By Harvey Jarvis
Placentia Bay has been called “That Far Greater Bay,” and it is known to be one of the most ecologically diverse regions on the globe. It has the same number of islands a year has days and it is probably the foggiest area in the entire Atlantic coast. A drive through the Doe Hills will confirm that. It also has more oil tanker traffic than any other bay in Canada.
As referenced in a report entitled Regulating Oil Tankers in Canadian Waters, by Darryl Anderson and Joe Spears, the 2008 crude petroleum flowing through Come By Chance was greater than any of the other major crude oil tanker ports in Canada.
The amount of oil flowing through Port Metro Vancouver was only nine per cent of that flowing through Come By Chance. When the totals from the six major crude oil tanker ports in Canada were added together, Come By Chance and the Newfoundland offshore made up 49 per cent of the total.
Transport Canada, in 2007, published a report entitled Environmental Oil Spill Assessment for the South Coast of Newfoundland. Major issues raised included the lack of infrastructure along the south coast, and that the response equipment that was available was not located in areas of highest risk. The report concluded that the area that included Placentia and St. Mary’s bays was three to 10 times more likely to have a serious oil spill than anywhere else in the area from Pouch Cove to Channel-Port aux Basques.
Soon after the April 2010 oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the lack of preparedness became clearly evident. The first response was very late and when anything did happen it was disorganized. It has since been recognized that the quick deployment of a group of well-trained first responders could have helped lessen the environmental damage caused by that spill. Contrast that with the message, prior to the spill — something to the effect of not to worry, risks are low and our response plan will handle it. Sound familiar?
Transport Canada said its 2007 assessment was conducted to understand the risks and to allow it to make decisions regarding the cost effectiveness of implementing measures to reduce those risks. It is now 2013 and I am speculating that:
1. Since most (if not all) of the response equipment is in storage in a warehouse in Mount Pearl, the lack of first-response equipment close to the seabird sanctuary at Cape St. Mary’s or to the lobster fishing grounds in Pinch Gut or the cod fishing grounds near the Bread and Cheese, must be due to the lack of warehouse space in those areas.
2. There is a company contracted to implement a first-response plan, however, the list of first responders is short. Having a list of geographically distributed, prepared and well-trained first responders from the fishing industry is not possible because there are only about 2,000 fish harvesters to choose from.
3. Advances in navigational and communication equipment have been significant over the last decade and that has helped to reduce the risk of an oil tanker running aground in foggy Placentia Bay. Those technological and communicational advances make it virtually impossible for any vessel to run aground.
It is, of course, quite obvious that those three points have been contaminated by a deliberate spilling of sarcasm.
We do not have the response equipment in the right places, nor do we have a group of well-trained and geographically distributed first responders for one reason only; oil companies and regulators think it is not cost effective. Instead, they point to the navigational and communication aids that, they say, mitigate the risks.
For those who also feel that
communication and navigational advances have reduced the risks of a tanker running aground (and spilling its cargo) and is justification for the lack of equipment and trained responders, please ask yourself two questions: how is it possible for the Blue Puttees to run aground in Channel-Port aux Basques Harbour in July? How is it possible for the Placentia Bay pilot boat (the one that guides tankers into and out of Placentia Bay) to have run aground off Arnold’s Cove the first week of August?
Now ask yourself this question: are we being fed the same hogwash by the oil companies and regulators that British Petroleum was feeding the citizens of the Gulf of Mexico prior to the blowout of 2010?
Harvey Jarvis is projects manager with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union.