“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

Dilbit dangerous to young fish, laboratory study shows

Diluted bitumen, also known as dilbit, a mixture of oil sands bitumen and natural gas dilutants can seriously harm fish populations, according to research study at Queen’s University and the Royal Military College of Canada published this week.

At toxic concentrations, effects of dilbit on exposed fish included deformities and clear signs of genetic and physiological stress at hatch, plus abnormal or uninflated swim bladders, an internal gas-filled organ that allows fish to control their buoyancy. Exposure to dilbit reduces their rate of survival by impairing their ability to feed and to avoid predators.

Post-doctoral fellow Barry Madison works with the fish in Valerie Langlois' lab. (Queen's University)
Post-doctoral fellow Barry Madison works with the fish in Valerie Langlois’ lab. (Queen’s University)

Among the other findings from the study were

    • Embryo toxicity of dilbit was comparable to that of conventional oils.
    • Developmental malformations increased with increasing dilbit concentrations.
    • Chemical dispersion broadened the genotoxic effects of dilbit

“This new study provides a clearer perspective on the potential risks to Canada’s aquatic resources of dilbit spills, and a technical basis for decisions on dilbit transportation within Canada,” says Peter Hodson Environment Studies, Biology at Queens. “It reduces some of the uncertainty and unknowns about the hazards of dilbit.”

This study characterized the toxicity and physiological effects of unweathered diluted bitumen (Access Western Blend dilbit; AWB) to a fish used for laboratory studies. Embryos of Japanese medaka (Oryzias latipes) were exposed for 17 days to dilutions of dilbit physically-dispersed by water and chemically-dispersed by dispersants

AWB dilbit exposure was not lethal to medaka, but resulted in a high prevalence of blue sac disease (BSD), impaired development, and abnormal or un-inflated swim bladders. Blue sac is a disease of young trout and other salmonid species; usually caused by unsuitable hatchery water. It turns the yolk sac bluish and is thought to be caused by a lack of oxygen.

The research was funded by Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s National Contaminants Advisory Group and the next stage will determine whether fish species native to Canada will be affected by dilbit exposure. The work also includes the development of genetic markers of exposure to dilbit and toxicity that could be used to assess whether wild fish that survive a spill are still affected.

The research team includes Dr. Valérie Langlois (Environmental Studies, Royal Military College of Canada) and Dr. Barry Madison (Royal Military College of Canada).

Dr. Hodson is also a member of a Queen’s research team tasked to determine whether dilbit spilled into rivers would contaminate bed sediments, specifically areas where fish such as salmon, trout, chars, whitefish and graylings spawn, to the extent that the survival of their embryos would be affected.

The research was published in ScienceDirect and is one of the first studies of dilbit on young fish.

The finding could be significant because both the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and the proposed Kinder Morgan expansion will cross areas near spawning streams.

Kitimat Council endorses David Black’s Kitimat Clean refinery proposal

David Black
Publisher David Black chats with members of the environmental group Douglas Channel Watch, prior to Kitimat Council, May 5, 2014. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

District of Kitimat Council Monday endorsed, in a six to one vote, publisher David Black’s proposal for a refinery at Onion Flats north of Kitimat.

The motion, proposed by Councillor Mario Feldhoff was:

 

That the District of Kitimat write a letter to the Prime Minister, copying the Premier of BC, endorsing Mr. David Black’s Kitimat Clean refinery proposal and asking that it be supported  by senior levels of government, thereby reducing  environmental impacts and risks associated with the Northern Gateway, while significantly increasing economic value-added  and associated taxation benefits to the Pacif Northwest, BC and Canada.

The lone dissenting vote came from Councillor Rob Goffinet, who wanted a more generic motion, dropping direct references to David Black’s proposal and replacing it with the term “value added.”

Before the vote, Black made a presentation to Council outlining details of the proposal. Black will be hosting a public meeting on the proposal at Riverlodge at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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

 

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

The federal government’s main consultation with First Nations on the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel report is limited to just three simple questions that had to be answered within 45 days, according to documents seen by Northwest Coast Energy News.

