residents found out how many resources Enbridge was pouring into their Kitimat plebiscite advertising campaign, some of those citizens made unsolicited donations to Douglas Channel Watch. This has allowed our small group to mount an advertising campaign of our own.” Minchin said donations went up after the group launched a website adding, “People began handing us money on the street while we were putting up lawn signs. Somebody, anonymously, left a $2,000 money order in one of our member’s mailboxes.

On Thursday, Douglas Channel Watch released its advertising budget showing that the organization spent $10,970.00 on print media ads, $792.92 on supplies, and has an outstanding debt of approximately $2,600.00 in radio ads, for a total of $14,362.92. Minchin challenged Enbridge to release its own ad budget.

Ivan Giesbrecht, a spokesperson for Northern Gateway said in an e-mail to the media that the company “will discuss our advertising spending after it’s over [the plebiscite] this weekend.” Late Friday, Giesbrecht released partial figures to the Northern Sentinel, saying the company had spent $6,500 in print and $3,100 on radio advertisements during the campaign.

Those figures don’t include the glossy brochures Northern Gateway distributed in the community, sponsored posts on Facebook, or the signs the dot the streets of Kitimat.

Douglas Channel Watch did put up signs. Many were recycled from earlier protests, came from Friends of the Wild Salmon or were created by volunteers from as far away as Smithers.

Giesbrecht told the Sentinel  said the company felt that the discussion in the community about which side of the vote has spent more had “become a distraction” from the real issues. But instead of a discussion on jobs and taxes, on Friday night there was a raging debate on Kitimat Politics on Facebook about the Gateway release on its spending and what was missing from those figures.

Owen McHugh of Northern Gateway
Northern Gateway’s Owen McHugh explains the “supertugs” during a Powerpoint presentation at the Open House (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Super tugs

On a cold and rainy Tuesday afternoon, Northern Gateway hosted an Open House and barbeque at the Rod and Gun. Northern Gateway not only outlined the jobs they say the project would create, but emphasized how far along the company is coming in meeting BC Premier Christy Clark’s condition for a “world-class” tanker spill prevention and response system.

Janet Holder, Enbridge Vice President of Western Access described what she and Northern Gateway staff called “super tugs,” 50 metres long. “One will be tethered to the tanker, one will be following the tanker,” Holder said. “So there will be two escorts whenever that tanker is in Canadian waters. The important thing about the tugs is not just they can move that tanker if it get into difficulty. It also contains emergency response equipment right with the tankers. We’ll also have strategically placed barges with emergency response equipment along the shorelines. We will be bringing in an enormous amount of equipment before we even start operating.”

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.” The tugs will also have firefighting capability. “The salvage capability that BC describes as ‘world-class,’ Northern Gateway is bringing that to the north coast,” McHugh said.

The plebiscite has raised tensions between the District of Kitimat and the nearby Haisla First Nation, which adamantly opposed to Northern Gateway.

Haisla anger

Haisla chief counsellor Ellis Ross wrote a scathing letter to local media, saying, in part:

Deciding to hold a referendum at this late date is a slap in the face to all the work done by the Haisla Nation on this project. The Haisla Nation dedicated time and money toward testing Northern Gateway’s evidence and claims about safety and environmental protection, while the District stood by and did nothing.

The review process for this project has already left town, with the District taking no position on the project. Still undecided on what its views are on the project, the District now proposes to conduct a poll, instead of examining the facts in the JRP process. A poll to vote on a JRP report that we view as wrong to begin with including the flawed process itself!

On Sunday, the Haisla Senior Women were playing the Prince Rupert Thunder in finals of the annual Kitimat Open Basketball Tournament which has the aim of promoting “Cultural Warming” among everyone living in northwestern BC. At half time, members of the Haisla Nation distributed black T-shirts labelled with “No Enbridge” to spectators in the bleachers. After the Haisla won the game, 67 to 45, as Kitimat mayor Joanne Monaghan was called on to congratulate the winners, she was greeted by chants of “No Enbridge, No Enbridge.”

