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Concern about Hazmat Incidents at Canada’s Proposed Spaceport

In a joint venture with several US firms, Halifax-based Maritime Launch Services (MLS) is building Canada’s first spaceport near Canso, Nova Scotia. At a total cost of $304 million—a figure that includes the cost of the first rocket launch and promotional expenses—the launch pad is slated to deliver commercial satellites to low Earth orbit aboard Ukrainian-built rockets on a due south trajectory, and at a cost of $60 million per launch.

Stephen Matier, left, president of Maritime Launch Services and Maksym Degtiarov, chief designer of the launch vehicle at the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau, talk with reporters at a meeting of the proposed Spaceport project team in Dartmouth, N.S. on December 11, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)

The Canso Spaceport Facility will be 20 hectares in size and is aimed at attracting firms that want to put satellites into orbit for commercial purposes.  The site will include a control centre, launch area and “horizontal integration facility,” where materials will be prepared for the launch and some propellants will be stored

The company would like to launch as many as eight rockets per year starting in 2022.

There are concerns about the spaceport from government experts.  Specifically, concerns related to environmental and health & safety issues.  Recently released documents released by the province detail numerous questions about the planned Canso Spaceport Facility.  Nova Scotia’s environment ministry will not approve the project unless their concerns are addressed.

The specific concerns of the N.S. Environment Ministry is how the company will address an explosion, crash or fuel leak.  According to the recently released government document, a spill would “destroy the impacted ecosystems with no chance of recovery within the next several hundred years.”

According to the Maritime Launch Services proposal, the rockets would use nitrogen tetroxide and unsymmetrical dimenthyl hydrazine, or UDH, for the second portion of their launch into the atmosphere.

A letter from the Canadian Defence Department says the military “does not have sufficient knowledge” to assess the impacts of an accidental discharge of the UDH on the land or surface water, but “suggests an assessment should be completed.”

A professor at the University of British Columbia has raised concerns about an “exceedingly toxic” rocket propellant that will be used at the Canso, N.S., operation. Michael Byers, a political science professor at UBC, said there is a danger associated with UDH — which he said is known in Russia as “the Devil’s Breath.”

Professor Byers stated “If something goes wrong on launch, you know, if the rocket were to tip over and explode, or if there were some kind of spill during transportation or assembly, you’d still have a serious health and environmental concern.”

Other government officials comment that there isn’t enough information in the proposal to assess potential dangers.

Chuck McKenna, a manager with the resource management unit of the provincial Environment Department, says detailed plans on how dangerous goods will be stored and handled weren’t provided.

He says this should include details on the potential effects of a chemical accident, prevention methods and emergency response procedures.

Johnny McPherson, an expert on air quality in the provincial Environment Department, says in his submission that the first stage propellants of a rocket can create “black carbon (soot)” that is “harmful if inhaled because of small particle size and damaging effects.”

The government comments were made in response to the environmental assessment of the project prepared by a consultant.

Nova Scotia Environment Minister Margaret Miller said last week the environmental assessment, submitted in July, didn’t contain sufficient information for her to make a decision on whether to approve the project.

Miller has given the company one year to provide additional information and studies.

The company’s president has said he’s confident the firm will finish the study in response to the concerns raised, and it is “optimistic” it can address the issues raised.

Oil Spill Response using Real Time Tracking and GIS Technology

A new project taking place of the coastline of St. John’s Newfoundland aims to reshape marine oil spill response through real-time tracking and GIS technology.

Integrated Informatics Inc., headquartered in Houston,Texas, recently received funding from the Newfoundland and Labrador Innovation Council to undertake a project that will aim to reshape the way in which asset and personnel tracking are handled for Marine Oil Spill Response in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In November 2008, the Odyssey, a British-owned oil tanker, broke in two, caught fire and sank in heavy seas about 900 miles east of Newfoundland, spilling about a million barrels of oil.

The project will include the development of a new Tracking Data Management System to be deployed to Marine Emergency Response Industry users.

A spokesperson for Integrated Informatics, Sharon Janes, stated in a press release, “It is not uncommon to still see paper maps and documents heavily relied upon in Emergency Response Plans.  The problem with these resources is that they do not present information that is as complete and current as possible within an emergency situation. This is what we are excited to help change – putting this data into the hands of responders as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

The Tracking Data Management System will be completed by August 2019, consisting of a suite of applications for asset and personnel tracking and a data management system to streamline the acquisition of data necessary for emergency preparedness exercises and active response within command centers.  These products will utilize Geographic Information System (GIS) technology – including rich mobile and web interfaces – as well as a robust data analytics and reporting dashboard.

Ms. Janes also stated, “By accessing asset and personnel tracking data through mobile devices and the web, first responders will be able to more efficiently interpret data, analyze trends, and plan response in real-time. Because this system rests on such a familiar platform [mobile, web], those with technical and non-technical backgrounds alike will be able to implement it into their workflows with ease.”

The planned system is one that has long been of interest within the Emergency Response and Natural Resources sectors of the Province – especially as organizations explore new, more challenging environments alongside their own endeavors to align processes and practices with innovative digital technologies.

Integrated Informatics Inc. is a consultancy for Geographic Information System implementation and development. Founded in 2002, Integrated Informatics has offices in Calgary, Alberta, Houston, Texas, and St. John’s, Newfoundland.

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.