TRC enters Canadian Oil & Gas Market and expands existing Infrastructure Practice

TRC Companies Inc. (a U.S. based engineering, environmental consulting and construction-management services) recently announced that it will expand its footprint in Canada in 2018 to take advantage of a rebounding oil and gas market and the country’s increased infrastructure spending.

“The time is right for us to grow our business in Canada and bring more of our unique services and solutions to clients there,” said CEO Chris Vincze.  “We already have a strong infrastructure practice in Canada, and we plan to build upon our existing relationships with a number of Canadian clients for whom we’ve done work in the United States.”

Photo Credit: Transcanada

TRC has hired Michael Koski to spearhead its expansion in Canada.  He will serve as senior vice president of Canadian operations.

“Mike brings a unique blend of engineering, construction, environmental and regulatory skills to the table and will quickly help us scale up operations,” said Ed Wiegele, president of TRC’s oil and gas sector. “Plus he has extensive experience in the Canadian oil and gas market and excellent command of Canada’s regulatory environment.”

Koski, who grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, has spent three decades working in the oil and gas sector and has considerable experience with project management, engineering and environmental issues. He is an expert in pipeline routing and has provided expert testimony on the subject, served on technical panels and presented at industry conferences. He has also authored several manuals on the topic for government and industry.

“I look forward to expanding TRC’s services into Canada across all business sectors,” said Koski.  “Companies in Canada are clamoring for the integrated approach, advanced technologies and laser-like focus on client needs that TRC’s is known throughout the industry for.”

TRC already has strong relationships with a number of large Canadian firms, including TransCanada, Enbridge, Kinder Morgan and Canadian National Railway. It has also done a number of infrastructure projects across the country, including locomotive fueling facilities, power distribution system upgrades, capital improvement planning projects and wastewater treatment plants.

About TRC

TRC is a global engineering, environmental consulting and construction management firm that provides integrated services to the energy, environmental, infrastructure and pipeline services markets. TRC serves a broad range of commercial, industrial and government clients, implementing complex projects from initial concept to delivery and operation.

Canadian Government Introduces Amendments to Fisheries Act: Initial Thoughts

Article by  Selina Lee-AndersenStephanie Axmann,and Paul R. Cassidy

McCarthy Tétrault LLP

On February 6, 2018, the federal government announced amendments to the Fisheries Act (the “Act”) aimed at restoring what it describes as ‘lost protections” and “incorporating modern safeguards” to protect fish and fish habitat. The Act, regarded as one of Canada’s principal environmental laws as it is the primary federal statute governing fisheries resources in Canada, includes important provisions for conserving and protecting fish and fish habitat that affect a variety of industries.

The proposed amendments result from a process launched by the government in October 2016, when the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans asked the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans (the “Committee”) to review changes to the Act made in 2012 by the previous government of then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The Report of the Fisheries and Oceans Committee on the Fisheries Act review, entitled “Review of Changes Made in 2012 to the Fisheries Act: Enhancing The Protection of Fish And Fish Habitat and the Management Of Canadian Fisheries” (the “Fisheries Report”) was released on February 24, 2017 and made 32 recommendations to the government. In June 2017, the government released its Environmental and Regulatory Reviews Discussion Paper, which outlined potential reforms and proposed, among other things, that “lost protections” be restored in the Act.

A Quick Summary

Under the proposed amendments, the scope of the Act will be increased to cover all fish, rather than commercial, Indigenous and recreational fisheries (as currently set out in the Act). Unsurprisingly, the government proposes to reintroduce the pre-2012 prohibition on the “harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat“, also known as HADD. This means that the concept of “serious harm to fish” under the current Act will be removed. By reintroducing the HADD language, the federal government is also reintroducing old uncertainty in the case law about what precisely constitutes a HADD; whether this will be addressed in guidance from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) remains to be seen.

Salmon Spawning (Photo Credit: D. Herasimtschuk)

The proposed amendments also include a new requirement to consider cumulative effects, along with increased regulatory powers to amend, suspend, or cancel authorizations. In support of reconciliation efforts, the proposed amendments also provide opportunities to increase the role of Indigenous groups in decision-making under the Act and in managing fisheries and fish habitat.

It does not appear that the pollution provisions in section 36 (prohibiting the deposit of deleterious substances) of the Act will be changed, even though they have long created a scientifically questionable prohibition on the deposit of any substances deemed to be deleterious without regard to their quantity or the actual receiving environment.

