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Record $2.7 million fine for company causing oil spill in B.C.

Kirby Offshore Marine Operating LLC was recently sentenced in the Provincial Court of British Columbia, in Bella Bella, after pleading guilty to three charges of violating federal legislation, in connection with an October 13, 2016, spill from the vessel Nathan E. Stewart into Seaforth Channel near Bella Bella, British Columbia.

The company was sentenced to pay the following penalties:

  • $2.7 million for the offence of depositing a deleterious substance into water frequented by fish, in violation of the Fisheries Act;
  • $200,000 for the offence of depositing a substance harmful to migratory birds, in violation of the Migratory Birds Convention Act1994; and
  • $5,000 for the offence of failing to comply with the pilotage requirements under the Pilotage Act.

The $2.7 million penalty imposed under the Fisheries Act is the largest fine for the deposit of a deleterious substance into water frequented by fish from a single spill. This penalty will be directed to the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund and is recommended to be used toward the conservation of fish and fish habitat in the Central Coast region of British Columbia. The $200,000 penalty for the offence under the Migratory Birds Convention Act1994 will also be directed to the Fund.

On October 13, 2016, the tug boat Nathan E. Stewart ran aground at Edge Reef near Bella Bella, British Columbia, resulting in the release of approximately 107,552 litres (28,412 gallons) of diesel fuel and 2,240 litres (591 gallons) of lubricants. Both substances are deleterious to fish and migratory birds. Kirby Offshore Marine Operating LLC owned the Nathan E. Stewart.

The articulated tug-barge combo was on its way back to Vancouver from Alaska at the time of the incident. The fuel barge was empty, but the tug quickly began leaking diesel into the water. Seven crew members were on board, but no one was injured.

The tug and barge combo Nathan E. Stewart  (Photo Credit:  NORMAN FOX / FOR PNG )

Kirby Offshore Marine is the largest United States operator of coastal tank barges and towing vessels participating in the regional distribution of refined petroleum products, black oil, and petrochemicals. Kirby’s coastal fleet operates along the U.S. coastal network and calls on ports along the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts, as well as ports in Alaska, Hawaii and on the Great Lakes.

As a result of the federal conviction, the company’s name will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry.

Federal Government Passes Controversial Environmental Legislation and Tanker Ban

Written by Blakes Environmental Law Group

The Government of Canada has enacted two new pieces of environmental legislation, significantly altering the process for federal project approvals in Canada. It has also passed extensive amendments to the rules regarding navigable waters and fish habitat protections that had been previously changed through omnibus legislation in 2012.

On June 20, 2019, the Senate passed three bills:

  1. Bill C-69, the controversial Act entitled An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
  2. Bill C-48, Oil Tanker Moratorium Act
  3. Bill C-68, Act to Amend the Fisheries Act

All three bills received royal assent on June 21, 2019. Bill C-69 and significant portions of Bill C-68 will come into force later, through orders-in-council. Once in force, the bills will result in significant changes to how the government manages and approves projects in Canada. For more information on Bills C-69 and C-68, please see our February 2018 Blakes Bulletin: Federal Government Overhauls Canadian Environmental Legislation.

BILL C-69

Originally introduced in the House of Commons in February 2018, Bill C-69 toured the country and was amended three times before ultimately receiving royal assent over a year after its introduction. The final Senate vote was 57 to 37 with one abstention. Highlights of Bill C-69 include the repeal of the National Energy Board Act (NEB Act) and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA), signalling the end of the National Energy Board (NEB) and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. To replace them, the new Canadian Energy Regulator Act (CERA) and Impact Assessment Act (IAA) respectively, will create two new regulators: the Canadian Energy Regulator (CER) and the Impact Assessment Agency (Agency).

The CER, like the NEB, will continue to govern the lifecycle of federal energy projects, including interprovincial and international pipelines and transmission lines, offshore energy projects, and international energy trade. However, the new Agency will take over all impact assessments and evaluate projects based on several mandatory factors, including project need, economic and social effects, and Indigenous knowledge related to the project. The Agency or appointed review panel must report to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada (Minister) or the governor-in-council on the positive and negative impacts of the project. This is in contrast to the existing procedure, where the NEB presides over project reviews and makes recommendations to the government. Cabinet or the Minister, however, will remain responsible for final determinations on the public interest.

