THE Ministry of Environment says the province is not ready in the event of an oil spill, according to recently released documents.
The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, are from new minister Mary Polak's briefing book and deal specifically with "the expansion of oil and gas transport through B.C. (such as the Northern Gateway and the Kinder Morgan pipeline in the Lower Mainland) and the risks to B.C.'s environment from oil spills."
According to the document, "The Ministry of Environment - as the ministry responsible for preparedness, prevention, response and recovery for spills - is not adequately staffed and resourced to meet the existing and emerging expectations to address spills. Even a moderatesized spill would overwhelm the province's ability to respond and could result in a significant liability for government."
Christianne Wilhelmson, executive director of Georgia Strait Alliance, a marine environmental protection group, said the most recent news does not surprise her.
"We have been telling the government this for years, so it's actually quite disturbing that the government's been saying that we are prepared when in fact their own staff have been telling them exactly the opposite," said Wilhelmson. "This to me indicates that decisions are being made on a political level and not being made based on facts, because the staff who are working on these issues every day, they know better than probably anybody how prepared or not prepared we are for an oil spill."
Nigel Bennett, co-founder of Aqua Guard Spill Response Inc. in North Vancouver, said that fortunately there have been no large spills yet considering the news.
"Our feeling from the outside looking in (is) that they are under-equipped," he said. "Everybody's doing the best they can with what they have, we just don't have the budget."
Aqua Guard specializes in designing and supplying oil spill response equipment and
services. He said they just completed 10 days of demonstrations and testing at the dry dock in Lower Lonsdale for their latest oil skimming system. Many of the major oil companies attended as well as MSRC, the largest oil response group in the United States, but there was a lack of local interest in their product.
"One of the sad things is that we design and manufacture all this equipment in North Van," said Bennett." I can't see any slated here for our coast, which is kind of an ironic thing."
He said Canada is one of their smallest markets for oil spill response equipment.
"Ninety per cent of all of our business is outside Canada. We're heavily into South America, Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba, you name any country that's moving or transporting oil on the surface of the water," said Bennett.
He said diluted bitumen, something that is included in the ministry's documents, is "something that's a little more alien" and the technology needs to be there to deal with it.
"There should be a budget for this kind of thing," said Bennett, adding that it shouldn't take a major spill, such as the Enbridge spill in the Gulf of Mexico, to bring the government into action. "The environment is going to suffer."
Wilhelmson said the effects of recent government budget cuts would not help the situation.
"I know we all love hearing about tightening belts, but remember that there is a cost on the ground," she said. "When you cut people in the public service you are cutting service to the public and that includes our ability to deal with an oil spill along with a variety of other services that are being cut."
Wilhelmson adds that the government should stop talking about increasing shipping traffic, specifically bitumen.
"Staff are trying to tell the political leaders what's going on, and they're not being listened to," she said. "It's completely reckless on the part of any government to approve more tanker traffic when we're not ready for what we have now."
Liberal MLAs Jane Thornthwaite and Naomi Yamamoto were unavailable for comment.
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