A Closer Look

A more detailed look at the proposed amendments is set out below and will be expanded upon in future blogs. From a policy perspective, the proposed amendments are designed to achieve the following objectives:

  • restore lost protections by returning to comprehensive protection against harming all fish and fish habitat;
  • strengthen the role of Indigenous peoples in project reviews, monitoring and policy development;
  • recognize that decisions can be guided by principles of sustainability, precaution and ecosystem management;
  • promote restoration of degraded habitat and rebuilding of depleted fish stocks;
  • allow for the better management of large and small projects impacting fish and fish habitat through a new permitting framework and codes of practice;
  • create full transparency for projects with a public registry;
  • create new fisheries management tools to enhance the protection of fish and ecosystems;
  • strengthen the long-term protection of marine refuges for biodiversity;
  • help ensure that the economic benefits of fishing remain with the licence holders and their community by providing clear ability to enshrine current inshore fisheries policies into regulations; and
  • clarify and modernize enforcement powers to address emerging fisheries issues and to align with current provisions in other legislation.

Within the context of resource development, the following proposed amendments will likely have the greatest impacts on the design, construction and operation of projects going forward:

  • Protecting Fish and Fish Habitat: The federal government is proposing the restoration of protections for fish and fish habitat that were lost with changes in 2012. In particular, it is proposing that all fish and fish habitats be protected, and that the previous prohibition against “harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat” be restored. In addition, the federal government is proposing to restore a prohibition against causing “the death of fish by means other than fishing” and to introduce a new requirement to make information on project decisions public through an online registry.
  • Better Management of Projects: The federal government is proposing the development of regulations that clearly define which projects would always require ministerial permits before a project can begin. In particular, it is proposing that projects that would always require ministerial permits be called designated projects, which would be identified based on their potential impact on fish and fish habitat. These are expected to be larger-scale projects. Currently, projects requiring authorization under the Fisheries Actare determined on a project-by-project basis. DFO surmises that the concept of a designated project would provide greater certainty for proponents around process and timelines. DFO’s current practice of issuing letters of advice and ministerial authorizations will continue for projects that are not listed as designated projects. In addition, the federal government is proposing the establishment of new authorities to support the development of codes of practice, which will serve as formal guidance documents for small, routine projects such that, if followed, permits or authorizations are not needed. The actual value of such codes of practice has been the subject of uneven experience in other environmental legislation. However, the codes of practice should, it is anticipated, provide advice to project proponents on how to avoid impacts on fish and fish habitat, and ensure compliance with the Act.
  • Restoring Habitat and Rebuilding Fish Stocks: In order to create more stable and resilient aquatic ecosystems and support the sustainability of fish stocks, the federal government is proposing that DFO be required to consider whether proposed development projects give priority to the restoration of degraded fish habitats. In addition, the federal government is proposing to introduce a requirement to create and publish habitat restoration plans on a public registry after designating an area as ecologically significant where habitat restoration is needed. The Minister will also be given the ability to create regulations related to the restoration of fish habitat and the rebuilding of fish stocks.
  • Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples: The federal government has stated that proposed changes to the Fisheries Act will help to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples by, among other things: (i) requiring consideration of traditional knowledge for habitat decisions and adverse effects on the rights of Indigenous peoples when making decisions under the Act; (ii) enabling agreements with Indigenous governing bodies to carry out the purposes of the Act; and (iii) introducing a modernized fish habitat protection program that would enhance partnering opportunities with Indigenous communities regarding the conservation and protection of fish and fish habitat. It should be noted that DFO’s efforts to help advance reconciliation is taking place within the broader federal government review of laws and policies related to Indigenous peoples, which was initiated in February 2017.

DFO has prepared a comparison of the proposed changes, which is summarized below:

Before Proposed Amendments After Proposed Amendments
Not all fish and fish habitat protected; only those related to a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery protected.

 

Protection of all fish and fish habitat.

 

 

No explicit reference to consideration of the rights of Indigenous peoples, and their unique knowledge, to inform decision making.

 

 

Provided Indigenous traditional knowledge must inform habitat decisions.

Requirement to consider adverse effects of decisions on the rights of Indigenous peoples.

 

Ability to enter into certain agreements restricted to provinces and territories only.