The new IAA process will include an early planning stage and proponent impact statement prior to the commencement of an impact assessment. An impact assessment may be led by the Agency or a review panel, which may include panel members from lifecycle regulators such as the CER. Like the CEAA, the IAA will apply to designated projects; however, the regulations indicating which projects will be designated have not yet been finalized.

Bill C-69 was not passed with flying colours. The first round of amendments to the bill were made on the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development (ENVI). The ENVI Committee Report was prepared with input from Indigenous Peoples, companies and individuals. The initial round of amendments included changes such as clearer timelines, clarification around factors to be considered in project review (only feasible alternatives to be considered, both positive and negative impacts), clarification of transitional provisions and allowance for integrated review panels to ensure projects are subjected to only one review.

The first round of amendments was approved and Bill C-69 was sent to the Senate, where it was referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources (Senate Committee). After touring the country to hear from interested parties nationwide, in May 2019, the Senate Committee recommended, and the Senate subsequently adopted, nearly 200 amendments to the bill.

After the extensive amendments were approved by the Senate, Bill C-69 went back to Parliament. On June 13, 2019, the federal government accepted 99 of the amendments passed by the Senate and rejected the remainder. Of those 99, the majority were accepted as drafted, but a substantial portion were further amended. The resulting version of the bill (which has not yet been consolidated and released) was passed by the Senate on June 20, 2019.

Amendments

The accepted amendments are primarily amendments to the IAA. Among those amendments approved by the government and ultimately passed by the Senate are several changes to the IAA which re-allocate powers from the Minister to the Agency. For example, the ability to suspend time limits, or to determine relevant factors to consider in an assessment. Also, the Minister is not allowed to direct the Agency, its employees, or any review panel members with respect to a report, decision, order, or recommendation to be made under the IAA.

Several amendments recommended by the Senate Committee would have modified the mandatory considerations for project approvals set out in section 22 of the IAA, but all were ultimately rejected. Also included in the rejected Senate amendments were those which would have decreased the IAA’s obligations to consider the impacts of proposed projects on climate change. The resulting version of the IAA does not require the Agency to consider a project’s impact on climate change on a global level, to account for provincial enactments respecting climate change, or to explicitly exclude greenhouse gas emissions generated from another downstream physical activity or project from the definition of direct or incidental effects. The requirement to consider a project’s impact on Canada’s ability to meet its international climate change obligations remains.

Amendments that were accepted clarify that the Agency is responsible for determining the scope of the factors that must be considered when conducting an impact assessment. A clarifying amendment that appointed review panel members will be “unbiased and free from any conflict of interest” was also included, as well as those clarifying timelines for review panels. Obligations to consult with the president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and lead Commissioner of the Canadian Energy Regulator (depending on the designated project) when establishing a review panel’s terms of reference are also included.

Global amendments include changing the adjective “adverse” to “significant” when referring to project effects, and clarifying that Indigenous knowledge includes the knowledge of Indigenous women.

Transitional Provisions and Coming into Force

Some of the accepted amendments clarify the transitional provisions and coming into force of the acts in Bill C-69. For example, the new section 182.1 clarifies that an environmental assessment commenced under the CEAA for which a decision statement has not yet been issued upon the coming into force of Bill C-69 is continued as if the CEAA had not been repealed. The new section 187.1 also confirms that a regional study commenced under the CEAA but not completed until after Bill C-69 comes into force is continued as an assessment under the IAA. Also, a regional report under the CEAA is deemed to be report under the IAA.

Completed studies, assessments and approvals under the NEB Act or the CEAA will be continued under the new legislation. If a designated project under the CEAA was determined not to require an environmental assessment, the IAA will not apply. Incomplete assessments or applications will be completed under the legislation they were commenced under, although by a new regulatory body (the Agency or the CER). NEB members may be requested to continue to hear applications that were active before them upon the coming into force of the acts.

Bill C-69 received royal assent on June 21, 2019. It will come into force on a day specified by the governor-in-council.

