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B.C. First Nation says it has created world-class oil spill response plan

As reported by CTV News, A British Columbia First Nation has released a plan it says will give it a leading role in oil spill prevention and response on the province’s central coast.

A report from the Heiltsuk Nation calls for the creation of an Indigenous Marine Response Centre capable of responding within five hours along a 350 kilometre stretch of the coast.

The centre proposal follows what the report calls the “inadequate, slow and unsafe” response to the October 2016 grounding of the tug the Nathan E. Stewart that spilled about 110,000 litres of diesel and other contaminants.

Bella Bella Oil Spill (Photo Credit: HEILTSUK FIRST NATION)

Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett says during that disaster her people saw what senior governments had described as world-class spill response and she says the Heiltsuk promised themselves that this would never happen in their territory again.

The report says the proposed centre, on Denny Island across from Bella Bella, and satellite operations dotted along the central coast, would need a total investment of $111.5 million to be operational by next summer.

Unlike current response programs which the report says are limited specifically to spills, the new centre would answer all marine calls with the potential for oil contamination, including groundings, fires, bottom contacts and capsizings.

“(The centre’s) effectiveness hinges on a fleet of fast response vessels capable of oil clean up and containment, and a tug and barge system providing storage and additional oil spill clean-up capabilities,” the report says.

The barge would also be equipped with enough safety gear, provisions and living space to allow a response team to remain on site for up to three weeks without outside support.

The marine response centre would have annual operating costs of $6.8 million, covering a full-time staff and crew of 37.

“From Ahousaht with the Leviathan II to Gitga’at with the Queen of the North to Heiltsuk with the Nathan E. Stewart, Indigenous communities have shown that we are and will continue to be the first responders to marine incidents in our waters,” says the report, signed by Slett and hereditary Chief Harvey Humchitt.

Indigenous rescuers were first on the scene when six people died after the whale-watching vessel the Leviathan II capsized north of Tofino in 2015. Two people were killed when the Queen of the North hit an island and sank in 2006 west of Hartley Bay and First Nations helped in the rescue.

“The time has come to meaningfully develop our capacity to properly address emergencies in our territories as they arise,” the report says.

New spill reporting, response and recovery requirements in British Columbia

As reported by Norton Rose Fulbright, the Province of British Columbia recently brought into force a new land-based spills regime and three new regulations requiring transporters of liquid petroleum products to have provincial spill response plans, to test such plans and to report and clean up spills. The new regulations apply to two categories of people:

  • “regulated persons,” which are rail and highway transporters in possession, charge or control of 10,000 litres (62.898 barrels) or more of liquid petroleum products and pipeline operators with any quantity of liquid petroleum products in their pipeline; and
  • “responsible persons,” which are persons in possession, charge or control of a substance when a spill occurs or is imminent.

The three new regulations are the Spill Contingency Planning Regulation, the Spill Preparedness Recovery Regulation and the Spill Reporting Regulation.

Spill contingency planning

Regulated persons are required to develop and maintain spill contingency plans based on a worst-case scenario spill. Investigations, tests and surveys must be undertaken to determine the magnitude of the risks to human health, the environment and infrastructure from a worst-case spill. Pipeline and rail transporters must have their spill contingency plans in place by April 30, 2018, while trucking firms have until October 30, 2018.

Spill response efforts have failed to contain an estimated 110,000 litres of diesel and other petroleum products from the tugboat Nathan E. Stewart, which ran aground Oct. 13 in the Seaforth Channel near Bella Bella. (Photo Credit: Ian McAllister/CBC)

It is important to note that, while the spill planning obligations may resemble transportation of dangerous goods-type plans, they impose new requirements.

Spill reporting

New spill reporting requirements require a responsible person to immediately report any intentional or unintentional spill of a substance into the environment that may cause, is causing or has caused an adverse effect to water, the environment, human health or property if the volume of the substance exceeds the amounts set out in a schedule to the Spill Reporting Regulation or if the substance has or is likely to enter a body of water, regardless of the volume. Natural gas spills greater than 10 kg and releases from breakages of pipelines or fittings operated above 100 psi must also be reported.

The new regulation expands the scope of spills that must be reported, as it removes the previous volume/quantity threshold for spills to water.

It also expands the information that must be reported.

If a spill occurs or is imminent, a verbal report must immediately be made to the BC Provincial Emergency Program’s spill reporting hotline (1-800-663-3456) by the responsible person. New requirements stipulate the initial report must include the name of the owner of the spilled substance and a description of the source of the spill.

Starting on October 30, 2018, a written report must also be made within 30 days of the spill, or as soon as practicable on the minister’s request. An end-of-spill report must also be made within 30 days of the end of a spill’s emergency response activities.

Spill response

A responsible person must ensure persons with the skill, experience, resources and equipment arrive at the spill site within a prescribed period and activate an incident command system. They must also ensure actions are taken to address the threat or hazard caused by the spill, including assessing, monitoring and preventing the threat or hazard; stabilizing, containing and cleaning up the spill; identifying the immediate and long-term risks and impacts of the spill; and taking steps to resolve or mitigate such risks and impacts.