 

Added ability to enter into agreements with Indigenous governing bodies as well as provinces and territories.

 

No provisions regarding the independence of inshore licence holders.

 

 

 

 

Provisions allowing for recognition of social, economic and cultural factors, as well as the preservation or promotion of the independence of licence holders in commercial inshore fisheries.

Enabling regulations to support independent inshore licence holders.

 

No tools to quickly implement in-season fisheries restrictions to address unforeseen conservation and management issues. Ability to put in place targeted short-term measures to quickly and effectively respond to unforeseen threats to the management of fisheries and to the conservation of fish.

 

Uncertainty as to when authorizations are required for development projects. Clarity on which types of projects require authorizations through permitting and codes of practice.

 

Lack of transparency regarding authorization decisions for projects; no requirement to publicly release information on these decisions.

 

Requirement to publicly release information on project decisions through an online registry.

 

 

No tools to address long-term marine conservation. Ability to create long-term area-based restrictions on fishing activities to protect marine biodiversity.

 

No specific provisions to address whales in captivity. A prohibition on fishing cetaceans with intent to take them into captivity unless authorized by the Minister in circumstances where the animal is injured, in distress or in need of care.

 

No legal requirements related to rebuilding fish stocks.

 

 

 

 

Minister must consider whether stock rebuilding measures are in place when making a fisheries management decision that would impact a depleted stock.

Enabling regulations respecting the rebuilding of fish stocks.

Antiquated provision for the management offences under the Fisheries Act, often leading to costly and long court processes.

 

Ability to address Fisheries Act offences outside of court using alternative measures agreements, which reduces costs and repeat offences.

 

No provisions to restore degraded habitat as part of development project reviews.

 

Provisions to consider restoration priorities as part of development project reviews.

 

Insufficient capacity to enforce provisions under the Act.

 

Enhanced enforcement and monitoring capacity on the water and for projects.

 

We will continue to monitor and provide commentary as the proposed amendment legislation makes its way through Parliament. DFO has indicated that regulations and policies are now being developed in consultation with Indigenous groups, provinces and stakeholders to support the implementation of the amendments. Like a lot of environmental legislation, the true impact of the new Fisheries Act will only be meaningfully gauged once its regulations are published.

 ____________________________  

To view original article, please click here.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Photo Credit: Nature Canada

BC Seeks Feedback on Second Phase of the Spill Response Regime

WRITTEN BY:

Bennett Jones LLP

David Bursey, Radha Curpen, and Sharon Singh

[co-author: Charlotte Teal, Articling Student]

Phase-2 to BC’s Spill Response Regime

The British Columbia government is moving forward with the second phase of spill regulations, announcing further stakeholder engagement on important elements, such as spill response in sensitive areas and geographic response plans. The government will also establish an independent scientific advisory panel to recommend whether, and how, heavy oils (such as bitumen) can be safely transported and cleaned up. While the advisory panel is proceeding, the government is proposing regulatory restrictions on the increase of diluted bitumen (dilbit) transportation.

The second phase engagement process follows the first phase of regulatory overhaul introduced in October 2017, when the Province established higher standards for spill preparedness, response and recovery.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press

Feedback and Engagement

The Province is planning an intentions paper for the end of February 2018 that will outline the government’s proposed regulations and will be available for public comment.

In particular, the Province will seek feedback on:

  1. response times, to ensure timely responses to spills;
  2. geographic response plans, to ensure that resources are available to support an immediate response that account for the unique characteristics of sensitive areas;
  3. compensation for loss of public and cultural use of land, resources or public amenities in the case of spills;
  4. maximizing application of regulations to marine spills; and
  5. restrictions on the increase of dilbit transportation until the behaviour of spilled bitumen can be better understood and there is certainty regarding the ability to adequately mitigate spills.

What this means for industry

This second phase was planned follow up to the October 2017 regulations. Many of the proposed regulatory changes have been part of ongoing stakeholder discussions for the past few years. However, the prospect of permanent restrictions or a ban on the increased transportation of dilbit off the coast of B.C. and the prospect of further regulatory recommendations from the independent scientific advisory panel creates uncertainty for Canada’s oil sector.

The government’s emphasis on environmental concerns related to bitumen and its recent initiatives to restrict oil exports to allow time for more study of marine impacts will further fuel the national discourse on how to export Canada’s oil to international markets from the Pacific Coast.