BILL C-48

The Oil Tanker Moratorium Act was also passed on June 20, 2019 in a Senate vote of 49 to 46, with one abstention. Like Bill C-69, Bill C-48 went on tour and faced two rounds of amendments before making it through the Senate. The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications ultimately rejected the Bill. Interestingly, one of the reasons the Senate Committee recommended that Bill C-48 not proceed was that it felt, should Bill C-69 be passed into law, Bill C-48 would be unnecessary. Despite this recommendation, the Senate rejected the Senate Committee’s recommendation and passed Bill C-48 with minor amendments. The House of Commons accepted the amendments in part, resulting in a requirement to review the act in five years.

The Oil Tanker Moratorium Act will prevent all oil tankers carrying more than 12,500 tonnes of crude oil or persistent oil as cargo from stopping or unloading at ports or marine installations north of Vancouver Island to the Alaskan border. It is particularly criticized as being prejudicial to Western Canadian interests.

BILL C-68

Originally introduced in the House of Commons in February 2018, Bill C-68 was amended at the third reading stage in the House of Commons, and then further amended by the Senate after consideration by the Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. It was passed by the Senate after the House of Commons agreed to accept 30 of the amendments proposed by the Senate and the Senate agreed to the House’s rejection of the rest of the Senate’s amendments.

Significant parts of Bill C-68 relate to the fishery itself but there are some key changes to the fish and fish habitat protection and pollution prevention provision of the Fisheries Act which are of relevance to project development and ongoing operations affecting fish and fish habitat. Of most importance is the repeal of the prohibitions against causing serious harm to fish and the return of the separate prohibitions on death to fish, and causing harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat, or HADD as it is usually called. A last-minute amendment at the third reading stage had been added to create a provision which deemed the: “quantity, timing and quality of water flow necessary to sustain freshwater or estuarine ecosystems of a fish habitat” to be fish habitat. However, with significant opposition to the deeming provision from stakeholders across the country, the Senate voted to remove it, and the House of Commons agreed.

The amendments to the act expand the authority of the Ministry to establish standards and codes of practice, and also broaden the exceptions to the prohibitions not to cause HADD or the death of fish to allow for the Minister to prescribe classes of works or undertakings that can be carried out. The amendments also allow for fish habitat banks and habitat credits granted in relation to conservation projects carried out by a project proponent for the purpose of creating, restoring or enhancing fish habitats within a prescribed area.

Most of Bill C-68 will not be in force until the government issues new and revised regulations necessary to implement the amended provisions.

CONCLUSION

The adoption of Bills C-69, C-48 and C-68 completes a legislative overhaul of environmental assessment laws in Canada. This multi-year process commenced in early 2016 and included recommendations from expert panels, significant nation-wide debate and travelling Senate Committees. While the changes to the Fisheries Act would appear to set back the clock somewhat, expanded regulatory powers may offset the retroactive aspects of the amendments for new projects impacting Canadian waters.

Bills C-69 and C-48 in particular have been highly controversial, with some provinces arguing that they constitute an invasion on provincial jurisdiction to develop natural resources. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced his intention to challenge both of the new acts in court. Critics are concerned that project approvals, in particular for pipelines, will not be forthcoming, and that the tanker ban is a targeted attempt to interfere with bitumen production in Alberta.

Although we now have certainty regarding the specifics of the legislation that new projects will be subject to, questions remain regarding whether the implementation of the legislation will achieve one of its main objectives, which is to enhance “Canada’s global competitiveness by building a system that enables decisions to be made in a predictable and timely manner, providing certainty to investors and stakeholders, driving innovation and enabling the carrying out of sound projects that create jobs for Canadians.”


Republished with permission from Blakes. This article was originally published Blakes Business Class website.

For further information, please contact any member of Blakes’ Environmental Law group.

Canada to Commits Major Funding to Scientific Research on Oil Spill Response

The Government of Canada recently announced that it was committing $4.1 million to six international organizations to fund research projects that will help improve protocols and decision-making to minimize the environmental impacts of oil spills.

The recipients include: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation; Johns Hopkins University; New Jersey Institute of Technology; SINTEF Ocean; Texas A&M University; and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Examples of the projects that will be founded included the following:

  • The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts is receiving $638,000 to conduct a three-year study to quantify the effect of oil photochemical oxidation on the performance of chemical herders in Canadian waters; and
  • Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland is receiving $760,000 to conduct a four-year study on the effects of crude oil properties, dispersants, and weathering on the breakup of plumes and slicks.