Joint Review Panel cover
Cover of Volume 1 of the Joint Review Panel ruling on Northern Gateway

That despite the fact that the first volume of the JRP report “Connections” is 76 pages and the second volume “Considerations” is 418 pages including the 209 recommendations and appendices and came after two years of hearings and tens of thousands of pages of evidence.

On Dec. 6 and again on Dec. 16, 2013, just prior to the release of the Joint Review Panel report, Brett Maracle, Crown Consultation Coordinator at the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency for the Northern Gateway project wrote to the First Nations potentially affected by Northern Gateway, saying their response had to be filed within 45 days of the release of the JRP. Since the report was released on December 19, 2013, that made the initial deadline January 31, 2014.

The letter also told the First Nations that if they wanted their positions included in the “Crown Consultation Report” that would be part of the package on Northern Gateway presented to the federal cabinet, that position had to be limited to just two to three pages “given the number of groups involved” with a final deadline of April 16, 2014.

Maracle’s letters used the term Phase IV to define the post JRP consultations, implying there were three earlier stages of consultation, something many First Nations have disputed, especially since the Harper government had earlier maintained that the JRP itself was the constitutionally mandated consultation.

The cabinet has until June 19, 2014, 180 days after the release of the report to approve the issuing of the federal permits for the Northern Gateway project. Consultation with First Nations on projects such as the Northern Gateway is required by the Constitution and has been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The three questions outlined in the letter were:

  • Does the Report appropriately character the concerns you raised during the JRP process?
  • Do the recommendations and conditions in the Panel Report address some/all of your concerns?
  • Are there any “outstanding” concerns that are not addressed in the Panel Report? If so, do you have recommendations (i.e proposed accommodation measures) how to address them?

Consultation on implementation

The third question appears to confirm what most political observers have said, approval of the Northern Gateway by the Harper cabinet is a a forgone conclusion, since Maracle speaks of “accommodation measures.” When the JRP approved the Northern Gateway project, the panel said that Enbridge’s proposed “mitigation” measures in case of a spill were adequate, something environmental groups and First Nations are now disputing in court.

It appears from the correspondence seen by Northwest Coast Energy News, that the federal government will only consider further specific consultations with First Nations after the approval of the Northern Gateway and only then on the implementation and construction process, rather than consulting on the project as a whole.

The Haisla have filed a document in response to the JRP that notes that

The Haisla Nation needs to understand Canada’s views of the role that future federal decisions might play for the proposed project. In its December 12, 2013 to Mr. Maracle, the Haisla Nation asked the federal government to provide a comprehensive list of the regulatory permits which would be issued the the federal government decision-makers in Haisla Nation Territory in the event the proposed project is approved and describe the consultation process that would occur prior to decisions being on those regulatory permits, within 45 days of the issuance of the JRP Report.

Mr. Maracle’s January 29, 2014 [reply] suggests that the only future federal decisions on the proposed project which may entail consultation are specific watercourse crossing and fish habitat destruction permits issued by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Whole-of-government

One of the problems reaching back to long before the Joint Review Panel hearings began is that the Harper government policy was what they called a “whole-of-government” approach in its consultations with First Nations, saying: “The Crown is open to discussing how consultation with the framework provided will be carried out.”

In their repose, the Haisla say the federal government never defined how the “whole-of-government” approach to First Nations was going to work and noted:

What Canada should have realized is that it has a very real obligation to consult with the Haisla Nation at the deepest end of the consultation spectrum that cannot be pigeon-holed into a one size fits all approach.

Further, the term whole-of-government is misleading, as this approach actually prohibits the majority of government from engaging in consultation.

The Haisla then say: “Documents we have obtained under an Access to Information Request clearly indicate individual departments were asked not to communicate directly with the Haisla Nation.”

The response goes on to say:

Further questions at federal government witnesses during the JRP process confirmed that federal departments had not met with the Haisla Nation since the commencement of the JRP process. While these witnesses were reluctant to confirm that they had been prohibited from meeting with us, they repeatedly referred to the “whole-of-government” approach to consultation as their reason for not meeting.

Canada’s “whole-of-government” approach clearly limited engagement to a strict process with no opportunity for real engagement.

