Charges Laid for Oil Spill in British Columbia

As reported by CTV News, charges have been laid against the owners of the MV Marathassa nearly two years after a leak of bunker fuel fouled the beaches of English Bay in Vancouver, but the company is trying to scuttle the case.

Documents filed in British Columbia’s provincial court show the Marathassa and Greece-based Alassia NewShips Management Inc. face a total of 10 charges including discharge of a pollutant, unlawful disposal of a substance and failure to implement an oil pollution emergency plan.

The company is also accused of depositing a deleterious substance in a way that may have allowed it to reach waters frequented by fish, as well as depositing a substance harmful to migratory birds.

In all, six charges have been laid under Canadian shipping legislation, two relate to alleged Fisheries Act violations and single charges linked to alleged violations of federal environmental laws and the Migratory Bird Act.

None of the allegations have been tested in court.

At least 2,700 litres of bunker fuel spilled on April 8, 2015, while the Cypriot-registered vessel was moored in English Bay. The ensuing miscommunication among Canadian authorities and delays in cleanup raised questions about Canada’s preparedness for oil spills at a time when the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion was being hotly debated.

A provincial court date has been set for Wednesday, but Alassia is attempting to stop the proceedings with an application for a judicial review filed in Federal Court. The company will ask the Federal Court on Tuesday to stop the provincial court hearing from taking place until a judicial review has been heard.

In court documents, it says summonses in the case were invalid because they were served to a Canadian insurance adjuster and a ship captain who has only worked for Alassia on two fixed contracts.

Alassia argues that Canadian law requires summonses to be delivered to an executive officer of a corporation or a branch, and that neither the insurance adjuster or the captain fit that description.

“This is a serious issue to be tried in that it is doubtful that either attempt to serve the applicant was valid,” the company’s Vancouver-based lawyer Peter Swanson says in court documents.

Swanson says the company will suffer “irreparable harm” if the provincial court hearing proceeds as there’s no way for the company to challenge the validity of the summons in provincial court without submitting to its jurisdiction.

Alassia is seeking an order declaring the attempt to serve the summons to be invalid, quashing and setting them aside, as well as an order prohibiting further attempts to serve the summons in a similar manner. The company is also seeking costs.

In an affidavit, Valakitsis Antonios, the ship captain who was served the summons, says he worked on a vessel associated with Alassia between April 2014 and March 2015, but he was at home in Colombia in April 2015 at the time of the spill.

He says he is currently the master of the MV Afroessa, which is owned by Afroessa Shipping Corp., and he has no long-term relationship with Alassia.

Eric Renteria, an insurance adjuster at Charles Taylor Adjusting in Vancouver, says in an affidavit that an Environment and Climate Change Canada employee did not explain why he was serving him with a summons.

He says he is not employed or otherwise associated with Alassia and hadn’t heard of the company prior to receiving the summons last month. Charles Taylor Adjusting is not a branch of Alassia, he adds.

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said Thursday she couldn’t comment on the charges but she was “pleased” the federal government was taking spill response seriously.

Alassia declined to discuss the legal proceedings in a statement but thanked all those who assisted in the response.

Russians Patent Spill Response Technique for Arctic Oil Spills

LUKOIL, the largest oil and gas company in Russia, recently announced that it has developed a new technique to respond to oil spills in the Arctic waters.  The new multi-patented technology is based on the use of bio-sorbents with cold-resistant microbial strains at contaminated salt and fresh waters.

Pilot testing proved self-destructing bio-sorbents as the most efficient tool of emergency oil spill response in north latitudes, where low temperatures and ice conditions make conventional oil containment and recovery methods ineffective.

Biosorption is a physiochemical process that occurs naturally in certain biomass which allows it to passively concentrate and bind contaminants onto its cellular structure. Using biomass in environmental cleanup has been in practice for a while.

As soon as the new oil spill response technique is approved through the state environmental expert review, it will be integrated across the company’s facilities and will become a component of LUKOIL’s biodiversity conservation plan.

Innovation in Packaging for Dangerous Goods

The Mauser Group, headquartered in Germany, recently introduced a packaging call skINliner™ that it claims to be a barrier technology that combines the advanced barrier performance of multilayer plastic film technology (e.g. against hydrocarbons and/or oxygen) with the logistical and lifecycle benefits of rigid packaging. The new modular packaging design provides best-in-class reuse and recyclability.