These projects are part of the $45.5 million Multi-Partner Research Initiative, announced last year to leverage collaboration among oil spill experts in Canada and abroad to ensure we have the capability to provide the best scientific advice and tools to respond to oil spills in our waters.

A total of 35 Canadian and international projects will focus on a wide range of innovative strategies and technologies to aid in oil spill response. Under this initiative, researchers will investigate computer modeling to predict the movement and fate of spilled oil, the use of chemical dispersants and herders, the efficiency of in-situ (or onsite) burning of oil spilled at sea and the potential of bio-based agents to disperse oil through biodegradation.

The Multi-Partner Research Initiative will support a variety of different but interrelated research projects on alternative response measures for oil spills while facilitating partnerships among the best researchers across Canada and around the world. These collaborative efforts will improve our knowledge of how oil spills behave, how best to contain them and clean them up, and how to minimize their environmental impacts.

With more oil to be shipped by rail, train derailments show enduring safety gaps

by Mark Winfield and Bruce Campbell, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, Canada

The recent runaway CP Rail train in the Rocky Mountains near Field, B.C., highlighted ongoing gaps in Canada’s railway safety regime, more than five years after the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster that killed 47 residents of the small Québec town.

The British Columbia crash resulted in the deaths of three railway workers and the derailment of 99 grain cars and two locomotives.

In the B.C. accident, the train involved had been parked for two hours on a steep slope without the application of hand brakes in addition to air brakes.

The practice of relying on air brakes to hold trains parked on slopes was permitted by both the company and by Transport Canada rules. Revised operating rules, adopted after the Lac-Mégantic disaster, had not required the application of hand brakes under these circumstances.

The latest accident was one of a rash of high-profile train derailments in Canada since the beginning of 2019. While none compares in magnitude with Lac-Mégantic, they evoke disturbing parallels to that tragedy. Although investigations are ongoing, what we do know raises questions about whether any lessons have in fact been learned from the 2013 disaster.

Now must apply hand brakes

Within days of the B.C. runaway, both CP Rail and Transport Canada mandated the application of hand brakes in addition to air brakes for trains parked on slopes. This after-the-fact measure parallels the action Transport Canada took days after Lac-Mégantic, prohibiting single-person crews, after having granted permission to Montréal Maine and Atlantic Railway to operate its massive oil trains through Eastern Québec with a lone operator.

Furthermore, like the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, existing mechanical problems with the locomotives involved reportedly played a role in the CP Rail derailment, raising questions about the adequacy of oversight with regard to equipment maintenance practices.

Like Lac-Mégantic, worker fatigue may have also played a role in the crash. Despite efforts within Transport Canada to force railways to better manage crew fatigue, railway companies have long resisted. Instead they have taken page out of the tobacco industry playbook by denying inconvenient scientific evidence as “emotional and deceptive rhetoric.”

The situation has prompted the Transportation Safety Board to put fatigue management on its watchlist of risky practices, stating that Transport Canada has been aware of the problem for many years but is continuing to drag its feet.

Oil-by-rail traffic explodes

The implications of the B.C. accident take on additional significance in light of the dramatic growth seen in oil-by-rail traffic in Canada over the past year. Export volumes reached a record 354,000 barrels per day in December 2018, with the vast majority of the oil going to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast and Midwest. These oil tankers potentially being able to derail is a legal claim waiting to happen with the help of a personal injury attorney, compensation could and would be very wholesome.

This development has not gone unnoticed by people living in communities across North America, who are concerned about the growing danger of another disastrous derailment.

The increase in traffic — now bolstered by the Alberta government’s plan to put another 120,000 barrels per day of crude oil on the rails by next year — is occurring at a time when the Transportation Safety Board reported a significant increase in “uncontrolled train movements” during 2014-17 compared to the average of the five years preceding the disaster.


Read more: Technology to prevent rail disasters is in our hands


This is despite the board’s Lac-Mégantic investigation report recommendation that Transport Canada implement additional measures to prevent runaway trains.

