On March 3, 2023, Michael Lowry, Senior Communications Manager for the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC), spoke about his company’s role in responding to and remediating oil spills along the 27,000 km coastline of British Columbia. Michael’s commitment to protecting the environment was clear.
Since 1995, WCMRC has been the only independent organization certified by Transport Canada (TC) for oil spill response on Canada’s west coast. It is funded completely by the oil and shipping industries.
TC standards are risk- and performance-based. Consequently, increases in the volume of oil transported along BC’s coastline have led to regulatory requirements for quicker responses and more efficient recovery – 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Fortunately, the business of preventing and reducing the consequence of oil spills is supported by significant scientific data, continuously updated by new research and industry funding. In the last decade, WCMRC has upgraded its existing fleet, and acquired many new vessels with enhanced functionality. Newly acquired rapid response vessels can speed to a spill at 26 knots, then revert to recovering fluids at less than one (1) knot. Other recently purchased, state-of-the-art coastal response vessels are similar to vessels employed in the offshore oil industry. Built like tugs, they are slow and stable and can operate in demanding ocean conditions. The latest ship on order is an offshore supply vessels, 245 feet long. It has many functions, including the storing and tankering of oil recovered from a spill. Many vessels are equipped with infrared devices for night operations.
But it is not just about research, technology and equipment. The WCMRC’s Coastal Response Plan engages local, trained response teams with supplies and equipment in communities in high risk areas. The use of local and indigenous groups results in faster and more efficient responses. Furthermore, communities often provide the WCMRC with eco-specific information to help guide mitigation activities.
The varied nature of questions during the Q&A session resulted in interesting and sometimes obscure information. For instance, we learned that only 2% of the workforce in maritime transportation is female or indigenous. Consequently, WCMRC has created initial training programs for women and indigenous persons at no expense to the trainees: after a two-month course, a graduate may fill a $60,000/year job as a deckhand. (Linda Burrows volunteered!)
We learned that Prince Rupert will soon become the second largest port in Canada, displacing the historic Port of Montreal, and second to Vancouver.
We also learned that a shipping company is responsible for 100% of the cost of remediating a spill. Under the shipper-fee model, the company’s insurance covers the costs up to the maximum of the policy. If the cost exceeds the maximum, the shipper can draw from a Canadian or, on rare occasions, an international fund to which shipping firms contribute annually.
Most of Michael’s audience was old enough to remember the catastrophic grounding of the Exxon Valdez. We are heartened that organizations such as WCMRC are in place to combat spills that inevitably occur when transporting fossil fuels. Indeed, it is generally accepted that the three best regions in the world for spill response and recovery are, in descending order: Norway, the United Kingdom and the Pacific Northwest (comprising Canadian and American facilities and assets).
The Speaker’s Committee extends grateful appreciation to Marcel Lalonde and Norm Kilarski who prepared and delivered a unique, exceptional prelude and conclusion to Michael Lowry’s presentation on oil spill remediation. Marcel’s stunning portrayal of undersea life surrounding Vancouver Island had the audience completely captivated, and brought home the importance of protecting the priceless treasure that is BC’s coastal area.
Much work went into their preparation. On behalf of every member of the club, we thank Norm and Marcel for their project management and creativity, respectively. Northwest Bay Probus is fortunate that they contribute so much to the club, in so many ways.