Earliest stages

The Haisla are telling the Harper government:

It is clear that the Haisla Nation that we are the very earliest stages of consultation with Canada about the proposed project….It is clear to the Haisla Nation that the 45-day period within which Canada has unilaterally determined face-to-face meetings with all the Aboriginal groups potentially affected by the proposed project will occur is not an adequate amount of time to complete a meaningful consultation process.

 

Related

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

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?”

 

Enbridge’s Michigan cleanup costs now exceed JRP pipeline conditions for Gateway, SEC filing shows

NTSB staff examine ruptured pipe
US National Transportation Safety Board staff examine a ruptured pipe from the Enbridge oil spill in August, 2010. The photo was released by the NTSB May 21, 2012. (NTSB)

The costs for Enbridge to clean up the 2010 Marshall, Michigan oil spill now far exceeds the maximum estimate that the Joint Review Panel gave for a major spill on the Northern Gateway Pipeline and also exceeds the amount of money the JRP ordered Enbridge to set aside to deal with a spill. Enbridge’s cleanup costs have also now edged past the higher liability amount requested by the Haisla Nation.

According to the US firm Enbridge Energy Partners’ filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, as of September 30, 2013, the cost of cleanup was $1.035 billion US, not including possible additional fines and penalties that might be imposed by US authorities in the future.

In its decision, the Joint Review Panel estimated the cost a major oil spill from the Northern Gateway project would be about $693 million.  As part of the 209 conditions, the JRP ordered Enbridge to set aside “financial assurances” totaling $950 million.

Note all costs in this article are for a pipeline breach. The Joint Review Panel had different estimates for a tanker spill and the liability rules for marine traffic are different from pipelines.

In its filing for the third quarter of 2013, with the SEC, Enbridge Energy Partners say that the cost up until September 2013 had “exceed[ed] the limits of our insurance coverage.” The same filing says that Enbridge is in a legal dispute with one its insurers.

In its SEC filing, Enbridge says:

Lakehead Line 6B Crude Oil Release
We continue to perform necessary remediation, restoration and monitoring of the areas affected by the Line 6B crude oil release. All the initiatives we are undertaking in the monitoring and restoration phase are intended to restore the crude oil release area to the satisfaction of the appropriate regulatory authorities.
As of September 30, 2013, our total cost estimate for the Line 6B crude oil release is $1,035.0 million, which is an increase of $215.0 million as compared to December 31, 2012. This total estimate is before insurance recoveries and excluding additional fines and penalties which may be imposed by federal, state and local governmental agencies, other than the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, civil penalty of $3.7 million, we paid during the third quarter of 2012. On March 14, 2013, we received an order from the EPA, or the Environmental Protection Agency, which we refer to as the Order, that defined the scope which requires additional containment and active recovery of submerged oil relating to the Line 6B crude oil release. We submitted our initial proposed work plan required by the EPA on April 4, 2013, and we resubmitted the workplan on April 23, 2013. The EPA approved the Submerged Oil Recovery and Assessment workplan, or SORA, with modifications on May 8, 2013. We incorporated the modification and submitted an approved SORA on May 13, 2013. The Order states that the work must be completed by December 31, 2013.

The $175.0 million increase in the total cost estimate during the three month period ending March 31, 2013, was attributable to additional work required by the Order. The $40.0 million increase during the three month period ending June 30, 2013 was attributable to further refinement and definition of the additional dredging scope per the Order and associated environmental, permitting, waste removal and other related costs. The actual costs incurred may differ from the foregoing estimate as we complete the work plan with the EPA related to the Order and work with other regulatory agencies to assure that our work plan complies with their requirements. Any such incremental costs will not be recovered under our insurance policies as our costs for the incident at September 30, 2013 exceeded the limits of our insurance coverage.

According to the SEC filing, the breakdown of costs include $2.6 million paid to owners of homes adversely impacted by the spill.