“To date, the integration of flexible liner solutions into rigid industrial packaging and their separation after use has been quite cumbersome,” explained Dr. Detlev Weyrauch, Head of Innovation and Processing at MAUSER Group, “Especially when used in combination with Rigid Composite IBC (RIBC), liner geometries do not always fit well into the rigid inner receptacle. Today’s solutions are difficult to install and often get damaged during the phase of use. With our innovative skINliner™ technology, we managed to overcome these obstacles. Based on a newly developed welding technology we created a ‘perfect fit’ geometry.”

When, for example, placed in a Rigid Composite IBC, the MAUSER skINliner™ is applied like an inner skin to the IBC’s inner receptacle. It is semi-permanently fixed to the inside of the rigid bottle and therefore no longer subject to any intensive mechanical stress during filling, handling and emptying of RIBCs. The same applies to other packaging types like plastic drums.

The new skINliner™ barrier technology has gained full UN-approval for dangerous goods and enables MAUSER to expand its comprehensive IBC product offering. In comparison to known blow-molded multi-layer EVOH-barrier IBC bottles, the MAUSER skINliner™ barrier IBC provides the same functionality with less material. Moreover, it adds barrier functionality to large volume packaging like IBC bottles where it is needed most – closest to the filling good on the inside of the container.

The new MAUSER skINliner™ adds a new level of modular design to rigid industrial packaging. It allows customizing advanced features like barrier functionality or light protection within standard industrial packaging in the most effective way. Positioned inside of the container and closest to the filling, it not only protects the contained material but also prevents the migration of substances to the container wall. Easily to be removed and separated from the IBC bottle, it enables mono-fractional recycling of non-contaminated polyethylene IBC bottle material.

Consistently designed for reuse and most effective material recycling, the MAUSER skINliner™ IBC incorporates state-of-the-art barrier performance without any compromise on the container material recyclability. This is why it represents future-oriented innovation in industrial packaging for a circular economy that other packaging company services could be keen to adopt for future sustainability.

Three Ways to Improve Alberta’s Energy Regulator

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) is Alberta’s one-stop regulatory body for the oil and gas industry.  When it was created in 2013 by the merging of the former Energy Resources Conservation Board and parts of Alberta Environment and Parks, the AER made bold claims about transparency, enforcement and becoming a “world-class” regulator.

Unfortunately, the AER has failed to live up to its promises.  The AER has shown over and over again that it is either unable or unwilling to enforce its own laws, directives and orders. The AER has become a toothless regulator.

As a public interest lawyer I see first-hand how the AER’s failures affect Albertans.

Take for example two of Ecojustice’s clients.  Tony and Lorraine Bruder operate a cattle ranch near Pincher Creek. A preliminary environmental site assessment conducted at an abandoned sour gas well site on their property showed that the site was potentially contaminated with drilling waste, salts, metals, and hydrocarbons, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons — all nasty things that you do not want on your property.

Image: Hemsol

In September 2015, as a first step towards cleaning up this mess, the AER ordered Nomad Exploration Ltd., the licensee of the well site, to complete a more detailed environmental study by the end of November 2015.

Nomad ignored that order.  Over the next few months, we repeatedly asked the AER what it was going to do about Nomad’s failure, but the AER took no action.

Finally, in May 2016, the AER ordered Nomad to prepare a plan by the end of June 2016 to complete the more detailed environmental study — that is, to prepare a plan to do the very thing the AER had already ordered Nomad to do six months earlier.

Most competent regulators escalate enforcement when an operator does not follow its orders — when you do not follow the rules, the consequences get more severe.  In this case, the AER de-escalated enforcement.  The penalty for not completing the detailed environmental study was just an order to “try again.”

This time, the AER said that Nomad must include in the plan a schedule to complete the detailed environmental study by the end of August 2016. After an extension of time and a couple of failed attempts, Nomad never did provide the AER with a schedule to complete the study. The AER then ordered Nomad to complete the study regardless by January 3, 2017, but then at Nomad’s request extended that date to February 15, 2017.

And guess what — Nomad again failed to meet that deadline.

When we recently asked the AER what they were going to do about this continued non-compliance by Nomad, the AER’s response was “the AER is continuing to gather and assess the relevant facts and information in order to determine the most appropriate response moving forward.”

In other words, 18 months after ordering Nomad to complete the detailed environmental study, the AER still does not have a plan on how to enforce that order.

The Bruders’ case is only one example of a much broader and systemic problem of lack of enforcement by the AER.