Two weeks after the B.C. crash, a CN train carrying crude oil derailed near St. Lazare, Man.; 37 tank cars left the tracks, punctured and partially spilled their contents. The cars were a retrofitted version of the TC-117 model tank car, developed after Lac-Mégantic, intended to prevent spills of dangerous goods. The train was travelling at 49 mph, just under the maximum allowable speed.

Budgets chopped

In the lead-up to the Lac-Mégantic disaster, the Harper government squeezed bothTransport Canada’s rail safety and transportation of dangerous goods oversight budgets. These budgets did not increase significantly after the disaster.

Justin Trudeau’s government pledged additional resources for rail safety oversight. However, Transport Canada’s plans for the coming years show safety budgets falling back to Harper-era levels. It remains to be seen whether these plans will be reversed in the upcoming federal budget.

Safety Management Systems-based approach remains the centrepiece of Canada’s railway safety system. That system been fraught with problems since it was introduced 17 years ago.

It continues to allow rail companies to, in effect, self-regulate, compromising safety when it conflicts with bottom-line priorities. Government officials claim there has been a major increase in the number of Transport Canada rail safety inspectors conducting unannounced, on-site inspections. But the inspectors’ union questions these claims.

If an under-resourced regulator, with a long history of deference to the industry, is unable to fulfil its first-and-foremost obligation to ensure the health and safety of its citizens, the lessons of Lac-Mégantic have still not been learned. The B.C. accident highlights that the window for history to repeat itself remains wide open.


This article is republished with permission. It was first published on The Conversation website.

About the Authors Authors

Mark Winfield is a Professor of Environmental Studies, York University, Canada

Bruce Campbell is an Adjunct professor, York University, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, Canada

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill – Lessons learned 30 years after the event

As reported in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, there are still lessons to be learned from the Exxon Valdez oil spill that occurred on March 24th, 1989.

A recent report issued by the United States Government Accountability Office (U.S. GAO) found that some organizations involved in environmental cleanup, restoration and research weren’t talking to each other during the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill or the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that occurred in 2010. In fact, some agencies weren’t even aware that the other existed.

The U.S. Congress, reacting to the Exxon Valdez spill, created the Interagency Coordinating Committee on Oil Pollution Research as part of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. The committee’s purpose is to “coordinate oil pollution research among federal agencies and with relevant external entities,” according to the GAO. The committee, which has representatives from 15 agencies, is expected to coordinate with federal-state trustee councils created to manage restoration funds obtained through legal settlements.

GAO investigators found, however, that “the committee does not coordinate with the trustee councils and some were not aware that the interagency committee existed.”

Although three decades have passed since oil soiled the surface of Prince William Sound and rolled onto its shores, evidence of the spill remains. GAO staff visited the spill site in May of last year “and observed the excavation of three pits that revealed lingering oil roughly 6 inches below the surface of the beach …” Restoration is largely complete in Prince William Sound, but some work continues and research will continue for decades, the GAO report notes.

Background: Exxon Valdez Spill and Clean-up

As reported in History.com, The Exxon Valdez oil spill was a man-made disaster that occurred when Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker owned by the Exxon Shipping Company, spilled 41 million litres of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989. It was the worst oil spill in U.S. history until the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. The Exxon Valdez oil slick covered 2,000 kilometres of coastline and killed hundreds of thousands of seabirds, otters, seals and whales.

Exxon payed about $2 billion in cleanup costs and $1.8 billion for habitat restoration and personal damages related to the spill.

Cleanup workers skimmed oil from the water’s surface, sprayed oil dispersant chemicals in the water and on shore, washed oiled beaches with hot water and rescued and cleaned animals trapped in oil.

Environmental officials purposefully left some areas of shoreline untreated so they could study the effect of cleanup measures, some of which were unproven at the time. They later found that aggressive washing with high-pressure, hot water hoses was effective in removing oil, but did even more ecological damage by killing the remaining plants and animals in the process. Nearly 30 years later, pockets of crude oil remain in some locations.

Lessons Learned

A 2001 study found oil contamination remaining at more than half of the 91 beach sites tested in Prince William Sound.

