Posts

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.

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

360 Market Updates recently published the Global Oil Spill Management Market Report 2018-2023. The report offers a comprehensive analysis on Oil Spill Management industry, delivering detailed market data and  insights. The report provides analysis which is beneficial for industry insider, potential entrant, and investor. The Oil Spill Management Report provides information on the key business players in the market as well as their business methods, annual revenue, company profile and their contribution to the world Oil Spill Management market share. The report covers a huge area of information including an overview, comprehensive analysis, definitions and classifications, applications, and expert opinions.

Description:

  • Worldwide and Top 20 Countries Market Size of Oil Spill Management 2013-2017, and development forecast 2018-2023.
  • Main manufacturers/suppliers of Oil Spill Management worldwide and market share by regions, with company and product introduction, position in the Oil Spill Management market.
  • Market status and development trend of Oil Spill Management by types and applications.
  • Cost and profit status of Oil Spill Management, and marketing status.
  • Market growth drivers and challenges.

Global Oil Spill Management market competition by top manufacturers/players, with Oil Spill Management sales volume, Price (USD/Unit), revenue (Million USD), Players/Suppliers Profiles and Sales Data, Company Basic Information, Manufacturing Base and Competitors and market share for each manufacturer/player; the top players including: Cameron International, Control Flow, National Oilwell Varco, Fender & Spill Response Services, Northern Tanker Company Oy, SkimOil, Hyundai Heavy Industries, GE Oil & Gas, Cosco Shipyard Group, CURA Emergency Services, and Ecolab.

On the basis of product type, Oil Spill Management market report displays the production, revenue, price, Market Size (Sales) Market Share by Type (Product Category) and growth rate of each type (2013-2023), primarily split into Mechanical methods, Chemical and biological, and Physical.

On the basis on the end users/applications, Oil Spill Management market report focuses on the status and outlook for major applications/end users, sales volume, market share and growth rate for each application, including Onshore and Offshore.

Global Oil Spill Management Market: Regional Segment Analysis (Regional Production Volume, Consumption Volume, Revenue and Growth Rate 2013-2023):

  • North America (United States, Canada and Mexico)
  • Europe (Germany, UK, France, Italy, Russia, Spain and Benelux)
  • Asia Pacific (China, Japan, India, Southeast Asia and Australia)
  • Latin America (Brazil, Argentina and Colombia)
  • Middle East and Africa

Inquire for further detailed information about Oil Spill Management industry @https://www.360marketupdates.com/enquiry/pre-order-enquiry/11834137

Key questions answered in the Oil Spill Management Market report:

  • What will be the market growth rate of Oil Spill Management in 2023?
  • What are the key factors driving the Global Oil Spill Management?
  • What are sales, revenue, and price analysis of top manufacturers of Oil Spill Management?
  • Who are the distributors, traders and dealers of Oil Spill Management Market?
  • Who are the key vendors in Oil Spill Management space?
  • What are the Oil Spill Management Industry opportunities and threats faced by the vendors in the Global Oil Spill Management?
  • What are sales, revenue, and price analysis by types, application and regions of Oil Spill Management?
  • What are the market opportunities, market risk and market overview of the Oil Spill Management Market?

The Oil Spill Management Market Report provides a comprehensive overview including Current scenario and the future growth prospects. The Oil Spill Management Industry report sheds light on the various factors and trends in forthcoming years and key factors behind the growth and demand of this market is analysed detailed in this report.

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.

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

Keystone Pipeline Spill Response deemed a Success

In early December, a section of the Keystone Pipeline leaked 210,000 gallons of oil near the South Dakota City of Amherst.  Representatives of Trans-Canada Pipeline, the owner of the pipeline, deemed the detection of the leak and prompt spill response as an example of its exemplary contingency measures that are in place to detect and respond to such incidents.

An aerial view shows the darkened ground of an oil spill which shut down the Keystone pipeline between Canada and the United States, located in an agricultural area near Amherst, South Dakota.
REUTERS/Dronebase

When fully complete, the Keystone Pipeline will carry bitumen from the Alberta oil fields to refineries in Texas.  At present, the pipeline runs from Alberta, through North Dakota and South Dakota.

As reported in the Prairie Public News, Julie Fedorchak of the North Dakota Public Service Commission (PSC) stated that the company’s quick response to the incident shows that its response plan worked perfectly.

“The system was shut down within three minutes,” Fedorchak said.  “And importantly, the spill was detected.”

Fedorchak said the spill showed up on its detection equipment, and the people overseeing system noticed it, and.

“They knew it was something off,” Fedorchak said.  “And the quick shutdown prevented what could have been a much more difficult spill.”

But Fedorchak said there are still questions about why the spill happened.

“It’s a new line,” Fedorchak said. “New lines like this shouldn’t be having those kinds of issues.”

Fedorchak said it’s important that the company and federal pipeline regulators do the tests needed on that pipeline, to try to figure out what caused it.

“That’ll be a learning opportunity for the entire industry,” Fedorchak said.

The company believes it may have been caused by an abrasion on the pipeline coating, that happened during construction.

“Perhaps there were some things in the ground that could have caused it,” Fedorchak said. “Or it could have been a problem with the pipeline protection itself. They’re looking at a number of things.”

Clean-up work continues at the spill site.

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.