In July 2014, the AER announced that approximately 37,000 wells out of 80,000 inactive wells were not in compliance with the requirements for inactive wells. How does a regulator, that bills itself as “world class,” allow almost half of all inactive wells in the province to be out of compliance?

More recently, we have seen situations where the AER issued numerous warnings and orders to companies with no effect, with the end result that the only option was to transfer hundreds of wells to the Orphan Well Association, leaving financial responsibility for these sites to be borne by other industry members, the Canadian taxpayer, and eventually the Alberta public.  The AER has numerous enforcement tools at its disposal but it simply refuses to use these tools to ensure compliance.

Which leads me to my response to the question, “How do you solve a problem like the AER?”  In a recent letter to Shannon Phillips, the Alberta Minister of the Environment and Parks, and Margaret McCuaig-Boyd, the Minister of Energy, we made three recommendations.

First, before drilling a well, the operator should have to deposit sufficient funds with the AER to pay for the clean-up.  Then, when an operator refuses to carry out the clean-up work, or goes bankrupt, the AER would hold the necessary funds to complete the work.

Second, in 2014, the Responsible Energy Development Act stripped the Minister of Environment and Parks of her power to enforce environmental orders against energy companies and gave those powers to the AER.  Given that the AER appears unwilling to use those tools, we think that those powers should be given back to the Minister.

Third, we think that it is time to consider whether the AER should continue to exist.  If the AER is unwilling to enforce Alberta’s laws and its own directives and orders, perhaps the AER’s role should be transferred to the Departments of Energy and Environment and Parks.

In a recent publication, Jim Ellis, the President and CEO of the AER, said that regulators like the AER “hold a moral and ethical obligation to initiate bold and courageous action to improve the human condition.”

Perhaps before the AER embarks on the lofty goal of changing the world, they should get the simple stuff right — like enforcing the law.
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About the Author

Working in Alberta, Barry Robinson sees the harm that oil and gas development is causing to rivers, air, farmland, diverse wildlife and rural communities. In 2009, he launched a private prosecution against Syncrude for the deaths of 1,600 ducks in one of the company’s tailings ponds. The case resulted in the largest environmental fine in Canadian history.

Barry began his legal career after working in Alberta’s forestry industry and as an environmental consultant. Wanting to leave a better world for his children and grandchildren, Barry was instrumental in setting up the first recycling programs in Calgary in the 1980s and uses solar energy to power his home. Barry has a special interest in ensuring that the oil and gas industry in Alberta is held to strict environmental standards.

– See more at: https://www.ecojustice.ca/people/barry-robinson/#sthash.kFLAW8xg.dpuf

This article was originally published on the Ecojustice website at ecojustice.ca.

Quebec announces $175 Million Clean-up Fund

The Government of Quebec recently announced it is setting aside $175 million over the next five years to fund the clean-up of vacant land.  Of that the total sum, $120 million will be spent on cleaning up contaminated lands owned by the province and the remaining $55 million will be used to subsidize the clean-up of properties owned by municipalities and, in some cases, private property owners.

The government sees the clean-up funds as an investment in development that will spur growth and create jobs.  Quebec’s Environment Minister, David Heurtal, stated in a news conference that the estimated value of the land that goes undeveloped because of contamination at $2 billion.

A similar program run in Quebec between 2007 and 2015 in which $60 million in provincial monies was used to clean-up 155 hectares (380 acres) of land.  It was estimated that the $60 million invested by the Province for clean-up the lands resulted in $1.6 billion in private investment.

The announcement won praise from both the Union of Quebec Municipalities and the President of the Chamber of Commerce representing east Montreal.  They both stated that the fund will bring economic opportunities and create jobs.

Concerns with Canada’s Arctic Oil-Spill Response Plans

The World Wildlife Fund  Canada (WWF-C), the Canadian arm of the international not-for-profit environmental activist organization, recently issued a report on Canada’s preparedness for cleaning up an oil spill in the Arctic.  In short, the WWF-C is of the view that remote Arctic communities face almost certain environmental catastrophe in the event of an oil spill from large shipping vessels.

The report chronicles research done by the WWF-C on the state and availability of oil-spill response equipment, training resources, and the communications infrastructure in the Arctic.  Report researchers found major issues in all areas related to spill response in Canada’s Arctic.