The spill had killed an estimated 40 percent of all sea otters living in the Sound. The sea otter population didn’t recover to its pre-spill levels until 2014, twenty-five years after the spill.

Stocks of herring, once a lucrative source of income for Prince William Sound fisherman, have never fully rebounded.

In the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the U.S. Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 increased penalties for companies responsible for oil spills and required that all oil tankers in United States waters have a double hull. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA), which was enacted after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, established the Interagency Coordinating Committee on Oil Pollution Research (interagency committee) to coordinate oil pollution research among federal agencies and with relevant external entities, among other things.

The U.S. GAO recommends, among other things, that the interagency committee coordinate with the trustee councils to support their work and research needs. 

Oil Spill Response Management Market – Industry Study & Predictions

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BP Reports Drilling Mud Spill Off Nova Scotia

BP Canada Energy Group recently reported an unauthorized discharge of drilling mud from the one of its drilling operations off the coast of Nova Scotia. The company estimated approximately 136,000 litres of drilling mud were discharged.

Anita Perry, BP Canada’s regional manager for Nova Scotia

Anita Perry, BP Canada’s regional manager for Nova Scotia, said a preliminary look at the spill has led the company to believe the cause is mechanical failure, though the investigation is not complete.
Perry said this is not a common occurrence, but the organization has response plans in place to manage spills. She said that before drilling was done in the area, a survey was conducted to assess environmental risks.
“Prior to drilling we did not identify any corals or any species there that could be damaged. So we do not believe there will be any damage,” said Perry.
The company suspended drilling during the investigation of the cause of the spill.

Risks to the Environment

Stacy O’Rourke, the director of communications at the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB) said the synthetic-based mud is dense and sinks rapidly to the sea floor and the synthetic-based oil in the mud has low toxicity.

Ms. O’Rourke added that the effects of these types of spills are usually limited to the area immediately surrounding the well and are associated with the physical smothering of the seabed due to coverage by the mud.

She said the spill happened earlier in the day on Friday, and both the board and coast guard were notified. As of Friday evening, O’Rourke said no one on the board was at the spill.

The incident occurred approximately 330 kilometres from Halifax on a drill rig called the West Aquarius.

West Aquarius drill rig off the coast of Nova Scotia

CBC interviewed Tony Walker, a professor from the Dalhousie University School for Resource and Environmental Studies, about the potential impacts of the release of drilling mud on the environment. The Professor said that in looking at the project’s environmental assessment report, carried out by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA), the drilling mud spill may still be cause for concern.

Professor Walker said while a water-based mud is available for use in this type of drilling, the assessment outlines BP’s decision to use the synthetic, because it can better handle potential gas buildup and temperature regulation.

“Certainly, a synthetic-based mud does contain chemicals and potentially oils and diesel and that sort of thing,” he told the CBC. Walker said he reviewed data from the report based on a 3D modelled test and scaled down the impacts based on the June 22 incident.

“It could [result in] impacts of a kilometre or more from the drilling site. It could actually cover and smother [ocean floor dwelling] organisms; it could impact fish species which have larvae and eggs on the seabed.”

Professor Walker told the CBC that the CEAA report also references data from past drill sites, where little to no spilling was reported, in which surrounding marine habitats took up to five years to recover from drilling.

“The kind of consistent thread or theme I get from the report … is that if there are releases, it’ll be localized and it’ll have short term impacts,” Walker told the CBC.

“A kilometre is quite a big area, and [the report] talks about a recovery period of about five years for recolonization. I wouldn’t call five years entirely short-term.”

Nova Scotia’s energy minister says he’s concerned about spill of the drilling fluids off the province’s coast. However, he also added that he remains committed to growing the oil and gas industry.

Geoff MacLellan said he has “complete confidence” in the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board’s investigation into BP Canada’s leak of 136 cubic metres of synthetic drilling mud on Friday.

Approval to drill was granted in the Spring

BP Canada Energy Group was given approval in the spring of 2018 to drill of the coast of Nova Scotia. At the time, the Aspy D-11 exploration well was the first in BP Canada’s Scotian Basin Exploration Project. It was estimated that up to seven exploration wells could be drilled off the southeast coast of Nova Scotia over a three-year period.