____________________

This article was first published on the Bennett Jones LLP website.

About the Authors

Tracing Contaminated Soil in Quebec

As reported in LaPresse, the Quebec Environment Minister, Isabelle Melancon, recently announced that the Quebec government will soon begin a pilot project to improve the “traceability” of contaminated soil from construction sites.

An earlier story in LaPresse stated the provincial authorities lost track of 3,000 tonnes of contaminated soil from a the Baril School in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.  Management of the soil had been taken over by the company of a former Hell’s Angels partner, OFA Environment Management.

Remediation work at the Baril Elementary School in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Montreal

Soils were to be shipped to a Quebec-based company, accredited by the Quebec Ministry of the Environment. Instead, they were moved to another company with the same name, but located near East Hawkesbury, Ontario.  The firm apparently operated from a place that does not have an address.

There is no prohibition on shipping contaminated soil to Ontario, where the rules governing their treatment are less stringent than in Quebec. But in the case of the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve school, the contract specified that the floors were to be arranged in accordance with the Quebec law, according to the company in charge of supervising the construction site.

“We can not pretend that nothing is happening,” said Melançon at the end of a meeting of the Council of Ministers.

Last fall, La Presse revealed that “highly contaminated” soils had been dumped illegally on the banks of the Achigan River in Sainte-Sophie, in the Laurentians.

“[You have to] know where it’s going, what happened,” said the minister.  “We have to follow the soil better because, as we can see, this is the second horror story I am confronted with. ”

Quebec is currently in talks with potential suppliers to set up a “traceability” program. The pilot project should be launched shortly.

Mining company in B.C. fined $200,000 for Failure to Sample Effluent

Barkerville Gold Mines Ltd. (TSXV: BGM) was recently ordered to pay $200,000 after pleading guilty, in Provincial Court of British Columbia, to violations under the Canadian Fisheries Act related to the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations.

The fine was the result of routine inspections conducted by Environment and Climate Change Canada enforcement officers at the Cariboo gold mine in Central British Columbia.  During inspections, it was revealed that the company failed to complete sampling, notify authorities of having deposited effluent into fish-bearing water without authorization, and submit reports on time.  The effluent was deposited into Lowhee Creek, part of the Willow River system—an important fish-bearing watershed.  The Metal Mining Effluent Regulations authorize deposits of effluent provided that conditions stipulated in the regulations are respected.

About Barkerville Gold Mines Ltd. is focused on developing its extensive land package located in the historical Cariboo Mining District of central British Columbia. Barkerville’s mineral tenures cover 1,950 square kilometres along a strike length of 67 kilometres which includes several past producing hard rock mines of the historic Barkerville Gold Mining Camp near the town of Wells, British Columbia.

Drillers at Barkerville Gold Mines’ Cow Mountain gold project in the Cariboo mining district

U.S. EPA Approves Use of Updated ASTM Phase I Standard for Specific Properties

ASTM International recently updated its Phase I environmental site assessment standard for assessing large rural and forestland properties.  This Standard Practice for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Process for Forestland or Rural Property, E 2247-16 (2016 rural property standard), replaces a 2008 version, numbered E2247-08. Purchasers of real property who intend to use the rural property standard for a closing on or after March 14, 2018, must use the 2016 standard.

Proposed purchasers seeking to establish the innocent purchaser, bona fide prospective purchaser or contiguous property owner defenses under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act must comply with the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (U.S. EPA’s) All Appropriate Inquiries (AAI) standard at 40 C.F.R. pt. 312 prior to the purchase of the property.  While purchasers may follow the AAI criteria set forth in the regulations, most purchasers follow either the E1527-13 Phase I standard (defined below) or the 2008 rural property standard when performing pre-purchase Phase I environmental site assessments, as both standards are specifically identified in the regulation as satisfying AAI.

Effective March 14, 2018, the 2016 rural property standard replaces the 2008 standard for use in meeting AAI under EPA’s regulation. (Purchasers of real property who intend to use the rural property standard for a closing before March 14, 2018, however, may still use the 2008 standard.)  This change is of particular importance to solar and wind projects proposed for large tracts of rural and farmland property, as it allows for less rigorous onsite assessment than the site visit requirements used for assessing commercial and industrial properties, Standard Practice for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Process, E 1527-13 standard.

