Oil Spill

In Photos: Lessons from the Scene of the Sea Empress Oil Spill

Dr. Robin Crump had a front row seat to one of the world’s worst oil spills.

Twenty years ago, on Feb. 15, 1996, the Sea Empress oil tanker ran aground on mid-channel rocks in Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in Wales.

Over the course of the following week, the Sea Empress spilled almost 18 million gallons — 80 million litres — of crude oil, making it Britain’s third largest oil spill and the world’s 12th largest at the time.

Beaches were coated in a thick brown chocolate mousse of petroleum. Thousands of birds and other creatures perished. The rare species, Asterina Phylactica, first discovered by Dr. Crump, was reduced to a handful of individuals. Thanks in large part to Crump’s efforts, the species was well on the road to recovery within six months.

'World Class' May Not Mean Much When it Comes to Oil Spill Response

In July, a pipeline leak near Maidstone, Saskatchewan, spilled about 250,000 litres of diluted oil sands bitumen into the North Saskatchewan River, killing wildlife and compromising drinking water for nearby communities, including Prince Albert. It was one of 11 spills in the province over the previous year. 

In October, a tugboat pulling an empty fuel barge ran aground near Bella Bella on the Great Bear Rainforest coastline, spilling diesel into the water. Stormy weather caused some of the containment booms to break. Shellfish operations and clam beds were put at risk and wildlife contaminated.

Governments and industry promoting fossil fuel infrastructure often talk about “world class” spill response. It’s one of the conditions B.C.’s government has imposed for approval of new oil pipelines. But we’re either not there or the term has little meaning. “This ‘world-class marine response’ did not happen here in Bella Bella,” Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett told Metro News

Three Weeks Later, Trilogy Admits Pipeline Spilled 250,000 Litres of Oil in Alberta Wetland

Oil rig

A Trilogy Energy pipeline leak has spilled an estimated 250,000 litres of oil emulsion, a mixture of oil and water, into an Alberta wetland near Fox Creek, according to the company.

Although the spill was first reported on October 6, neither Trilogy nor the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) released any information about its size until this week.

Trilogy initially reported the spill covered three hectares, the equivalent of 21 tennis courts in a remote wetland location some 15 kilometres outside Fox Creek.

Less than half of that is impacted by actual oil staining,” John Williams, president and chief operating officer of Trilogy, told DeSmog Canada in an interview Friday.

In Photos: Bella Bella Diesel Fuel Spill Two Weeks In

It has been two weeks since the Nathan E. Stewart, a U.S.-based fuel barge tug, struck ground and sank near Bella Bella, B.C., contaminating the harvest waters of the Heiltsuk First Nation with an estimated 60,000 gallons of diesel fuel.  

During that time coastal residents have watched with dismay as spill response efforts have been hampered repeatedly by unfavourable weather, failed spill containment and even one incident where a spill response ship took on water and itself began to sink.

But the ongoing failure to contain and clean up the spill has been witnessed most closely by members of the Heiltsuk First Nation, who have been on the frontlines of the spill response effort since day one.

Why We Still Don’t Know How Much Oil Was Spilled in an Alberta Wetland

The volume of a crude oil pipeline spill that occurred in an Alberta wetland remains undetermined although both the pipeline’s operator, Trilogy Energy Corp, and representatives from the Alberta Energy Regulator have been on scene since the spill was first reported October 6.

The cause of a leak in the underground pipeline, located at Trilogy’s Kaybob Montney oil project near Fox Creek, also remains undetermined, according to John Williams, Trilogy president and chief operating officer.

In a telephone interview Friday Williams said he believes the leak to be small in size and therefore “very difficult to detect.”

Williams said he preferred not to speculate on the cause of the spill.

Diesel Spill Near Bella Bella Exposes B.C.'s Deficient Oil Spill Response Regime

The grounding of a fuel barge near Bella Bella is raising fresh concerns about B.C.’s ability to respond to marine oil spills as a tug releases diesel fuel into the traditional waters of the Heiltsuk First Nation — and oil spill response crews have still not arrived on scene more than 15 hours after the accident.

The Nathan E. Stewart, a 10,000-ton tanker barge owned by Texas-based Kirby Corporation, ran aground around 1 a.m. Thursday in Seaforth Channel near Gale Pass on Athlone Island.

Although the barge itself was empty, three fuel tanks for the 100-foot tug powering the vessel were damaged and hold an estimated 60,000 gallons of diesel fuel, according to a statement from the Heiltsuk First Nation.

A spill in this area is problematic because it’s an area where our clam harvesters do a lot of commercial digging,” Jess Housty, councillor for the Heiltsuk First Nation, told DeSmog Canada.

Cause and Volume of Pipeline Spill in Alberta Wetland Still Unknown Six Days In

A crude oil pipeline operated by Trilogy Energy Corp has released an unknown volume of oil emulsion, a mixture of oil and produced water, into surrounding marshland, according to the Alberta Energy Regulator.

Trilogy employees conducting a right-of-way inspection on the pipeline, located at the company’s Kaybob Montney oil project near Fox Creek, Alberta, discovered the spill on October 6.

Both the cause and volume of the spill remain undetermined.

Canada’s Oil Spill Response Plans Fragmented and Incomplete: Royal Society of Canada

A lack of reliable scientific information about what happens when crude oil is spilled into rivers or the ocean and a fragmented system of response plans is hindering Canada’s efforts to prevent and clean up oil spills, says a major report by the Royal Society of Canada.

The lengthy report was written by a panel of seven experts on oil chemistry, behaviour and toxicity.

Case studies, including B.C.’s Pine River pipeline break and the April leak of fuel oil into Vancouver’s English Bay, showed delays in response time were common, with causes ranging from poor communication and coordination among government agencies to lack of preparedness.

But the main problem was an absence of reliable scientific data.

There is a critical need for a coordinated and integrated database of information relevant to the assessment of risk of oil spills in Canada,” says the report.

Is B.C. Prepared for An Oil Spill? The Short Answer: No.

British Columbians must learn from mistakes made following the Exxon Valdez and BP Deepwater Horizon oil spills and prepare oil spill community response plans, renowned U.S. marine toxicologist Riki Ott is warning.

Transport Canada, along with the industry-funded Western Canada Marine Response Corporation and the Canadian Coast Guard are in charge of oil spill response on the west coast, but recent incidents like the bunker fuel leak in English Bay show a lack of communication and spotty response can leave local governments and communities on the sidelines.

Speaking at a community workshop in Victoria organized by Georgia Strait Alliance and Living Oceans Society, Ott said the risk of an oil spill off the B.C. coast increases as more tankers and other vessels ply the crowded waters. Communities must be ready to deal with a disaster, she said.

Oil doesn’t spill on federal and provincial land. It spills in someone’s backyard,” Ott said, warning that people also need to be educated about health hazards that come from breathing oil-laden air, diseases suffered by clean-up crews absorbing toxic chemicals through their skin and the decades-long effects on marine species and wildlife, ranging from mutations to extirpation.

When it happens, it’s really too late. You have to put all your energy into prevention and it’s really important to have a plan,” she said.

Conservative Party Candidate Says Oil is Natural, Spills Just Absorbed by Land

Sabrina Zuniga, the Conservative party candidate running in the riding of Spadina-Fort York in Ontario, was caught on tape claiming that “oil is a natural substance… so spilling into the environment, the land will absorb it because that's what oil is.”

Zuniga's riding is in close proximity to the route of the Enbridge Line 9B pipeline, which may soon be carrying diluted bitumen from the Alberta oilsands through the Greater Toronto Area.

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