At the time of the issuance of the approval, Anita Perry of BP Canada Energy stated in a phone interview with Canada’s National Observer, “We’re confident we addressed all issues and risks for a safe drilling program.”

Oil deliberately spilled in lake to study ecosystem response

As reported by Lesley Evans Ogden of the Canadian Press, researchers were in northwestern Ontario recently spilled diluted oil sands bitumen and crude oil into a lake to study how the ecosystem, from microbes to fish, responds.

The pilot project, known as Freshwater Oil Spill Remediation Study, is being done at the International Institute for Sustainable Development Experimental Lakes Area (IISD-ELA) southeast of Kenora, Ont.

The reasoning behind the study is that there are currently gaps scientists knowledge regarding the impacts of oil spills on freshwater ecosystems.  North America has the largest network of energy pipelines in the world, and periodic oil spills from pipelines do occur.

Researchers will also explore the effectiveness of oil-spills remediation (clean-up) techniques in a study conducted on the shoreline of an IISD-ELA lake.

Given the significant knowledge gaps, it is hoped that the groundbreaking project undertaken by  IISD-ELA that will answer the questions about what happens when oil enters freshwater systems.

Vince Palace, the scientist who is leading the experiment, said the area is typically known for experiments involving a whole lake, but this work is different.

“We’re using small enclosures to contain that oil,” he said.

The oil was spilled inside four yellow floating boomed rectangles, each along 2.5 metres of shrub and sphagnum moss shoreline.

The enclosures stretch 10 metres into the lake and contain 20,000 litres of water. Curtain-like sides extend down and are carefully affixed to the lake bottom with lines of sandbags filled at the local gravel pit and placed by a small army of students in waders and wetsuits.

The spills were 1.25 litres each and were to be left for 72 hours then cleaned up by professional oil-spill responders.

With any oil spill, even after clean up, there is residual contamination.

“We’re interested in looking at the impact of residuals,” Palace said in an interview before the experiments were conducted.

Palace’s team will study impacts on microbes, algae, zooplankton, insects, wood frogs, and fathead minnows by sampling soil, water, and sediment before and after the spill and clean up.

They’ll look for direct impacts from fouling and poisoning, but also indirect effects on fish survival and reproduction.

Palace notes that when oil spills, social pressure and regulatory commitments create a huge drive to clean it up.

“The problem is, in the shoreline environment, when you spill oil, often times the removal of it can be just as damaging as the impact of the oil on the shoreline environment itself,” he said.

Soil removal, compaction, and moving heavy equipment into remote areas are ecologically destructive.

“In marine environments, there are microbes present that will respond to the presence of oil to degrade it.  So it may be that there is a benefit to leaving the oil in place to degrade,” Palace said.  Diluted bitumen’s behaviour in freshwater has been studied extensively in laboratories.

Project collaborator Heather Dettman, senior scientist with Natural Resources Canada in Alberta, has simulated spills in laboratory wave tanks using North Saskatchewan River water.

Her studies have manipulated variables such as wave action and temperature, but not things like wind, rain and sun.

So, when it comes to understanding how oil behaves in a lake “maybe we’re missing something,” she said.

This is “the next step up” from the lab.

The researchers hope to find out if such oil-eating microbes exist in the freshwater environment of oil-naive Boreal shield lakes.

Researchers deliberately add a very small and controlled amount of crude into the equally strictly controlled sections of an actual lake in order to study the effects on the ecosystem in the second phase of the study. (IISD-ELA / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Environmental charges laid against Husky Energy Inc. and Husky Oil Operations Limited

Environment Canada and Climate Change (ECCC) recently laid a number of charges against Husky Energy Inc. and Husky Oil Operations Limited relating to the blended heavy crude-oil spill, in July 2016, which impacted the North Saskatchewan River, near Maidstone, Saskatchewan. The Government of Saskatchewan also filed a charge under the Environmental Management and Protection Act, 2010. These charges result from a 19-month joint federal-provincial investigation.

There are a total of ten charges which include one charge under subsection 36(3) of the federal Fisheries Act, one charge under subsection 38(5) of the federal Fisheries Act, six charges under subsection 38(6) of the federal Fisheries Act, one charge under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, and one charge under Saskatchewan’s Environmental Management and Protection Act, 2010.

