Ucluelet’s harbour could soon be the home of a new oil spill response centre.
Both the federal and provincial government have announced their approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline project but that approval is tied to the company’s commitment to enhancing oil spill response capabilities.
To put those enhancement’s in place, Kinder Morgan reached out to Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, which is proposing a $150 million plan that involves seven new spill response bases, 115 personnel and 26 vessels, according to WCMRC spokesperson Michael Lowry. Lowry said five of those centres will be on Vancouver Island, with a main hub in Nanaimo and four smaller centres in Sidney, Beecher Bay, Port Alberni and Ucluelet.
“Having them in Nanaimo and Port Alberni is important because there’s support industries there through the port, but also because in a large spill you have to cascade resources in from other locations,” he said.
He said the Port Alberni and Ucluelet centres would work in tandem.
“Ucluelet would have the rapid response vessels and then Port Alberni, because there’s more port amenities up there, would have some of the bigger equipment and some of the barges,” he said.
He said several Ucluelet sites have been looked at but no final decisions have been made and added Ucluelet’s centre’s primary use would be as a harbour for emergency vessels.
“In Ucluelet, you’re probably primarily looking at moorage,” he said. “These decisions aren’t final, but we’re looking at moorage in Ucluelet and then a lot of the sort of heavier assets will be in Port Alberni.”
He said the current plan calls for roughly 17 full-time jobs between Ucluelet and Port Alberni but could not speak to how they will be distributed.
“We know we’ve got roughly 80 positions on the Island. We haven’t sorted out where they’re all going to be,” he said. “It’s going to depend on which vessels are going where. So those numbers aren’t final but right now we’re looking at approximately 17 jobs between those locations.”
He said there would be three types of vessels acquired: skimmers, barges and basic work boats that would deploy booms and help with beach cleanups, and added the jobs created would be for highly-skilled mariners.
“People come to us from the marine industry, whether its the fishing industry or tugs and then we train them in spill response tactics,” he said.
He said Tofino was considered as an alternative to Ucluelet, but the latter’s closer proximity to shipping lanes gave it the advantage.
“The key with oil spills and any kind of emergency response obviously is the faster you can get to the site, the better the response is going to be so quick response times is key and that’s why were looking at having rapid response vessels right in Ucluelet,” he said. “We’re certainly very excited to be in Ucluelet. We’ve looked at a number of locations there and we think it’s an ideal spot for us.”
He added the West Coast should be excited about the spinoff benefits the Island’s new bases will bring.
“The benefit spills off to all marine industries really. There’s a lot of benefit for coastal communities in having this protection in place,” he said. “We’re not proponents or opponents of any particular project, we just have to be ready for a spill when, and if, it happens.”
He added the bases being set up would not exclusively respond to tankers.
“Your community is going to have further protection from any kind of incident really,” he said. “This isn’t just for tanker spills. This is for any kind of oil spill on the West Coast.”
He said WCMRC responds to roughly 25 spills a year.
“We don’t patrol harbours looking for spills to clean up, we’re either activated by the vessel that does go down or by the Coast Guard,” he said. “They all have bunker fuel on them, so that’s all potential sources of pollution. These new response vessels would be available for any of those types of situations.”
He added that, if Kinder Morgan signs off on the $150 million plan, it will be implemented in short order.
“Once that happens, basically the light is green and we’re going to start building these bases,” he said. “The timeline is quite condensed. We’re looking at having the bases’ construction finished by Q2 [spring] of 2018, so we have just over a year and a half to kind of bring this all together and then there’s another year or so where we’re going to be bringing the equipment and the personnel in.”
Western Canada Marine Response Corporation is part of Canada’s Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Regime, set up after the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989, according to Lowry.
“The Canadian government got involved in spill response and they created a program where the government regulates it, but industry funds it,” he said. “We’re funded by industry, but we have to meet response standards that the government sets. They set response times and whatnot and we demonstrate we can meet those response requirements and industry pays for that commitment to be made.”
He said the response time regulations came into effect in the mid-1990’s and had fallen out of date.
“They hadn’t really been updated over the past 20 years or so. When Kinder Morgan looked at the project, they wanted to improve upon those regulations so, in consultation with us, they proposed these new response requirements,” he said.
“Right now, the response requirements on that side of the island are almost 72 hours maximum…With these new requirements from trans mountain, we’re bringing that down to six hours, so that’s a drastic reduction in terms of response times.”