At Tuesday’s Open House, one of the audience asked Enbridge officials, including Janet Holder, “Why are you ignoring the Haisla?”

Donny van Dyke responded, “We are actively working to strengthen that relationship….” Then when the questioner persisted, van Dyke said, “With this question perhaps it’s better to take it offline.” Then he asked, “Are there any other questions?”

Special meeting

Monaghan has said the council will wait for the outcome before taking a stand. District Council has called a special meeting on Monday night to consider the results of the plebiscite.

For years the District of Kitimat has been officially neutral but voting over the past years shows that council is evenly split on Enbridge issues with swing votes sometimes going one way and sometimes another on what are often four to three votes.

The federal cabinet has until mid-June, 180 days after the release of the Joint Review decision to approve the panel’s findings. It is expected by most observers that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will give the go ahead. That doesn’t mean the project will start immediately, the Joint Review findings already face about a dozen court challenges from First Nations and environmental groups.

Minchin said Saturday’s non-binding plebiscite “is not going to affect the Prime Minister’s decision per se. But it’s very important for Enbridge to squeak out a win here in Kitimat. It’s just my feeling that this proposal is associated with way too many risks for very little gain.

“If it comes back as a ‘no’ from Kitimat, it’s a clear signal back to Ottawa that they really need to rethink their priorities. For the amount of bitumen that would be coming here and exported as a raw product’ that same amount of bitumen would provide a couple of thousand direct jobs in Alberta. It seems crazy to be shipping off all our raw resources without any upgrading, it’s like raw log exports.”

Enbridge Vice President Janet Holder, speaking at the Open House said, “This is not a pie in the sky type project, it is real, we do have the shippers behind us, we have First Nations behind us.”

Outreach continues

No matter what happens Saturday, both sides will continue to push their positions.

Holder said she would not speculate on the outcome of the plebiscite, “We’re going to communities throughout British Columbia, talking to citizens, providing the information, listening to their concerns. We’re just continuing with that outreach and we’ll continue with that outreach over the next year.”

How Kitimat voters cast their ballots depends on factors that go beyond the simple environment versus economy and jobs argument, so the outcome of Saturday’s plebiscite is far from certain.

In 2010, West Fraser’s Eurocan paper mill closed, with the loss of 500 jobs, a devastating blow to Kitimat’s economy. The Eurocan closure, the earlier closure of a Methanex plant and cutbacks at the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter and the abandonment of mills and mine across the northwest in recent years have left many people skeptical of corporate promises of jobs. Others believe the Northern Gateway project, along with proposed Liquefied Natural Gas projects in Kitimat and Prince Rupert will bring a much needed boost to a struggling economy.

Even though Kitimat has been an industrial town since the aluminum smelter was built in the 1950s, most residents fish in the Kitimat River, boat on Douglas Channel and hike or hunt in the back country, which means environmental concerns are always high on the agenda. There are fears even among some supporters of Northern Gateway of an environmental disaster.
Northern Gateway, which has admitted that its relations with northern communities started off badly in the early stages of the project, has a lot of catching up to do, no matter what the outcome of the plebiscite.

Nathan Cullen, NDP MP for Skeena Bulkley Valley and Opposition Finance Critic came to Kitimat last week to assist Douglas Channel Watch with its door-to-door campaign. “There will be PhDs written on how Enbridge blundered this,” Cullen told reporters at the time.

 

(Spelling of van Dyk was corrected. We regret the error)

 

 

 

 

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

 

Bitumen excluded from data for federal tanker study, documents reveal

Tanker risk map
Transport Canada tanker report map shows current risk for spills in BC (Transport Canada)

 

Genivar report
Cover of Genivar tanker report (Transport Canada)

 

The possible effects of a bitumen spill on Pacific waters were not considered in the oil response preparedness report released last week by the Harper government, the background data study reveals.