The first appearance was at the end of March at the Lloydminster Provincial Court office.  According to the Premier of Saskatchewan’s office, the company faces a possible maximum $1 million fine.

Shoreline cleanup for the Maidstone-area oil spill (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

Saskatchewan Minister of Environment Dustin Duncan said the spill led to significant changes in the provincial Pipelines Act; changes that include greater regulation, auditing powers, penalty provisions and licensing flowlines.

“We take this very seriously. There, to my knowledge, hasn’t been a charge with respect to the unintended release of oil from a pipeline in the province’s history,” he told reporters in late March.

Duncan said the site cleanup was completed by the end of last year, but Husky will have to work with the province’s Water Security Agency and the Ministry of Environment to make sure nothing else is required.  He said he expects full co-operation.

“In the last year, despite a very unsettling situation, Husky was very responsive when it came to the cleanup but also responding to the concerns by First Nations, by communities along the river, as well as to the requests that were made by the government department,” Duncan said.

All charges are currently before the Court, and they have not yet been proven. Under Canadian law, those charged are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, Environment and Climate Change Canada and Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency, which has a responsibility for the specific charge under the provincial Environmental Management and Protection Act, 2010, will not be commenting further at this time.

 

Bitumen floats longer than expected, Natural Resources Canada research shows

As reported in the Vancouver Sun, researchers at Natural Resources Canada are discovering important characteristics of bitumen (the un-processed form of crude oil from the Alberta oil sands) and its interactions with the environment.  Information from the research will be useful in the development of strategies and technologies to clean-up bitumen in the event that is leaks into the environment as a result of a pipeline leak or tanker spill.

One important question with respect to bitumen is whether it sinks or floats when it hits the water. The short answer is it floats, most of the time, according to a growing body of research being compiled by Natural Resources Canada scientists.

Researcher Heather Dettman, a senior scientist with Natural Resources Canada in Devon, Alta., is leading a team looking into some of those questions in research under the federal government’s world-class tanker safety program and ocean protection program.

Postmedia caught up with her and a spokesman from Western Canada Marine Response Corp. to talk about answers.

Bitumen

Q: What is diluted bitumen?

A: Bitumen is the basic, tar-like petroleum product extracted from the Athabasca oilsands, which are oil deposits that were first formed deep underground, but were moved closer to the surface by geological movements of the earth. That allowed microbes to degrade the components that make up gasoline and diesel leaving only its asphalt components. Producers inject those lighter components back into bitumen to make it thin enough to flow through pipelines.

Q: How would rough seas change the behaviour of diluted bitumen?

A: “From a density perspective, it will be floating unless it’s really stormy, then it can go anywhere, the same as any other petroleum product,” Dettman said.  If a storm pushed bitumen ashore, it would pose the problem of having to clean it up on land.

Q: Has there ever been a spill of diluted bitumen on the coast?

A: The biggest spill that the Western Canada Marine Response Corp. has dealt with involved a mix of bitumen and synthetic oil, said spokesman Michael Lowry.  That was the 2007 puncture of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline in Burnaby that led to about 100 tonnes of oil flowing down storm drains into Burrard Inlet.  In nice weather and close to the industry-funded spill responders’ facilities, Lowry said they were able to recover 90 per cent of the oil.

“Those are ideal conditions; I can’t extrapolate those to other spills for sure,” Lowry said.

Kalamazoo River diluted bitumen spill clean-up

Q: How do you clean up a bitumen spill?

A: Lowry said methods haven’t changed much over the years. Chemical dispersants, in situ burning and mechanical recovery are the techniques that responders use, but since the first two require government permission, the corporation focuses on mechanical recovery — booming and skimming. From its 2007 experience, Lowry said responders learned that its brush skimmers — conveyors that rotate heavy plastic brushes over the surface to collect oil — were particularly effective.

“Conditions play a huge role in recovery,” Lowry said. “High winds are going to impact your ability to respond and rough seas definitely impede your ability to respond.”

Q: What research is being done to improve spill response?

A: Lowry said new tools are being developed, such as advanced booming systems that perform better under tougher conditions, which the corporation deploys.  In the meantime, Lowry said Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada are putting resources into studying the topic.