Gaps in oil spill response capacity are outlined in two parallel WWF-C assessments for the Beaufort region in the western Arctic and Nunavut in the east.  The reports found that:

  • Only a small number of coastal communities have access to the most basic oil-spill response equipment from the Canadian Coast Guard.
  • The communities that do have equipment say it is irregularly maintained, too few community members are trained to use it, and that some communities don’t have a key to access the storage containers.
  • Harsh weather conditions, periods of prolonged darkness and the presence of sea ice make most standard oil-spill response equipment ineffective.
  • Remote locations mean response times for large-scale cleanup and storage equipment can be more than 10 times longer than in waters south of 60 degrees’ latitude.
  • Lack of reliable communications infrastructure makes it difficult for communities to call for assistance, and for responders to communicate with those on land during an oil-spill response.

The report states that first responders in the Arctic are typically members of the community and that they lace effective and reliable equipment to contain and clean-up an oil spill.  Heavy fuel oil (HFO) is the standard marine fuel for cargo ships, tankers and large cruise ships.  It is also one of the world’s dirtiest, most polluting ship fuels, and the most difficult to clean up.

The report also contains are review on the consequences of an oil spill in remote communities.  Firstly, an oil spill would contaminate habitat for arctic wildlife and destroy fish habitat.  Secondly, it would likely contaminant a wider area as it would get trapped under sea ice and potentially travel hundreds of kilometres.

A third report prepared by WWF-C outlines a framework for creating oil spill response plans in Nunavut’s remote communities.  Recommendations from the reports include:

  • Phase out the use by ships of HFO, the most toxic and difficult to clean up of any marine fuel in the Arctic.
  • Align response time standards in the North with those south of 60 degrees latitude.
  • Develop community-based response plans.
  • Increase funding for training of community responders.
  • Consult with Inuit organizations on decisions that affect Arctic communities, and use both scientific and traditional knowledge to identify preferred shipping routes and areas to be avoided.

Though the chances of a large-scale oil spill in the Arctic are currently small, the consequences would be significant.  As sea ice melts and ship traffic increases, there is an opportunity now, while traffic is still relatively low, to put measures in place to respond to spills, or prevent them from happening in the first place. Because sparsely populated Arctic communities assume the risk of spills, they need both adequate equipment and response plans specifically tailored to the extreme Arctic environment.

Regulator warns North Dakota Pipeline Susceptible to Failure

As reported in the Bismark Times, documentation prepared by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) shows that the regulator is of the view that the Belle Fourche Pipeline system is vulnerable to future spills due to the location of the pipeline in a landslide-prone area.

A spill in the pipeline back in December 2016 resulted in contamination of a tributary of the Little Missouri River.  The cause of the spill is under investigation, but Belle Fourche Pipeline Co. (the owner of the pipeline) points to the slumping of a hillside in the rugged Badlands terrain where the pipeline break occurred.

The PHMSA documentation on The Belle Fourche pipeline shows that the pipeline company may have experienced other spills in southwest North Dakota that went undetected due to inadequate leak detection monitoring and unstable terrain.

The agency issued a corrective action order to Belle Fourche Pipeline Co. following the spill.  It was estimated that 529,830 gallons contaminated about 5 miles of Ash Coulee Creek, which flows into the Little Missouri River.

Belle Fourche Pipeline Co. contested the corrective measures ordered by regulators and argued the spill was an “isolated, unpredictable event,” the document shows.

However, after holding a hearing, the PHMSA concluded the pipeline system is potentially hazardous to life, property or the environment unless additional steps are taken, according to a document made public this week.

The Office of Pipeline Safety, part of PHMSA, argued there is a risk of repeat failure on the pipeline system due to the topography of the area, soil conditions and slope stability issues.

Federal regulators say significant questions remain about the cause of the pipeline failure and they upheld most of the corrective action items, including requiring the company to excavate and analyze the failed section of pipe and submit a root cause failure analysis.

Regulators also ordered geotechnical evaluation of pipeline segments and a risk assessment of steep slope areas to determine if land movement could damage the pipeline.

Belle Fourche Pipeline Co. wrote in its response to the PHMSA that the company has cooperated with regulators and is “working diligently to address its impact on the environment.”

The segment of the pipeline that failed was shut down and can’t be restarted until the PHMSA allows it to restart.  The pipeline system was built in the 1980s, but it’s believed a portion of the line near the failure was replaced in 2013, according to PHMSA documents.

The North Dakota Department of Health has issued a notice to the pipeline company alleging violations of water quality standards and other state regulations.  The agency has not yet decided on a fine.

