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BC Provincial Government meets with industry to form "world-leading" oil spill plan

The future of British Columbia's environment is on the table, with the British Columbia Provincial government and thirteen key stakeholder organizations, including representatives from the BC Oil and Gas Commission, Transport Canada, Railway Association of Canada) looking at it. The government said in a press release this morning that they brought stakeholders together to build  a BC-made, "world-leading" spill response plan. Not everyone's convinced.

"While I appreciate that the government is meeting with 13 industry leaders, such as CAPP and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, for policy input, their definition of 'world-class' spill response standards are surely to differ from those of First Nations, fisheries operators, and other potentially impacted communities who have not been invited to meet with the Ministry," said Nikki Skuce, Senior Energy Campaigner, ForestEthics Advocacy, who called it "an interesting move by the BC Liberals who just returned from filling their campaign coffers with Alberta oil and gas funds." Skuce also pointed to cuts in the the Environmental Emergency Program.

"Our number-one priority is to protect the environment, and we know how
important this is to British Columbians, as evidenced by the response to
public hearings on NGP," said Terry Lake, Minister of Environment, in the press release.

"This is why we are not stopping at the establishment of five key conditions for heavy oil pipelines, and are developing world-leading policy that deals with all land-based hazardous materials spills including those from trucks, railcars, home oil tanks and chemical spills."

Up for discussion is the provincial government's recently released policy intentions paper, which outlines how government will work with the industry.

"Completely missing from the Ministry' 'intentions' paper is how to mitigate and avoid spills in the first place," said Skuce.

"Preventing the introduction of oil tanker traffic from our north coast, managing rail loads and lengths of trains, increasing inspections at ports, etc. Instead of assessing and reducing risks, the province seems to be striving for more industry funds to help once a disaster occurs."

The Ministry of Environment receives approximately 3,500 notifications of
environmental emergencies per year, including hazardous materials spills that may occur on land in BC, such as oil-tank leaks, home-based oil spills, overturned tanker trucks, oil and fuel spills on water, rail accidents and chemical spills, stated the report, 90 per cent of which are considered "minor". "The projected increase in the movement of hazardous materials throughout BC necessitates a well-co-ordinated response and preparedness plan."

"Does British Columbia need a better spill response plan? Absolutely. But it should be more than figuring out who is going to pay for the cleaning supplies and who will hold the mop. It’s also about avoiding the risk of some spills entirely, and assessing and mitigating others," Skuce said, adding that "oil spills, in particular tar sands (or diluted bitumen), are hard to clean-up with a mere 15 per cent considered a successful recovery. Would “world leading” bring that up to 20 per cent? Is that good enough for British Columbians? No."

The 13 organizations represented at today's roundtable include:

  • Canadian Fuels Association
  • Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
  • Canadian Energy Pipeline Association
  • Railway Association of Canada
  • Chemistry Industry Association of Canada
  • BC Oil and Gas Commission
  • Transport Canada
  • Environment Canada
  • Canadian Coast Guard
  • Chamber of Shipping British Columbia
  • BC Business Council
  • BC Environmental Industry Association
  • BC Trucking Association
  • No environmental advocacy groups were at the table.

The key elements outlined in the paper, according to the province:

  • Establishing a world-leading regime for land-based spill preparedness and response.
  • Developing effective and efficient rules for restoration of the environment following a spill.
  • Ensuring effective government oversight and co-ordination of industry spill response.
  • The Ministry of Environment is currently requesting an abstract for possible presentations at the March symposium; the deadline for submissions is Jan. 25.
  • The symposium will bring together people and organizations from diverse backgrounds who all have an interest in seeing a strong spill response program in BC. - representatives from government, First Nations, industry, response organizations, key stakeholders, environmental organizations and academia from around the world are expected to participate in the symposium.
  • BC's Environmental Emergency Program currently has 16 full-time staff and about $2.4 million per year in dedicated funding. In the event of a major spill, the program can also draw on support from technical specialists from, and funded by, other government programs.
  • The Environmental Emergency Program covers the inland areas and coastal shoreline of BC (an area of 947,800 kilometres squared, with a coastline of 27,000 kilometres).

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