The consulting firm that did the study for Transport Canada, Genivar Inc, had no reliable data on the effect of a bitumen tanker disaster—because, so far, there has been no major ocean disaster involving diluted bitumen.

Instead, Genivar, based its findings on potential hazards and response on existing data on crude oil spills.

The Genivar study, however, does warn, that if the Enbridge Northern Gateway project does go ahead,  the spill risk from diluted bitumen carrying tankers in Douglas Channel and along the north Pacific coast will jump from “low” or “medium” to “very high.” If the twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline goes ahead, then the risk in Vancouver also jumps to “very high.”

The question of how bitumen might behave in the cold and choppy waters of the North Pacific was hotly debated during the Northern Gateway Joint Review hearings earlier this year. Enbridge Northern Gateway based its position on laboratory studies, studies that were challenged by environmental and First Nations intervenors, pointing both to the unknowns of the ocean environment and the continuing problems Enbridge has in cleaning up the spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.

Genivar tried to base its report to Transport Canada on existing data on oil spills and related hazards. What it found instead is that that there are often gaping holes in the reporting and monitoring of oil spills world wide, especially small and medium sized spills.

Lack of data also meant that Genivar had little to go on when it calculated the effect on an oil spill on key areas of interest to northwest British Columbia, the recreational fishery and tourism.
Genivar, however, did uncover disturbing data about the long term effects of oil spills, studies that show even minute amounts of remaining oil can still disrupt the marine environment 40 years after an event.

The Genivar report, Risk Assessment for Marine Spills in Canadian Waters Phase 1: Oil Spills South of 60th Parallel, was completed in November, then passed on to the “expert panel” that released their own report: A Review of Canada’s Ship-source Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Regime — Setting the Course for the Future. That second report was based not only on the data provided by Genivar but on the expertise of three panel members, their visits to some locations and input from government, industry, First Nations and municipalities.

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver unveiled the second report at a glitzy media event  in Vancouver on Tuesday, December 10. At that time the expert panel report was released to the media along with an abstract of the data.

The actual data report was not posted; it had to be requested through the Transport Canada website, which is how Northwest Coast Energy News obtained the background study.

High risk for Kitimat

Transport Canada tanker report
Expert panel tanker risk assessment report cover (Transport Canada)

The expert panel found “a very high risk” of oil spills in two areas of the Pacific Coast, in the north around the ports of Kitimat and Prince Rupert and in the heavy ocean traffic area of southern British Columbia, especially Port Metro Vancouver and into Washington State.

The expert panel made 45 recommendations that covered a wide range of issues including eliminating the present $161-million liability limit for each spill and replacing it with unlimited liability for polluters, annual spill training involving the Canadian Coast Guard, Environment Canada, provincial and local authorities and the private sector, increased and improved annual spill training exercises, basing risk assessment on local geography and conditions and faster emergency responses to spills.

The expert panel calls for greatly increased research on the ocean environment at a time that Harper government has been gutting environmental research across Canada, while spinning that its policies are “science based.”

The science and technology around both the movement of oil and spill response has advanced significantly over the past several decades. We feel that while some aspects of the Regime have kept pace with these developments, in some areas, Canada has fallen behind world-leading countries like Norway and France. This can be attributed to a general lack of investment in research and development as well as the lack of coordination between industry and government over research priorities.

The Government of Canada should work closely with industry to establish a national research and development program for oil spill preparedness and response. The program should be co-funded by industry and the Government, and the research priorities should be set through a collaborative process that involves academia, where possible. Like the Regime itself, we view this program as a partnership between industry and government.

We envision that this program would also seek to leverage the work being done internationally on oil spill preparedness and response. The program should seek to establish partnerships with other world-leading countries in order to stay current on international advances and new technologies.

