Spill prevention called key to marine safety

Presentation by Candian Coast Guard official to Terrace audience focuses on prevention strategies for oil and gas spills

THE BEST way to deal with an oil spill on water is to prevent it in the first place, an assistant commissioner with the Canadian Coast Guard told a Terrace audience March 12.

And while Norway is regarded as having the best prevention system in the world arising from its offshore oil industry, Canada has every chance of topping those standards, said Roger Girouard.

“If we want world class, we’ll beat them at their game,” Girouard told a regular session of an Enbridge-sponsored group known as a community advisory board.

Enbridge has set up five such boards along its intended Northern Gateway pipeline and marine traffic route to provide information and take questions about the $5.5 billion project and they meet regularly to hear presentations on a wide variety of topics.

Girouard’s presentation concerned a Canadian Coast Guard project last fall to remove bunker oil from an American military transport ship which sank after after hitting Pitt Island on the North Coast during a bad storm in 1946.

Small amounts of oil had been leaking over the years and there had been fears the entire cargo of oil would be released if the storage tanks ever gave way.

Girouard described an intricate operation involving specialized equipment and divers to safely remove the oil from the ship resting on the bottom of the ocean.

In taking questions afterward, Girouard emphasized establishing standards and regulations for all facets of tanker traffic, including traffic management, search and rescue and navigation.

“There’s a lot of work to be done at that level of detail,” he said. “It’s all possible. It’s all about will.”

“Whether it’s LNG or black oil, prevent the spill.”

Environmentalists and others have been highly critical of the Northern Gateway pipeline project which would ship oil in tankers from a terminal at Kitimat.

A spill, they say, would harm the ocean environment, affecting fish, marine life and bird populations as well as the north coast fishing economy.

The provincial government has laid down the establishment of what it calls “world-leading marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery systems” as one of five conditions needed for it to approve the Northern Gateway or any other oil export project. The federal government has increased marine safety and spill response spending.