Marine shipping safety centre created

$3.7M in federal funding for think tank to study shipping risks

A new think tank based in B.C. will conduct research into the potential risks of marine shipping and make recommendations to the federal government, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt announced Monday.

The non-profit organization Clear Seas will get $3.7 million in startup funding to conduct research that will help guide federal policy, said Raitt.

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Rait joined marine shipping experts, board members of the new organization and politicians — including West Vancouver MP John Weston — to launch the think tank this week.

The formation of the new think tank comes as the federal government and Alberta continue to push for new pipelines to transport oil to marine ports to be shipped overseas to markets like China.

Kinder Morgan’s proposal to twin its existing Trans Mountain pipeline, which would increase oil tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet, has been met with strong public opposition.

On the North Shore, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and both the districts of North Vancouver and West Vancouver have registered their opposition to the proposed project.

Concerns about shipping safety and accident response were heightened this spring when a cargo ship spilled 2,700 litres of bunker oil into Vancouver’s English Bay on April 8.

Much of that oil later washed up on the shores of West Vancouver, resulting in temporary beach closures.

Richard Wiefelspuett, executive director of Clear Seas, said the centre hopes to answer questions like how and why that happened. “All ships have risk,” he said — not just oil tankers.

“What is the bigger risk? An oil tanker breaking apart, or 10,000 tonnes of heavy fuel escaping? What is the bigger risk? We don’t know,” Wiefelspuett said.

Those heading Clear Seas said the organization’s research will be independent, even though the government of Alberta’s energy ministry is providing $3.7 million of its seed money, an amount being matched by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Kathryn Moran, chair of the Clear Seas board and an ocean engineer at the University of Victoria who worked as a science and technology officer at the White House during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, said that’s a key issue for the organization.

The centre will conduct “independent, fact-based research” that will be “made available to everybody,” said Wiefelspuett.

It will be important for Clear Seas to be completely transparent about its work and show it is independent from its funders, said Karen Wristen, executive director of the Living Oceans Society. But she said the centre’s mandate and research is sorely needed.

Weston said he was glad to see the new organization set up with “high-calibre scientific horsepower” on its board.

He said there are few people in his riding who don’t care about the issues Clear Seas will be examining.

Weston said there’s a value in examining the risks and possible mitigation of those instead of saying, “stop” to all tanker traffic. “None of us was happy when the Marathassa oil spilled,” he said.

As its first project, Clear Seas has commissioned the Canadian Council of Academies to complete a risk assessment of shipping. The research centre plans to complete a socio-economic study of the benefits and risks of marine shipping as its second project.

— with files from Jen St. Denis/Business in Vancouver

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