Since 1976, Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (then called Burrard Clean) or WCMRC has been providing spill response on Canada’s West Coast. The organization is certified by Transport Canada as the organization to clean up any potentially harmful spills that occur in our coastal waters, including the unlikely event of an oil tanker spill.
Canadian regulations to protect navigable waters
“Oil spill response agencies like ours are responsible for all marine spills that happen in the ocean environment. That could be a ship source spill or from an oil handling facility,” explains Michael Lowry, spokesperson for the WCMRC. He notes that Canada’s current marine response regime found its origins in response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident, when a tanker grounded on a reef off the Alaska coast, spilling 260,000 barrels of oil into the ocean.
At that time, the Canada Shipping Act was amended to include regulations and standards to protect all navigable waters. While these gave Canada some of the toughest regulations in the world, marine safety regulations have been continuously enhanced, such as a regulation banning large single-hulled oil tankers from Canadian waters beginning in 2010.
The WCMRC adheres to the regulations of the Canada Shipping Act, meeting or exceeding prescribed response times and clean-up capacity. In the event of a spill, WCMRC works with federal, provincial and municipal partners, including First Nations, health authorities, Department of Fisheries and Ocean, Environment and Climate Change Canada and the BC Ministry of Environment.
Strong regulations including the use of marine inspectors, local pilots, tugboat escorts and surveillance planes further protect Canada’s coastlines. Recently, the federal government introduced a $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan (OPP) which includes comprehensive plans and augmented resourcing to handle increased shipping along Canada’s West Coast.
The WCMRC has warehouses located in Burnaby, Duncan and Prince Rupert and more than a dozen equipment caches strategically located along B.C.’s coastline. They have a fleet of 40 response vessels and a booming capacity of more than 36,000 metres. They have the skimming capacity to clean-up 550 tonnes of oil per hour or 20 times the minimum Shipping Act planning standards. WCMRC has a range of skimmers that can handle both heavy and light oils.
Funding to cover spill response
The WCMRC is funded by membership fees from shipping companies that operate in western Canadian waters and from a percentage of bulk oil cargo fees from pipeline companies. In the event of a spill, the polluter is required by law to pay for the clean-up costs. There are international and Canadian funds that are also available to pay for spill clean-up and claims related to spills. Those funds are the result of industry levies.
The Canadian government sets the standards and industry pays for the response organization whose role is to meet or exceed those standards. The spirit of the regime is that Canadian tax payers are not on the hook for spill response.
Response planning and strategies
WCMRC’s Coastal Protection Program identifies and develops oil spill protection strategies for coastal sensitivities. These are coastal resources that are at risk if a spill occurs nearby. Sensitivities include ecological, biological, cultural and economic resources.
The WCMRC has produced nearly 400 protection strategies called Geographic Response Strategies (GRS) for Canada’s West Coast. GRS are two-page documents that identify anchor locations for boom, logistical considerations, equipment and personnel requirements. The objective of a GRS is to reduce decision making time during the initial response to a spill and help identify potential equipment needs.
The information for identifying sensitivities is collected from existing data sets and includes the participation of First Nations, emergency planners and community subject matter experts to help identify gaps and new sensitivities.
Trans Mountain enhancements
The WCMRC has developed enhanced planning standards for marine spill response to accommodate increased tanker traffic resulting from the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. These enhancements include:
- Reduced times for initiating a response to a maximum of two hours for Vancouver Harbour and six hours for the remainder of the southern shipping lane.
- A regime that is able to deliver 20,000 tonnes of capacity within 36 hours from dedicated resources staged along the shipping route in the Salish Sea. This represents a response capacity that is double and a delivery time that is half the existing planning standards.
- Estimated capital cost of the enhancements is approximately $150 million. The enhancements will add more than 125 new employees, 40 new vessels and six new spill response bases along the shipping route. The proposed bases include a 24/7 on-water base in Burrard Inlet and a new base on the Fraser River.