Since Phase I environmental site assessments originated in 1986, the review of large rural and forestland properties has been difficult and time-consuming due to the site reconnaissance requirements alone.  The 2008 rural property standard alleviated some of the difficulties in the site reconnaissance requirements for assessing large rural tracts of property, as more particularly described in an earlier summary.

The 2016 rural property standard adds updated terminology that is used in the companion E1527-13 standard, but more importantly, changes some language that limited the more widespread use of the 2008 version.  First and foremost, the 2016 rural property standard eliminates the somewhat arbitrary 120-acres-or-more size requirement for use of the standard and simply requires the property to be “forestland” or “rural property.”  The standard includes a much broader definition of rural property, allows some alternative sourcing for agency records, and designates a specific time limit of 20 calendar days for receipt of materials requested by the consultant for review in completing Phase I.  The 20 calendar days requirement offers the benefit of an outside time limit, but also ensures that a Phase I environmental site assessment will take at least 20 days to complete if requested documentation is not received earlier. The 2016 rural property standard also relaxes some of the site visit criteria.

US officials consider robots to prevent mine spills

As reported by the Associated Press, Crumbling mine tunnels awash with polluted waters perforate the Colorado mountains and scientists may one day send robots creeping through the pitch-black passages to study the mysterious currents that sometimes burst to the surface with devastating effects.

One such disaster happened at the inactive Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado in 2015, when the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) accidentally triggered the release of 3 million gallons of mustard-colored water laden with arsenic, lead and other toxins. The spill tainted rivers in three states.

a man in a hard hat sprinkling lime (white power) into a pool of muddy water next to a culvert. Here, lime is added to a settling pond to assist in the pH adjustment of the water (Credit: Eric Vance/U.S. EPA)

Now the U.S. EPA is considering using robots and other sophisticated technology to help prevent these types of “blowouts” or clean them up if they happen. But first, the agency has to find out what’s inside the mines, some of which date to Colorado’s gold rush in the 1860s.

Wastewater laden with toxic heavy metals has been spewing from hundreds of inactive mines nationwide for decades, the product of complicated and sometimes poorly understood subterranean flows.

Mining creates tainted water in steps: Blasting out tunnels and processing ore exposes long-buried, sulfur-bearing rocks to oxygen. The sulfur and oxygen mix with natural underground water flows to create sulfuric acid. The acidic water then leaches heavy metals out of the rocks.

To manage and treat the wastewater, the U.S. EPA needs a clear idea of what’s inside the mines, some of which penetrate thousands of feet into the mountains. But many old mines are poorly documented.

Investigating with robots would be cheaper, faster and safer than humans.

“You can send a robot into an area that doesn’t have good air quality. You can send a robot into an area that doesn’t have much space,” said Rebecca Thomas, project manager for the U.S. EPA’s newly created Gold King Superfund site, officially known as the Bonita Peak Mining District.

Instruments on the robots could map the mines and analyze pollutants in the water.

They would look more like golf carts than the personable robots from “Star Wars” movies. Hao Zhang, an assistant professor of computer science at the Colorado School of Mines, envisions a battery-powered robot about 5 feet long with wheels or tracks to get through collapsing, rubble-strewn tunnels.

Zhang and a team of students demonstrated a smaller robot in a mine west of Denver recently. It purred smoothly along flat tunnel floors but toppled over trying to negotiate a cluttered passage.

“The terrain is pretty rough,” Zhang said. “It’s hard for even humans to navigate in that environment.”

A commercial robot modified to explore abandoned mines — including those swamped with acidic wastewater — could cost about $90,000 and take three to four years to develop, Zhang said.

Robot in underground mine (Photo Credit: Tatlana Flower/AP File)

Significant obstacles remain, including finding a way to operate remotely while deep inside a mine, beyond the reach of radio signals. One option is dropping signal-relay devices along the way so the robot stays in touch with operators. Another is designing an autonomous robot that could find its own way.

Researchers are also developing sophisticated computerized maps showing mines in three dimensions. The maps illustrate where the shafts intersect with natural faults and provide clues about how water courses through the mountains.

“It really helps us understand where we have certainty and where we have a lot of uncertainty about what we think is happening in the subsurface,” said Ian Bowen, a U.S. EPA hydrologist. “So it’s a wonderful, wonderful tool.”