Despite the efforts we have made to ensure the reasonableness of our estimates, changes to the recorded amounts associated with this release are possible as more reliable information becomes available. We continue to have the potential of incurring additional costs in connection with this crude oil release due to variations in any or all of the categories described above, including modified or revised requirements from regulatory agencies in addition to fines and penalties as well as expenditures associated with litigation and settlement of claims.
The material components underlying our total estimated loss for the cleanup, remediation and restoration associated with the Line 6B crude oil release include the following:
(in millions)

Response Personnel & Equipment  $454

Environmental Consultants  $193

Professional, regulatory and other $388

Total $ 1,035

For the nine month periods ended September 30, 2013 and 2012, we made payments of $62.3 million and $120.9 million, respectively, for costs associated with the Line 6B crude oil release. For the nine month period ended September 30, 2013, we recognized a $2.6 million impairment for homes purchased due to the Line 6B crude oil release which is included in the “Environmental costs, net of recoveries” on our consolidated statements of income. As of September 30, 2013 and December 31, 2012, we had a remaining estimated liability of $265.9 million and $115.8 million, respectively.

As for insurance, Enbridge Energy Partners say:

The claims for the crude oil release for Line 6B are covered by the insurance policy that expired on April 30, 2011, which had an aggregate limit of $650.0 million for pollution liability. Based on our remediation spending through September 30, 2013, we have exceeded the limits of coverage under this insurance policy. During the third quarter 2013, we received $42.0 million of insurance recoveries for a claim we filed in connection with the Line 6B crude oil release and recognized as a reduction to environmental cost in the second quarter of 2013. We recognized $170.0 million of insurance recoveries as reductions to “Environmental costs, net of recoveries” in our consolidated statements of income for the three and nine month periods ended September 30, 2012 for the Line 6B crude oil release. As of September 30, 2013, we have recorded total insurance recoveries of $547.0 million for the Line 6B crude oil release, out of the $650.0 million aggregate limit. We expect to record receivables for additional amounts we claim for recovery pursuant to our insurance policies during the period that we deem realization of the claim for recovery to be probable.

In March 2013, we and Enbridge filed a lawsuit against the insurers of our remaining $145.0 million coverage, as one particular insurer is disputing our recovery eligibility for costs related to our claim on the Line 6B crude oil release and the other remaining insurers assert that their payment is predicated on the outcome of our recovery with that insurer. We received a partial recovery payment of $42.0 million from the other remaining insurers and have since amended our lawsuit, such that it now includes only one insurer. While we believe that our claims for the remaining $103.0 million are covered under the policy, there can be no assurance that we will prevail in this lawsuit.

 

The Joint Review, Enbridge and Michigan

The Joint Review Panel based its finding on the Marshall, Michigan spill on the figure of $767 million from the summer of 2012 –again showing the limitations of the JRP’s evidentiary deadlines since the costs are now much higher.

The JRP quoted Enbridge as saying:

Northern Gateway considered the high costs of the Marshall, Michigan spill, which were at least $252,000 per cubic metre ($40,000 per barrel), to be an outlier or a rare event because the spill occurred in a densely populated area, because the pipeline’s response time was abnormally long, and because there was the prospect of potentially lengthy legal proceedings.

Enbridge assured the JRP that the corporate culture and management changes and equipment upgrades since the Marshall, Michigan spill lowered that chances of a similar event.

The company based its models for the JRP on much smaller spills, including one spill at Lake Wabamun, Alberta from a train not a pipeline (Vol. 2 p 357)

Enbridge’s risk assessment did not “generate an estimate of economic losses caused
by a spill.”

The JRP says Northern Gateway relied on its analysis of literature, and spill events experienced by Enbridge and other liquid hydrocarbon carriers in Alberta and British Columbia. After assessing all of this information, Northern Gateway regarded the high costs of a cleanup as “conservative”–meaning the company expects costs to be lower than its estimates in evidence before the JRP.

In Northern Gateway’s view the most costly pipeline spill incident would be a full-bore oil pipeline rupture, with an estimated cost of $200 million, and an extremely low probability of occurrence.

Haisla evidence

In their evidence, the Haisla (and other First Nations and intervenors) were doubtful about Northern Gateway’s assurances. The Haisla asked that Enbridge have a minimum of $1 billion in liability, an amount Enbridge has now exceeded in Michigan.