Webinar on Laser-Induced Fluorescence for Contaminated Sites

Chlorinated solvents, petroleum, creosote, and coal tars are common contaminants at thousands of sites all over the world.  These “source term” light non-aqueous phase liquid (LNAPL) and dense non-aqueous phase liquid (DNAPL) contaminants are potent sources of dissolved phase contamination, making proper characterization of their subsurface architecture a keystone of long term remediation success.  Unfortunately, these NAPL bodies typically distribute themselves in a highly heterogeneous fashion, leaving investigators with little alternative to gathering large data sets to understand their architecture, making traditional sampling and analysis costs prohibitively high.

Laser-induced fluorescence (LIF) is a cost-effective alternative to traditional sampling because it logs the NAPL continuously in the subsurface in real time.  Production rates of 250 to 450 feet/day are typical, making characterization of NAPL bodies possible in just a few days’ to a weeks’ time.  While LIF offers numerous benefits, it’s important that investigators understand LIF technology, what the LIF technology can and can’t tell them about their site, and how to avoid applying LIF to sites and conditions that can’t benefit from LIF.

The presenter, who is the lead developer of all LIF systems currently commercially available, will provide a brief summary of how LIF works, which LIF system to apply to which contaminant, what information LIF is capable of providing, along with its limitations.

Presented by Randy St. Germain, Dakota Technologies

Date: Thursday, May 4, 2017

Time: 9:00 AM Pacific Time (US and Canada)

More information about the webinar can be found at the here.

Saskatchewan Government to improve Pipeline Regulations

As reported in Canadian Underwriter, the Government of Saskatchewan recently announced steps to improve pipeline regulations after the completion of its investigation into last July’s Husky Energy pipeline oil spill.  Husky Energy was responsible for an oil spill of 250,000 litres into North Saskatchewan River.  Crews discovered the oil leak from a pipeline on July 20th after pressure anomalies were remoted measured in the pipeline.  A crew investigated the pressure anomalies and discovered the leak.  The spill caused communities downstream, including Battleford and Prince Albert to declare states emergency, and stop taking their drinking water from the river.

A Saskatchewan government investigation into the incident recently released its findings.  The government report concluded that the cause of the spill was mechanical cracking in a buckle in the pipeline.  The mechanical cracking was the result of many years of ground movement on the slope that the buckle rested.

One step the Saskatchewan government is taking to prevent future oil pipeline incidents is the introduction of a Bill (Pipelines Amendment Act) aimed at enhancing regulatory oversight of pipelines in the Province.  If passed, the Bill will address the current gaps in the provinces existing legal framework and provide the foundation for strengthening regulatory requirements for pipelines.

The province has also initiated compliance audits on the integrity management programs of companies that operate pipelines across major water crossings.  This work will build off the inspections conducted last year, but will include a review of corporate oversight of these programs;

The provincial government is reviewing the legacy designs of oil pipeline crossings over water to determine whether additional measures are needed to manage geotechnical risks.  One of the findings from the review of the Husky Energy incident was that the pipeline was built in 1997 based on the engineering standards of the time.

Online teaching tool for oil spill response

The University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), in conjunction with the Defenders of Wildlife organization recently produced an online teaching tool for oil spill response in the Bering Strait.  The Bering Strait Response Teaching Tool (BSRTT) is now available online and will be allows the public to share information with various organizations and agencies about threats to arctic marine life, such as oil spills.

Allison Dunbar, a junior studying environmental engineering and biology at UAA, is project lead for the online teaching tool. She’s been working part time on the layers of the website for the last year in order to make the tool accessible to everyone, including those who live in the Bering Strait region.

“The local people will know the tides and the currents and will best be able to inform that response, and that is our ultimate goal,” Dunbar said.  “By utilizing and working with the local experts, impacts to marine mammals and to the communities will be less, and for us, (that’s) a common sense thing, but we want it to be written into the protocol for response agencies.”

The BSRTT was created to streamline the oil spill response process and cut response time.  Through the teaching tool and with the participation of the community, spill responders can draw upon persons in the public with knowledge of local currents and other factors that may impact spill movement and influence spill response.

Defenders of Wildlife is in charge of implementing the online teaching tool into local communities, which will involve her visiting and training residents throughout the region.  Part of the training will include discussions on spill response and spill response preparedness. 

The educational tool helps inform its users about response plans to oil spills and other potentially harmful situations that occur in the Bering Strait.  It is also a tool by which information is shared.  Through the training tool, the community gains a better understanding of the complexity of a spill response.

Anyone who uses the BSRTT website can share their knowledge with the Coast Guard or other organizations that also use the tool.  Community trainings on spill response and the teaching tool in the Bering Strait region are expected to begin this month.