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Gerald Graham, President of Worldocean Consulting Ltd, Interviewed by Jo-Ann Roberts, Host of CBC Radio’s “All Points West” Show in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, Thursday, July 26, 2012 re BC’s Aspirations for a “World Class” Marine Oil Spill Response Regime. Click here for a link to a podcast of the interview. Jo-Ann: On Monday, the BC Government released five minimum requirements for it to consider supporting the Northern Gateway pipeline. One of those demands is what they’re calling “world-leading oil spill response prevention and recovery systems” on BC’s coast. The Government’s report goes on to acknowledge that, and I’m quoting here: “Existing provincial and federal spill management capacity appears to be insufficient for current needs.” I’m joined in studio now by Gerald Graham. He’s a marine oil spill expert, and he has reviewed Enbridge’s pipeline application for two clients who are opposed to the project. Good afternoon, Graham ( sic ). Gerald: Hi, Jo-Ann! Jo-Ann: What do you make of the Government’s assessment, that our marine spill capacity isn’t even sufficient for the current tanker traffic? Gerald: I agree with them. I think that it’s quite a good analysis, actually, of the current situation. It had to be said and it’s kind of odd that they would pick this time to say it within the context of the Enbridge Northern Gateway debate- when they don’t even focus on the application itself. But, they’ve really hit the nail on the head- there’s this severe shortfall here in our capacity to deal with spills on the coast, even if we don’t have these tanker projects going ahead. Jo-Ann: What do you think their goal is in bringing it up at this point, then? I mean, even if Enbridge doesn’t go ahead, it certainly sounds like they think something has to be done. Gerald: Yes, well, it’s a well-known fact within the oil spill community- the oil spill response community, that BC and Ottawa are really at loggerheads when it comes to marine oil spills. The system, although it hasn’t really been severely tested by a huge spill, most experts agree that the system is pretty well dysfunctional and it needs to be revamped: it’s out of date, it’s over twenty years old now, and it’s simply, probably will not work if there is a major catastrophic spill here along the coast. Jo-Ann: So, do you think BC may be trying to convince Ottawa by going public that they should put some money into this- that the federal government should be putting money into it? Gerald: Yes, and it comes at a time when they are of course cutting back. But it’s more: it goes beyond that- it’s more than just putting money into it. It’s a question of reorganizing the whole thing; it’s just an unworkable system where the Province feels left out of the decision-making structure, the Federal Government jealously guards its mandate and responsibilities, and, you know, we have had some
incidents in the past where it just hasn’t worked. We’ve had two command centers set up, for instance, for various spills, and it’s just not productive. Jo-Ann: Let’s talk about where it is working. The BC Government says Alaska is a good example of some world-leading oil spill standards. How do our current standards in Canada compare to Alaska’s? Gerald: Our current standards are way behind the Alaskan requirements for spill response. There, they have a requirement that the tanker companies have to have the capacity to deal with a 300,000 barrel spill. In Canada, the requirement is for about 80,000 barrels. Now, Enbridge has voluntarily pledged to put in place a capacity for about 160,000 barrels, but that’s still below the Alaskan standards. Jo-Ann: So, only about half of the Alaskan standards, even if Enbridge was to sort of beef things up, is what you’re saying. Gerald: That’s right, and half the escort tugs and no salvage tug. So, we’ve got a long way to go, and, of note, when Enbridge made their big announcement last week of 500 million dollars to improve safety, after the Kalamazoo spill, all of that goes into the pipeline- nothing is dedicated, no new resources to the marine side of things. Jo-Ann: So how- if the Government were to ask, how do you meet some of the requirements that they’re setting out. Or, try and work towards getting to an Alaskan standard? Is it- do you put legislation in place? Do you put pressure on the companies? Do you go after the feds? How do, who do you go after to try and get everyone to take part in making sure that we’re safe? Gerald: Well, I think one of the things that the Province, the provincial report does pinpoint is that you can’t just rely on companies and the industry to come up with voluntary standards. You have to have a regulatory system that has mandatory requirements. And that’s where our current system is deficient. One example: the requirement right now in the event of a spill on the coast is to clean up 500 metres of shoreline a day. Well, as the BC report points out, in the case of the Exxon Valdez spill, with all the coastline that was affected in Alaska, it would have taken ten years to clean up all the shoreline at that rate. So, obviously, we’ve got some work to do, and that’s just one example. Jo-Ann: Are you encouraged that the BC Government has made this one of their, sort of, five planks in this platform to move ahead on the Northern Gateway? Gerald: Well, I have mixed feelings about it, because I’m not quite sure whether they’re doing it to get the project approved or get it, get it rejected. I think there, it might provide a false sense of security that if you took all these measures that they propose, and then if we did have a world class spill response regime in place on the BC coast- that we would still, that we would be protected. I think we’d still be overexposed, particularly on the North Coast, because of the remoteness, the logistical challenges, the extreme weather. All the amount of oil spill capacity in the world is not going to be able to help you if you can’t get it out of the port in the middle of winter. Jo-Ann: And yet. Even if the Northern Gateway pipeline didn’t go ahead, we’re now getting this information because we’re paying more attention. We still have a number of tankers going in and out of
Vancouver, and some going by our coastline. I mean, even without Northern Gateway, do you think it’s important that we start to update our standards? Gerald: Absolutely! We’re way behind. We’re way behind the Americans. The Americans, in Washington State, have a much more rigorous system and requirements than we do. With their escort tugs, they require them under regulation. Ours, that come out of Vancouver with the tankers, are voluntary. And, Vancouver is planning on dredging the port to allow for bigger tankers. These tankers wouldn’t be allowed on the US side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. So, we’ve got to pull up our socks if we want to, you know, maintain our position as a world leader in environmental science and technology and oil spill systems. Jo-Ann: Is there any international pressure- pressure from the US, that Canada improve its standards? I mean, because we know that the marine environment- it isn’t one where we can sort of put a line down the middle and say “There’s the border!”. Gerald: Yes, there is actually pressure. The US Senate- Senator Cantwell in particular,r has come out with a statement saying that “We’re concerned about Canadian capability across the border and in the Strait of Juan de Fuca if there were a tanker spill, and we would not hesitate to move in and take over the spill response operation and get the American Coast Guard to come in and take over”. They’ll protect their resources. If we don’t do our job of protecting our own- they’ll come in and do it for us. Jo-Ann: Gerald, thanks for coming in, I think, it’s good to know, I guess, even if it is kind of disconcerting to hear some of this. Thanks for this. Gerald: Thanks, Jo-Ann! Jo-Ann: Gerald Graham is a marine oil spill expert. -30-
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