Haisla Nation estimated the cost of damage to ecosystem services because of a terrestrial oil spill from Northern Gateway’s pipeline would be in the range of $12,000 to $610 million for a 30-year period.

The Haisla’s cost estimates were based on values for environmental goods and services and probabilities of spills that were independent of Northern Gateway’s parameters for estimating oil spill costs. In contrast to Northern Gateway’s estimated spill frequency and costs, the Haisla predicted that spills would occur more often and placed a higher value on damages to environmental goods and services.

Haisla Nation argued that Northern Gateway overestimated its ability to detect and respond to a spill. In the Haisla’s view this resulted in the cost of a spill and the requisite financial assurances being understated. Haisla cited several factors, including: remote location, limited access, challenging terrain, seasonal conditions, and river flow conditions that would cause the cost of cleaning up a spill in the Kitimat River valley to be significantly greater than the costs associated with Enbridge’s Marshall, Michigan spill.

For these reasons, Haisla proposed that Northern Gateway should be required to obtain a minimum of $1 billion of liability coverage through insurance and financial assurances. Haisla said that Northern Gateway should file annually the report from an independent third party assessing the financial assurances plan. (Vol 2 p359)

In response Northern Gateway said:

Northern Gateway said that Haisla’s findings were based on a number of fundamental methodological flaws and a lack of probability analysis to support the high frequency of occurrence of oil spill events. Northern Gateway argued that Haisla’s estimates of ecosystem service values were inflated because they were based on values from unrelated studies. In Northern Gateway’s view, Haisla relied on high passive use values that were not justified.

JRP ruling

As it has in most of its decision, the JRP accepted Northern Gateway’s evidence, including its explanation of the Marshall, Michigan spill and then went on to base its spill cost estimates not on a pipeline breach but on the 2005 railway spill at Lake Wabumum, near White Sands, Alberta.

The Panel accepts that the cleanup costs for the Marshall, Michigan spill were orders of magnitude higher because of the extended response time. In this application, the Panel accepts Northern Gateway’s commitment to complete the shutdown in no more than 13 minutes after detection. For this reason the Panel did not use the Marshall spill costs in its calculations. The spill volume and the resulting costs are directly dependent on the Northern Gateway’s control room staff and the pipeline control system fully closing the adjacent block valves no longer than 13 minutes from the detection of an alarm event, as well as the amount of oil which would drain out of the pipeline after valve closure due to elevation differences.

The Panel decided on a total unit cost of $138,376 per cubic metre ($22,000 per barrel). This is midway between the unit cost of $88,058 per cubic metre ($14,000) per barrel proposed by Northern Gateway and the unit cost of $188,694 per cubic metre ($30,000 per barrel) for the Lake Wabamun spill. It is about one-half of the Marshall spill’s unit cost. Giving weight to the Lake Wabamun costs recognizes actual costs experienced in a Canadian spill and the greater costs of spills in high consequence areas. In these areas, individuals, populations, property, and the environment would have a high sensitivity to hydrocarbon spills. The deleterious effects of the spill would increase with the spill volume, the extent of the spill, and the difficulty in accessing the spill area for cleanup and remediation.

Using these spill volume and unit cost values in the calculation below, the Panel estimated the total cost of a large spill could be $700 million. Total cost of a spill = 31,500 barrels x $22,000 per barrel = $693 million, or $700 million when rounded up.

(p362)

The Panel based the financial assurances requirements for Northern Gateway on a spill with a total estimated cost of $700 million and directs Northern Gateway to develop a financial assurances plan with a total coverage of $950 million that would include the following components:
i. Ready cash of $100 million to cover the initial costs of a spill;
ii. Core coverage of $600 million that is made up of stand-alone, third party liability insurance and other appropriate financial assurance instruments, and
iii. Financial backstopping via parental, other third party guarantees, or no fault insurance of at least $250 million to cover costs that exceed the payout of components i. and ii.
The financial backstopping would be available to fill the gap if the spill volumes or unit costs were under-estimated or if the payout from the core coverage would be less than 100 per cent.