The U.S. EPA also plans to drill into mines from the surface and lower instruments into the bore holes, measuring the depth, pressure and direction of underground water currents.

Tracing the currents is a challenge because they flow through multiple mines and surface debris. Many tunnels and faults are connected, so blocking one might send water out another.

“You put your finger in the dike here, where’s the water going to come out?” Thomas said.

Once the U.S. EPA finishes investigating, it will look at technologies for cleansing the wastewater.

Options range from traditional lime neutralization — which causes the heavy metals dissolved in the water to form particles and drop out — to more unusual techniques that involve introducing microbes.

The choice has consequences for taxpayers.  If no company is found financially responsible, the EPA pays the bill for about 10 years and then turns it over to the state.  Colorado currently pays about $1 million a year to operate a treatment plant at one Superfund mine. By 2028, it will pay about $5.7 million annually to operate plants at three mines, not including anything at the Bonita Peak site.

The U.S. EPA views the Colorado project as a chance for the government and entrepreneurs to take risks and try technology that might be useful elsewhere.

But the agency — already dealing with a distrustful public and critical politicians after triggering the Gold King spill — said any technology deployed in Colorado will be tested first and the public will have a chance to comment before decisions are made.

“We’re certainly not going to be in the position of making things worse,” Thomas said. “So when I say we want to take risks, we do, but we want to take calculated, educated risks and not worsen water quality.”

Unique oil spill in East China Sea frustrates scientists

As reported by Cally Carswell in Nature, When the Iranian oil tanker Sanchi collided with a cargo ship, caught fire and sank in the East China Sea in mid-January, an entirely new kind of maritime disaster was born. Nearly two weeks later, basic questions remain unanswered about the size of the spill, its chemical makeup and where it could end up. Without that crucial information, researchers are struggling to predict the short- and long-term ecological consequences of the incident.

Sanchi Oil Tanker partially explodes in East China Sea (Photo Credit: CNN)

“This is charting new ground, unfortunately,” says Rick Steiner, a former University of Alaska professor in Anchorage who has studied the environmental impacts of oil spills and consulted with governments worldwide on spill response. “This is probably one of the most unique spills ever.”

The infamous spills of the past — such as the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, or the Exxon Valdez tanker rupture in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989 — involved heavier crude oil. It can remain in the deep ocean for years and has chronic impacts on marine life. The Sanchi carried a little more than 111,300 metric tons of natural gas condensate, a lighter, more volatile petroleum product which doesn’t linger as long in the environment. Condensate has never before been unleashed into the sea in large quantities.

Unlike heavy crude, condensate doesn’t accumulate in shimmering slicks on the water’s surface, which makes it difficult to monitor and contain. Neither does it sink to the ocean floor, as do some of the heavier constituents in crude over time. Rather, it burns off, evaporates or dissolves into the surface water, where some of its chemical components can linger for weeks or months.

“Most oil spills have a chronic toxicological effect due to heavy residuals remaining and sinking over time,” says Ralph Portier, a marine microbiologist and toxicologist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. “This may be one of the first spills where short-term toxicity is of most concern.”

Missing science

A significant, but unknown, portion of the Sanchi’s condensate probably fuelled the fires that followed the collision. In the waters immediately surrounding the tanker, Portier says, the conflagration and gaseous fumes would have killed off or injured phytoplankton, along with birds, marine mammals and fish that were caught in the vicinity when the tanker ignited.

Moving beyond the fire, the impact of the accident becomes harder to discern. That’s because the exact chemical composition of the condensate has not yet been made public, Steiner says, and because no one knows how much of the condensate dissolved into the water.

“The part I’m most worried about is the dissolved fraction,” Steiner says. Toxic chemicals in the condensate could harm plankton, fish larvae and invertebrate larvae at fairly low concentrations at the sea surface, he says. Fish could suffer reproductive impairments so long as chemicals persist in the water, and birds and marine mammals might experience acute chemical exposure. “In a turbulent, offshore environment, it dilutes fairly quickly,” he says. “But it’s still toxic.”

Because this type of spill is new, Portier says, researchers don’t yet understand the ultimate consequences of acute exposure to condensate in the sea, where it’s breaking down and dispersing. “That’s really where the science is missing,” he says.