The expert panel, however, does not say how the federal government is expected to pay for meeting BC Premier Christy Clark’s condition for a “world class” spill prevention and response system at a time that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is determined to balance the budget and the Harper government is continuing to cut back government services.

Bitumen excluded

On bitumen, the Genivar data study says:

Modified bitumen products represent the majority of the “crude carried as cargo” in
Pacific sub-sector 5. They are not modelled as a separate category in this spill behaviour analysis but are represented as “persistent crude”.

Changes in spill behaviour depend to some extent on the environmental conditions at the time of the spill, as described in greater detail below. However, over the range of wind and sea conditions typically experienced in the Canadian marine environment, changes in oil properties are not overly sensitive to variations in climatic values, so a single set of wind and sea conditions will be used in the analysis.

The idea that “changes in oil properties” not being sensitive to variations in climate was also frequently challenged before the Joint Review Panel.

On the increase in traffic volume if the Northern Gateway project goes ahead, the Genivar report says.

Enbridge Inc. has proposed to construct a marine terminal at Kitimat, B.C. and a dual pipeline from the terminal to oil sands production in northern Alberta. The terminal would handle up to 193,000 barrels/day of imported diluents (i.e., low-gravity condensate) that would be piped to Alberta and used to dilute bitumen to enhance its flow properties. The diluted bitumen would then be piped to Kitimat at rates up to 525,000 barrels/day that would be shipped by tanker to export to markets in Asia and California.

At full capacity, the import of diluent and export of diluted bitumen would total up to 35 Mt/year. This amount is comparable to the currently-shipped volume in the Pacific sector related to volumes being exported from Vancouver and related to volumes being exported from the Alaskan to Washington State trade.

It goes on to say that the current tanker traffic on the north Pacific coast “has negligible risk in the near shore and intermediate zones, but significant potential spill frequency in the deep-sea zone related to the Alaskan trade.” Similarly, according to Genivar the environmental risk in the region “currently ranges from ‘medium’ to “very low” from near shore to deep-sea zones, respectively…. mainly driven by a combination of physical and biological features.”

The increase in traffic from Northern Gateway would likely increase the environmental risks. The the near shore risk from would jump from “very low” to “very high.” For the largest spill category, deep-sea risk would likely increase from “low” to “medium.”

No data on recreational or traditional First Nations fishery

To study the effect on an oil spill on the fishery, Genivar used data from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as the provinces to gauge “the port value of commercial fishing and the value of the fish, shellfish and aquaculture” in each zone it studied and then compared it to the the national averages for commercial fishery. Those figures included any commercial fishery by First Nations.

But Genivar noted, there is no reliable data on either the recreational fishery or the First Nations traditional, food, social and ceremonial fishery, saying:

It is important to highlight that this indicator does not consider recreational or traditional fishing. The importance of this industry is notable and an oil spill could damage the recreational fishing stock as well. However, the absence of comparable data and the fact that this study is restricted to federal and international data, and some provincial data from Quebec and Ontario for commercial fisheries, limits the ability to include recreational fishing… Nevertheless, as an absolute index, it will provide an overall vulnerability in the event of an oil spill.

The ongoing impact of cutbacks at Fisheries and Oceans has had a continuing impact on the northwest, especially in the controversial halibut recreational fishery, where DFO has admitted that it is basically guessing the size of each year’s recreational halibut catch.

Tourism

Genivar also notes that lack of reliable data on the effect on a oil spill on tourism. The consultants go so far as to say one of the indicators they will use to measure the effect of any oil spill on tourism would come from “data extracted from the 2011 National Household Survey at the census division level and the accommodation and food services data will be used.”

The “National Household Survey” is also known as the long form census and it is the National Household Survey that the Harper government made voluntary rather mandatory, decreasing the reliability of the data. Global News recently analyzed those who had contributed to the survey and found that it poor people, the very rich and people in low population areas were least likely to fill out the voluntary census—which means the data for northwest BC is likely highly unreliable from the 2011 survey even though “The census divisions in coastal regions will be selected for each of the sub-sectors. This method will express the economic vulnerability of each sub-sector to a potential collapse in tourism following a spill.”