The Panel noted that:

The evidence indicates that there is some probability that a large oil spill may occur at some time over the life of the project. In these circumstances the Panel must take a careful and precautionary approach because of the high consequences of a large spill. The Panel has decided that Northern Gateway must arrange and maintain sufficient financial assurances to cover potential risks and liabilities related to large oil spills during the operating life of the project.

Northern Gateway committed to investing $500 million in additional facilities and mitigation measures such as thicker wall pipe, more block valves, more in-line inspections, and complementary leak detection systems. This initiative should enhance the safety and reliability of the system and help reduce and mitigate the effects of a spill, but it would not eliminate the risk or costs of spills. This initiative is not a direct substitute for third party liability insurance and does not eliminate the need for liability insurance or any other form of financial assurance to cover the cost of a spill. (p 361)

So the JRP decision comes down to this, if you accept Northern Gateway’s position that pipeline spills are rare and mostly small, then the company has the financial resources to cover the damage. If, however, Northern Gateway is wrong and the costs of a pipeline cleanup exceed the $950 million required by the Joint Review Panel, as has happened in Michigan, then those JRP conditions are already obsolete.

(Northwest Coast Energy News encourages all readers to read the complete JRP report  and SEC filing since space and readability does not permit fully quoting from the report)

Enbridge misses deadline to clean up Michigan’s Morrow Lake; EPA cites reluctance to do winter cleanup

EPA map of Kalamazoo River
EPA map of river closures and dredging operations on the Kalamazoo River during 2013. (EPA)

Enbridge has missed the US Environmental Protection Agency’s deadline to clean up parts of the Marshall, Michigan bitumen spill by December 31, 2013.

Local television news, WOOD-TV says the EPA is now considering “enforcement options.”
The EPA had already granted Enbridge a 10 month extension that the company requested in March, 2013, setting the new December deadline.

In November, Enbridge requested a second extension. The EPA denied that request.

From the EPA letter it appears that, as in previous years, Enbridge is trying to avoid continuing clean up work into the winter. The EPA rejects that position, telling Enbridge it shouldn’t wait until the spring run off could spread the sunken bitumen.

The EPA says that beginning in March, 2013, “Enbridge has successfully removed oil and sediment from two of the three major impoundment areas identified in the order and from several smaller sediment trap locations.”

The area that Enbridge failed to clean up is known as the Morrow Lake and Morrow Lake Delta. The cleanup in that area was delayed when the Comstock Township planning commission unanimously  denied Enbridge a permit for “dredge pad” after fierce public opposition

The letter to Enbridge, from Jeffrey Kimble, Federal On-Scene Coordinator denying the extension is another scathing indictment of Enbridge’s attitude toward the public and the cleanup, citing Enbridge failing to prepare “adequate contingency plans,” by failing to recognize the “serious opposition” the dredging plans.

Although the EPA had told Enbridge to consider alternative plans—and Enbridge claimed it did that—the EPA found the Enbridge’s own logs showed the company didn’t start considering alternatives until it was obvious that Comstock Township would reject their dredging plans.

The EPA letter also reveals that once again Enbridge is reluctant to do further cleanup work during the Michigan winter. The EPA rejects that stance, saying that “Removal of oiled sediments prior to the spring thaw will lessen the potential oiled sediment transport in the spring to Morrow Lake via increased river velocities from rain and ice melt.”

Although we recognize that the work required by the Order is unlikely to be completed by December 31, 2013, U.S. EPA believes that had Enbridge taken appropriate steps earlier as requested, it would not require an extension now. In particular, U.S. EPA believes that Enbridge has continuously failed to prepare adequate contingency plans for a project of this nature. For example, U.S. EPA acknowledges that failure to obtain a site plan approval for use of the CCP property for a dredge pad was a setback in the timely completion of the work in the Delta.

However, Enbridge failed to prepare any contingency plans recognizing the possibility of such an occurrence. Enbridge has known since at least the middle of July 2013 that there was serious opposition to its proposed use of the CCP property. When it became clear in August 2013 that opposition to the site use might delay the project, U.S. EPA directed Enbridge to “conduct a more detailed review of your options in short order.”

