Mike Lowry presents at an information session during the Port of Prince Rupert's Trade Talks series last week.

Mike Lowry presents at an information session during the Port of Prince Rupert's Trade Talks series last week.

Cleaning up the North Coast

The WCMRC is preparing for a seismic shift in the way it responds to oil spills on the North Coast.

Just as the energy landscape and amount of potential tanker traffic in northern B.C. is changing, so is the planning mechanisms and preparedness of the only marine spill response organization on Canada’s west coast.

The Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) is in the midst of a seismic change in the way the company is set up to respond to potential spills throughout B.C.’s coastal areas, based on Transport Canada’s and the Tanker Safety Expert Panel’s review of the WCMRC’s current regime.

“The panel, led by Capt. Gordon Houston (chair of the panel and former president and CEO of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority) took a look at the regime and came up with 45 recommendations, nine of which directly impacts response organizations,” said WCMRC communications manager Michael Lowry at a recent information session held at the Prince Rupert Port Interpretive Centre.

“The biggest change is the idea that the regime should be based on the risk of a certain area,” said Lowry.

Under the operation of the WCMRC as it stands now, the coast is divided into zones, each of which have different response times based on designated ports and response equipment caches that hold contractors’ vessels which are equipped to manage spills.

There is currently only one designated port under the WCMRC’s current regime and that is located in Vancouver.

However, with the looming investment decisions coming from energy companies Enbridge and Trans Mountain with regards to their pipeline proposals, WCMRC is working closely and with foresight to adapt to the multitudes of changes to the North Coast.

Robert Stromdahl, North Coast manager for WCMRC, spoke about the upcoming changes for the region at session.

“We’re expanding with more equipment coming into Prince Rupert and going over to Haida Gwaii.”

WCMRC’s presence on the North Coast includes an office/warehouse facility in Prince Rupert and two response equipment caches in Kitimat and on Haida Gwaii. The main response vessel in Rupert is called the Eagle Bay with a gross tonnage of 30.6 tons, speed of 25 knots, a skimming capacity of 32.8 tons and a product capacity of 10 tons. Five other response vessels occupy the northern port city.

The corporation has helped clean a number of highly-publicized spills in the past few years and the most important thing that WCMRC can do is learn from each and every one, because no two oil spills are the same. The company is in a unique position to take each spill as a learning tool to help enable future technology and methodologies to enhance and streamline the skimming and mechanical processes.

The sensitivities could include biological or ecological factors like eel grass or human-built elements like marinas or cultural sensitivities such as a native burial ground.

Helping WCMRC in this initiative is the Prince Rupert Port Authority.

“The Port of Prince Rupert, [starting] last year, has undertaken a large project of shoreline imaging and they have been kind enough to share that information with us and we’re going to build that into our data set,” said Stromdahl.