Responding to a 2006 spill near Bella Bella when a 10,000-tonne tanker barge ran aground in Seaforth Channel leaking more than 100,000 litres of diesel fuel. (Western Canada Marine Response Corp.)

New report assesses B.C. coast’s oil spill sensitivity, and it’s high

“A little bit of oil in a very sensitive area can have big impact. It’s worth being concerned about.”

In a report released Oct. 6, non-profit research centre Clear Seas has identified several areas on B.C.’s coast as “very high sensitivity” to oil spill impacts.

The report does not predict probability of a spill, but looked at how a spill of any size would impact the area.

“The probability is higher in the Juan de Fuca than here, but this study assesses what the impact would be, and it’s severe,” said Clear Seas’ executive director Paul Blomerus.

Researchers used publicly available data to assess biological, physical and socioeconomic categories, combining them to calculate sensitivity ratings up and down B.C.’s coast. They noted Indigenous rights and interests as an important category, but said there was not enough available data, and so that “will need to be incorporated at a future date.”

Several areas got a “very high sensitivity” score: places around Haida Gwaii, much of the Prince Rupert shore line, a few spots on the central coast, Nigei Island near Port Hardy, the entire Hardy Bay, areas near Nootka Island and several spots in the the Clayoquot and Barkley Sounds, and as far inland as Port Alberni. The report did not include the Juan de Fuca, Georgia or Johnson straits.

Much of the rest of the coast line is considered “high sensitivity.”

“What’s novel about the approach we’ve taken is to combine the socioeconomic sensitivities with the natural environment. People inhabit these coast lines too. Fishing, tourism … a spill would have catastrophic impacts for them. We want to make sure those are taken into risk assessment,” Blomerus said.

Commercial fisheries, tourism, port activities and recreational opportunities were assessed, contributing to some of the high scores. Aquaculture would also potentially be affected by an oil spill, as many of the fish farms in B.C. are near some of the identified high risk zones, however exactly how oil spills would interact with fish farms has not been specifically researched.

The report is publicly available and Blomerus hopes decision makers will use it as a resource for planning decisions.

“The theme of all the work we do is that better information leads to better planning.”

RELATED: New Coast Guard facility in the works for Port Renfrew

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Two key aspects of planning to mitigate spill risks are to make sure all ships are held to the highest safety and maintenance standards, and to make sure the clean-up assets are in place. That means having detailed and accurate maps of sensitive zones, and well-equipped response crews which is a combination of the Coast Guard and Western Canada Marine Response Corporation.

As part of negotiations around the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion — which runs from Edmonton to Burnaby and will triple capacity, and increase tanker traffic in the Burrard Inlet by seven times — Western Canada Marine Response Corporation received funding to build and expand several marine response units in B.C. The main hub on Vancouver Island will be Nanaimo — construction started last week — supported by locations in Ucluelet, Port Alberni, Beecher Bay and Sidney.

It also has a hub in Prince Rupert, and recently “established a presence” in Kitimat because of the LNG terminal under construction, which will bring more ships to town. The Coast Guard is also getting six new stations as a result of the Trans Mountain expansion.

Western Canada Marine Response Corp has the same sensitivity data as Clear Seas and has prepared hundreds of single page, detailed response plans for specific areas, such as the Quatse delta in Hardy Bay.

“For example imagine a small bay that has an important eel grass bed, if we can get in there and lay a boom before spill we can protect that area before the oil reaches it,” said communications manager Michael Lowry.

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email: zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca


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