Despite the importance of cruise ship traffic on the west coast, Genivar notes, “In Canada, data for passenger vessels were unavailable.”

It also notes that “this study does not specifically take into account national parks and other landmarks, since their influence on tourism is indirectly included in the tourism employment
intensity index” so that Genivar could create what it calls the Human-Use Resource Index (HRI), even though that index appears to be based on incomplete data.

Tanker study shows huge gaps in shipping and hazard data, documents show

The study of tanker shipping and tanker spills by Genivar for Transport Canada has revealed huge gaps in how the world monitors tanker traffic.

Genivar report
Cover of Genivar tanker report (Transport Canada)

Genivar says

Accident data was acquired from three main sources: the CCG Marine Pollution Incident Reporting System (MPIRS); the Lloyd’s casualty database; and spill incident records maintained by the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF).

MPIRS lists all marine pollution incidents occurring in Canadian waters (CCG, 2013), with information on the region within Canada in which the incident occurred, type of material spilled, accident cause, and estimated pollution volume with multiple entries for a given incident showing updates of incident status and pollution amounts if applicable. The primary use of MPIRS in this study was for spill incidents in the smaller size categories… for which worldwide data was suspected to be unreliable due to under-reporting. MPIRS appeared to be a comprehensive listing of incidents that occurred in Canadian waters, and a summary of polluting incidents

It goes on to note that some key data has not been updated since the 1990s, largely prior to the introduction of double hulled tankers.

As noted, oil spill accidents were compiled on a worldwide basis.

In order to estimate the frequency for Canada, an exposure variable was required.

A series of studies by the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS, now known as
the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement) investigated the occurrence rates of tanker accidents against various spill exposure variables and found that the simplest and most reliable indicator was volume of oil transported. Simply put, it was determined that spill rates could be expressed, for a range of spill size categories, as an average number of spills per billion barrels transported.

The MMS studies were updated periodically until the 1990s but have not been revisited since, but they did show a steady decrease in the likelihood of casualties and resulting spill volumes, due to a number of factors including tanker design, increasing governance and overall scrutiny of the marine transportation industry. The phased-in implementation of double-hull tankers may have also had a beneficial effect on spill rates in more recent years, particularly in the category of very large or catastrophic events… In any case, it is important in interpreting accident data to reflect current trends and implemented mitigation measures. The focus was on cargo volumes and accident rates over the past decade.

It goes on to say the volumes of crude carried is also under-reported to Lloyds.

In the case of crude oil and refined products carried as cargo, the exposure variable was simply the volume of each respective category carried on an annual basis for the period of interest. Information from the Lloyds APEX database was used for this purpose; it reports volumes of crude and refined products shipped worldwide, with a breakdown by year, country of origin, and country of destination. Compared with similar data from Canadian sources, the APEX data appeared to significantly under-report the carriage of refined products. As a result, the accident rates estimated and used in this study are likely somewhat conservative, that is, they overstate the likely frequency of refined products carried as cargo. For all calculations involving the potential spillage of refined products as cargo in Canadian waters, and for the apportioning of spill frequency among the various sectors and sub-sectors of Canada, Transport Canada commodity traffic data was used

Again about Lloyds data, until 2010, it was limited in its monitoring of the BC Coast.

In analyzing the Canadian movement data supplied by Lloyds, a major shortcoming was found in the data in that movements recorded prior to 2010 did not include broad classes of vessels such as ferries, passenger vessels, and pilot boats. Given that these vessels comprise a significant proportion of traffic movement in many sectors, only data covering the final two years of the record, 2010 and 2011, were used in the analysis.