Although your letter claims that Enbridge “has considered such alternatives,” your logs indicate that Enbridge did not hold initial discussions with the majority of these property owners until long after the final decision to abandon plans for use of the CCP property. These contact logs do not demonstrate that Enbridge fully explored and reviewed alternative options in a timely manner so as to avoid delay in completion of the work. Although Enbridge claims that use of identified alternative properties would be denied by Comstock Township, Enbridge did not present any site plans to the Township for approval (other than use of the county park for staging of frac tanks). To the extent that any of Enbridge’s contingency plans include the use of land for dredge pads, U.S. EPA believes that Enbridge should begin multiple submissions for property use until one is accepted….

Enbridge claims that it cannot install winter containment in the Delta to prevent the potential migration of sediments to the lake. To support that claim, Enbridge has attached a letter from STS directing Enbridge to remove anchors and associated soft containment during winter monthsas these structures could damage STS’s turbines. However, none of the correspondence provided by Enbridge discusses the use of more secure containment methods, such as metal sheet piling, which may not pose the same risks as soft containment structures. Enbridge should consider using sheet piling to construct cells which would both allow winter work and contain the sediment during that work. Enbridge should therefore try to obtain access from STS for this specific work, and for other appropriate work, for the winter timeframe. Use of sheet pile cells would allow continued operations during the winter, especially in the southern zone of the Delta outside of the main river channel. Removal of oiled sediments prior to the spring thaw will lessen the potential oiled sediment transport in the spring to Morrow Lake via increased river
velocities from rain and ice melt.

Finally, U.S. EPA is unwilling to allow Enbridge to wait until after the likely spring high
velocity river flush to reinstall the E-4 containment structures. U.S. EPA has reviewed Enbridge’s modeling, which Enbridge claims supports its requested timeline, and has found it incomplete. The model has not incorporated, and does not match, field observation of flow velocities and water levels and their potential to impact upstream critical structures if containment is in place. Moreover, U.S. EPA completely disagrees with Enbridge’s assertion that there is no evidence of migration of submerged oil during high flow events. The results of three years of poling and sheen tracking demonstrate that Line 6B oil is mobile during periods of
high flow. Now that Enbridge has a five year permit from MDEQ for the E-4 containment system, U.S. EPA reiterates that this containment must be in place immediately upon thawconditions in the spring….

Although Enbridge’s proposed two phase approach may have components that can be incorporated into a final plan, it should not be considered the approved way forward. U.S. EPA believes that pausing the work cycle until new poling can be done in June or July of 2014 could again result in a wasted construction season in the Delta. Enbridge should consider and utilize a combination of techniques in the plan. For example, several dredge pad sites have been identified by Enbridge. Enbridge should obtain approval for one of these sites, or a combination of smaller sites, so as to support hydraulic dredging in conjunction with the current approved
approach and any potential dry excavation techniques. Enbridge should also consider other winter work techniques, such as cell build out and dewatering in the Delta via sheet piling.

As always, U.S. EPA will continue to work with Enbridge to develop adequate plans and complete the work required by the Order. However, nothing in this letter excuses any noncompliance with the Order nor does it serve as the granting of any extension to any deadline in the Order. U.S. EPA reserves all its rights to pursue an enforcement action for any noncompliance with the Order.

The EPA letter also calls into question the ruling of the Joint Review Panel on the Enbridge Northern Gateway. The JRP accepts, without question, Enbridge’s assurances that the company has changed its attitude and policies since the long delay in 2010 in detecting the pipeline rupture in Marshall, Michigan.

The JRP, on the other hand, accepts, without question, Enbridge’s assurances that it has expertise in winter oil recovery from a pipeline spill.

Parties questioned Northern Gateway about locating and recovering oil under ice. Northern Gateway said that Enbridge conducts emergency exercises in winter and that Northern Gateway would learn from those experiences.
Northern Gateway outlined a number of oil detection techniques including visual assessment (at ice cracks and along the banks), drills, probes, aircraft, sniffer dogs, and trajectory modelling. It said that, once located, oil would be recovered by cutting slots into the ice and using booms, skimmers, and pump systems to capture oil travelling under the ice surface.

