Mayors blast oil spill response, NEB pipeline review

Federal Coast Guard and National Energy Board officials on defensive at Metro Vancouver

Pipeline protesters at Metro Vancouver headquarters Friday.

Pipeline protesters at Metro Vancouver headquarters Friday.

Metro Vancouver mayors denounced federal oil spill response provisions and the process for hearings on the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion in a face-to-face meeting with senior federal representatives Friday.

National Energy Board chair Peter Watson and Canada Coast Guard assistant commissioner Roger Girouard were grilled by the region’s mayors in the session at Metro Vancouver headquarters.

Both committed to greater consultation and a search for improvements in the wake of the English Bay fuel oil spill that fouled area beaches.

North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton said the targeted response time in Vancouver harbour should be cut to “a small number of hours or minutes” by increasing Coast Guard resources and having response staff on call.

Girouard defended the spill response time following the April 8 grain freighter bunker oil spill as being well within regulated norms, adding crews “went into high gear” when the severity of the spill was understood.

“They swept through the night for the first time ever in this port and collected the lion’s share of oil which is why we didn’t have a worse scenario on the beaches. So I’m not going to apologize,” Girouard said before being interrupted by hecklers, some carrying signs opposing oil exports.

“In the dark of night it’s unclear. You all recognize the concept of fog of war? Well, this was fog of spill.”

Girouard acknowledged improvements are needed and suggested there should be debate on what response time targets are appropriate in the future.

Belcarra Mayor Ralph Drew said the Coast Guard-led spill response adds bureaucracy and delay, calling it a case of “too many cooks in the kitchen.”

The Coast Guard didn’t dispatch industry-funded cleanup crews from Western Canada Marine Response Corp. until more than three hours after the spill was first detected because the sheen on the water was first thought unrecoverable. It was 13 hours until booms were fully secured around the MV Marathassa.

Drew said the Coast Guard should take a precautionary approach and respond immediately as if any report of a spill is serious, as firefighters do with their emergency calls.

“This is like the Coast Guard saying ‘We won’t send the fire trucks until we see flames.’ Give your head a shake. They need to get out their now.”

The NEB has also pledged an audit of emergency response preparations for  Kinder Morgan’s existing facilities.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said the cuts to Coast Guard staff and facilities in B.C. has made “a sham” of spill response promises, particularly as the NEB conducts hearings on the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline twinning, which would result in a seven-fold increase in oil tankers sailing through Burrard Inlet.

“You just got a taste here as to what will happen if there’s a spill [from a tanker],” Corrigan said.

Watson acknowledged public dissatisfaction with the NEB process, which excludes most public participants from participating in oral hearings.

But he defended the NEB panel’s handling of the Trans Mountain expansion, citing the challenge of dealing with 400 active intervenors.

“Our panel members are striving to the best of their ability to ensure their hearing processes are fair, are open and are efficient for all the parties involved.”

Corrigan called the NEB’s switch to primarily written hearings after the previous Enbridge pipeline hearings a “failed experiment” and a “bad way to implement public policy.”

Watson was also pressed by mayors on the NEB’s refusal to consider impacts on climate change from the potential approval of a new pipeline that would carry Alberta oil to foreign markets.

“Not all issues in the energy debate today are within my mandate to resolve,” he responded.

He said the NEB panel independently considering the Kinder Morgan project decided climate change wasn’t directly relevant, but that marine issues were to be considered.

Watson’s visit was an attempt to build bridges with local communities.

Mayors were also advised that the regional district has agreed to allow Kinder Morgan non-intrusive access to two Metro regional parks – Surrey Bend and Colony Farm – to scout the potential route for the new pipeline.

A briefing note cautioned it could be a flashpoint for more protests.

Corrigan said Metro had no legal grounds to oppose access, which will be on foot only without machines or digging, unlike the drilling that took place on Burnaby Mountain last November.

“It wasn’t enough of an injury to the parks to justify ending up in court,” he said.

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