The Lloyds data was also limited when it came to oil spills:

One limitation of the MPIRS data was that it did not classify spills as to whether they were from “cargo” as opposed to “fuel”, which would have been helpful in this study as these spill types were analyzed separately. As a result, for spills of refined products, which could have hypothetically been either cargo or fuel, assumptions were made based on the type of vessel involved, the type and severity of the incident, and other notes within MPIRS.

A database was acquired from Lloyds that detailed all marine casualties over the
past ten years regardless of whether the incident involved pollution…
This database was used to provide a breakdown of incidents by cause, and as an
initial listing of those incidents that did result in pollution. The Lloyds data was of
mixed quality when it came to the reporting of polluting incidents, with numerous
records only partially filled out, ambiguities in the reporting of spill volume, and
inconsistencies in the classification of the spilled material. A significant effort was
made to provide consistency and accuracy in the information, including cross-
referencing with other data sources.

 

So the Genivar report exposes a significant gap in the available data on oil spills.

It is certainly true that the number of major tanker accidents and spills have decreased since the Exxon Valdez disaster, a point frequently made by Enbridge at meetings in northwestern BC.

The expert panel report which said that Canada faces the risk of a major tanker disaster of 10,000 tonnes or more once every 242 years.

The Vancouver Sun quoted Transport Canada spokeswoman Jillian Glover on that risk of a spill on the Pacific Coast as saying. “This value must be understood in relative terms, such that the risk is considered high compared to the rest of the country only…Canada enjoys a very low risk of a major oil spill, evidenced by the lack of Canadian historical spills in the larger categories. Additionally, this risk assessment is before any mitigation measures have been applied, so that is a theoretical number before additional prevention initiatives are taken.”

Note that the government always talks about a “major oil spill,” but it appears from the gaps in the data that predicting the possibility and consequences of a medium sized or smaller oil spill is now not that reliable, even though such a spill could have disastrous effects on a local area. According to a map in both reports, the entire BC coast is at risk for a “low to medium” spill. This echoes the problems with the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, where Enbridge based most of its projections on a “full bore breach” or major pipeline break and did little about a medium sized or smaller leak. Data analysis by Kelly Marsh of Douglas Channel Watch on the possibility of the cumulative effects of a medium sized and possibly undetected pipeline breach could have just as disastrous consequences for the Kitimat valley as a major pipeline break. The same is likely true at sea.

Oil spill dangers can linger for 40 years, report shows

Genivar report
Cover of Genivar tanker report (Transport Canada)

The Genivar report for Transport Canada on oil spills say that some persistent effects can last for more than 40 years, based on a study of a spill in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The report  notes that persistent sub-surface oil is still a problem at Prince William Sound, site of the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989.

On long-term effects, Genivar reports: “The ingestion of contaminated food (such as oiled mussels), may represent the most important exposure pathway for aquatic fauna during a chronic
phase. Chronic exposure to contaminated sediments is also important for fauna or
vegetation.”

 

 

 

It goes on to stay that “large-scale oil spills might have considerable long-term
consequences on social structure and public health, interfering with traditions and
causing cultural disruptions.”

It appears that in the case of an oil-spill, time may heal some wounds, but not all of them, at least if time is considered within human lifetimes and the lifetimes of other species.

Ecological recovery is measured by how quickly individuals and populations of
species return to pre-spill conditions. It is determined by factors such as oil type,
exposure duration, water temperature, degree of weathering, spill response and the
individual and species-specific life history traits. In most environmental habitats,
recovery is completed within 2-10 years after a spill event, but in some exceptional
cases, such as in salt marshes, effects may be measurable for decades after the
event.

In the case of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound… in 1989, the persistence of sub-surface oil in sediments and its chronic exposure continues to affect some of the wildlife through delayed population reductions, indirect effects and trophic interactions 20 years beyond the acute phase of the spill.

It then goes on to stay that

Four decades after the oil spill In Wild Harbor (USA), Spartina alterniflora beds had a reduced stem density and biomass and mussels in oiled locations showed decreased growth and filtration rates.