The company said that oil stranded under ice or along banks would be recovered as the ice started to melt and break up. It discussed examples of winter oil recovery operations during Enbridge’s Marshall, Michigan incident, and said that operational recovery decisions would be made by the Unified Command according to the circumstances.

Northern Gateway said that equipment caches would be pre-positioned at strategic locations, such as the west portal of the Hoult tunnel. It said that decisions regarding the location or use of pre-positioned equipment caches would be made during detailed design and planning, based on a number of considerations including, but not limited to, probability of a spill, access, site security,
environmental sensitivities, and potential for oil recovery at the response site.

(vol 2 page 153)

In its ruling, the Joint Review Panel said

The Panel finds that Northern Gateway’s extensive evidence regarding oil spill modelling, prevention, planning, and response was adequately tested during the proceeding, and was credible and sufficient for this stage in the regulatory process.
Parties such as the Province of British Columbia, Gitxaala Nation, Haisla Nation, and Coalition argued that Northern Gateway had not provided enough information to inform the Panel about proposed emergency preparedness and response planning. The Panel does not share this view.

Northern Gateway and other parties have provided sufficient information to inform the Panel’s views and requirements regarding malfunctions, accidents, and emergency preparedness and response planning at this stage of the regulatory process.

Many parties said that Northern Gateway had not demonstrated that its spill response would be “effective.” Various parties had differing views as to what an effective spill response would entail.

The Panel is of the view that an effective response would include stopping or containing the source of the spill, reducing harm to the natural and socio-economic environment to the greatest extent possible through timely response actions, and appropriate follow-up and monitoring and long-term cleanup. Based on the evidence, in the Panel’s view, adequate preparation and planning can lead to an effective response, but the ultimate success of the response would not be fully known
until the time of the spill event due to the many factors which could inhibit the effectiveness of the response. The Panel finds that Northern Gateway is being proactive in its planning and preparation for effective spill response….

The Panel is of the view that an effective response does not guarantee recovery of all spilled oil, and that that no such guarantee could be provided, particularly in the event of a large terrestrial, freshwater, or marine spill.

The oil spill preparedness and response commitments made by Northern Gateway cannot ensure recovery of the majority of oil from a large spill. Recovery of the majority of spilled oil may be possible under some conditions, but experience indicates that oil recovery may be very low due to factors such as weather conditions, difficult access, and sub-optimal response time, particularly for large marine spills. …

To verify compliance with Northern Gateway’s commitments regarding emergency preparedness and response, and to demonstrate that Northern Gateway has developed appropriate site-specific emergency preparedness and response measures, the Panel requires Northern Gateway to demonstrate
that it is able to appropriately respond to an emergency for each 10-kilometre-long segment of the pipeline.

The Panel notes the concerns of intervenors regarding Northern Gateway’s ability to respond efficiently and effectively to incidents in remote areas, and its plan to consider this during detailed design and planning. The Panel finds that Northern Gateway’s commitment to respond immediately to all spills and to incorporate response time targets within its spill response planning is sufficient to
address these concerns. Northern Gateway said that its emergency response plans would incorporate a target of 6 to 12 hours for internal resources to arrive at the site of a spill. It also said that it would target a response time of 2 to 4 hours at certain river control points.

The Panel agrees with Northern Gateway and several intervenors that access to remote areas for emergency response and severe environmental conditions pose substantial challenges. The Panel notes that the company has committed to develop detailed access management plans and to evaluate contingencies where timely ground or air access is not available due to weather, snow, or other logistic
or safety issues.

Despite the EPA letter (which admittedly was released long after the JRP evidentiary deadline) that shows that Enbridge did not consult the people of Comstock Township, Michigan, the JRP says

The Panel accepts Northern Gateway’s commitment to consult with communities, Aboriginal groups, and regulatory authorities. The objective of this consultation is to refine its emergency preparedness and response procedures by gaining local knowledge of the challenges that would be present in different locations at different times of the year
(Vol 2 p 165-167)

EPA letter to Enbridge denying deadline extension  (pdf)

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.