Destination unknown

Researchers are also scrambling to assess where pollutants from the Sanchi could travel. Groups in both China and the United Kingdom have run ocean-circulation models to predict the oil’s journey, and the models agree that much of the pollution is likely to end up in a powerful current known as the Kuroshio, which flows past southeastern Japan and out to the North Pacific. The European models suggest that chemicals from the Sanchi could reach the coast of Japan within a month. But the Chinese models indicate that they are unlikely to intrude on Japanese shores at all.

Katya Popova, a modeller with the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK, isn’t sure why the models disagree. But she says that the discrepancy points to the importance of forging international collaborations to increase confidence in model projections during emergencies. “This is something that the oil industry should organize and fund to improve preparedness,” she says.

Fangli Qiao with China’s State Oceanic Administration in Qingdao says his group’s models indicate that the pollution’s probable path overlaps with Japanese sardine and anchovy fisheries. But Popova cautions that the models are not necessarily good indicators of potential harm to fisheries or coastlines.

“All we’re saying is, if something is spilled here at this time, we can give you the most probable distribution,” she says. “We don’t know what type of oil or how much.” Those are crucial details because condensate components could degrade or evaporate before reaching important fisheries or shores. “A monitoring programme is the most pressing need right now,” Popova says, “to see where it goes and in what concentration.”

Yet Steiner says that comprehensive environmental monitoring doesn’t seem to have started. Official Chinese-government statements have included results from water-quality monitoring at the wreckage site, but none from the downstream currents that could be dispersing the pollution. “Time is of the essence, particularly with a volatile substance like condensate,” Steiner says. “They needed to immediately be doing plankton monitoring, and monitoring of fish, sea birds. I’ve seen no reports of any attempt to do that.”

Nature 554, 17-18 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-00976-9

Key Developments in Environmental Law in Canada from 2017

A book on the developments in environmental law in Canada during 2017 was recently published by Thomson Reuters.  Edited by Stanley D. Berger of Fogler Rubinoff LLP, the book includes a number of interesting chapters related to contaminated sites and the issues raised in the Midwest Properties Ltd. v. Thordarson (“Midwest”) court case.  The Midwest case is part of a possible trend in Canada toward awarding damages based on restoration costs rather than diminution in value.  If nothing, else the Midwest Case has introduced uncertainty to the law of damages in contaminated sites cases.

In the chapter written by Natalie Mullins, a litigation partner in the Advocacy and Environmental groups in the Toronto office of Gowling WLG, on the evolution and current state of law on damages in contaminated sites, she states that despite being explicit about awarding compensatory damages only under section 99 of the Alberta Environmental Protection Act (“EPA”) and not at common law, the Alberta Court of Appeal may have implied that restoration costs are the default measure of damages in contaminated sites cases.  She also explores some other critical issues that have arisen post-Midwest, such as:

  • Whether diminution in value is still relevant to the measure of damages;
  • What it means to “restore” a real property;
  • How the court can take a proactive role to ensure that awards made to benefit the environment actually meet that objective; and
  • How defence counsel might prevent similar awards in the future, and how plaintiff’s counsel might use the case to obtain significant damages for their clients.

An interesting point raised by Ms. Mullins in her contaminated sites chapter is that in recent court cases, highlighted with Midwest, court decisions may be paving the way for plaintiffs to recover very significant damage awards for the contaminated of their sites that grossly exceed their actual loss and, in certain circumstances, may be completely unwarranted.

Ms. Mullins questions if the Midwest decision has created the potential for litigants to profit off purchasing contaminated sites and for defendants to face double jeopardy following judgment at trial.

The book is available at online for $144 (Cdn.).

 

Remediation of Trichoroethane (TCE) – contaminated groundwater by persulfate oxidation

Researchers in Taiwan performed field trials on the ability of persulfate to remediate trichloroethane (TCE) contaminated groundwater.  The purpose of the field trial was to (1) evaluate the efficacy of TCE treatment using persulfate with different injection strategies; (2) determine the persistence of persulfate in the aquifer; (3) determine the persulfate radius of influence and transport distance; and (4) determine the impact of persulfate on indigenous microorganisms during remediation.

The researchers discovered that persulfate removed up to 100% TCE under specific conditions.  Overall, they found a single, higher does of persulfate was more effective at destroying TCE than two separate, smaller doses.

Results show that sequential injections of a large amount of persulfate are suggested to maintain good long-term performance for TCE treatment. This paper is available at http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2018/ra/c7ra10860e.