According to a Boston Globe story, published at the time of the Deepwater Horizon oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, in 2010, the Wild Harbor, an oil barge ran aground near Cape Cod in September, 1969, spilling 200,000 gallons of fuel, some of which is still there.

The Boston Globe story noted:

Today, Wild Harbor looks much like any other Cape Cod marsh, but the oil below the surface affects its resiliency. Fiddler crabs normally burrow deep down, funneling oxygen to the roots of marsh grass. Here, they stop digging when they reach the oil, turn sideways, and burrow back to the surface. They also act “drunk’’ from the oil they ingest, and predators can catch them more easily, research shows.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute has been studying the Wild Harbor spill for the past 40 years.

At a recent conference, Dr. John Teal updated scientists on the “multi-decadal effects” of the Wild Harbor spill. According a blog on the conference:

At the time of the 1969 spill, lobsters, clams, and fish died by the thousands, but most people believed the harm would be temporary, reflecting the conventional wisdom of the time. Barge owners and oil industry experts even told residents that most of the oil would evaporate and any damage would only be short-lived. However, researchers at WHOI were not so sure and immediately began cataloging species and tracking where the oil was and kept at it for years. The researchers understood that the immediate, short term effects of oil pollution were already obvious and fairly well-understood, but that everyone was rather ignorant about the long-term and low-level effects of an oil spill….

Beginning three to five years after the spill, marsh grasses and marsh animals were again occupying most of the oiled area. An observer unfamiliar with Wild Harbor would not have been able to visually detect the oiled areas after just 10 years, and by the second decade after the spill, the marsh’s appearance had returned to normal. However, the WHOI researchers pointed out that for more than a decade after the spill, an oil sheen still appeared on the surface of the water when mud from the most heavily oiled parts of the marsh was disturbed….

In 2007, WHOI researchers documented that a substantial amount of moderately degraded petroleum still remained within the sediment and along eroding creek banks of the marsh oiled in 1969. They also demonstrated that the ribbed mussels that inhabit the oiled salt marsh, and are exposed to the oil, exhibited slower growth rates, shorter mean shell lengths, lower condition indices, and decreased filtration rates even when placed in a healthy marsh. Researchers have also documented detrimental effects of the 1969 oil spill on the salt marsh plants themselves.

 

Related Oil Spill on the Wild Harbor Marsh by John M. Teal and Kathryn A. Burns
The Genivar report goes on to note:

Long-term effects on the population in the aquatic environment (especially on mobile fauna) are especially difficult to confirm. Benthic [bottom dwelling] invertebrates may be more at risk than fish species due to the fact that more or less sessile organisms are likely to suffer higher initial rates of mortality and exhibit long recovery times as a result of
exposure to oil-saturated habitats.

Nearshore demersal [bottom-dwelling] fish can also suffer from long-term chronic exposure, as indicated in masked greenlings and crescent gunnels by biomarkers on hydrocarbons 10 years after the Exxon Valdez spill. Mortality in sea ducks and sea turtles due to chronic exposure was also reported many years after the spill and other results indicate that effects on cetacean populations can last beyond 20 years after the acute exposure phase.

As for the recovery of the economy after a spill, Genivar notes it is based “on the time required for effected industries to be fully restored to pre-spill conditions.

The length of time required is influenced by the duration of the aquatic area closures (e.g. commercial fisheries, recreational fisheries), the public perceptions on seafood safety and the perceived effects of the aesthetic quality of the environment. Even after the full ecological recovery of the aquatic resources, fisheries can be far from reestablished, as is still the case for herring fisheries in the Exxon Valdez spill area…

As reviewed by Genivar, negative perceptions associated with the quality of fishery products, even for fisheries that have not been contaminated and also for regions not directly affected by the spill, can be far more important than the direct economic losses. This also holds true for the tourism sector and all other related spinoff sectors.