joint oil-spill training exercise involving Canada and the U.S.

Rescue squads answer: ‘What if?’

Brian Giebelhaus photos

Emergency response crews work to set up booms off Crescent Beach, as part of a joint oil-spill training exercise involving Canada and the U.S.

Emergency Response Teams test their skills in Crescent Beach

Rescue squads answer: ‘What if?’

Emergency response teams are “as ready as we can be” for a major oil spill in Boundary Bay.

Wednesday, they put that readiness to the test during a mock spill off Crescent Beach involving Canadian and U.S. coast guards, both countries’ navies, Tsawwassen First Nation, Environment Canada, and Washington State Department of Ecology.

The exercises are conducted every year in Canada and the U.S. This week was the first time the field test has run here.

“We’re as ready (for a major spill)… as reasonably expected,” said Don Rodden, CCG Pacific Region’s environmental response superintendent.

“It’s a best guess. Odds are, we’re very well-prepared, much more so than Valdez.”

That spill, when the tanker Exxon Valdez struck the Bligh Reef early March 24, 1989, was one of the largest man-made environmental disasters. It resulted in approximately 11 million gallons of California-bound crude oil discharging into Prince William Sound, Alaska. Hundreds of thousands of animals died. Clean-up took years. The effects of the spill continue to be felt today, 18 years later.

“It shook everybody,” Rodden said, noting the spill occurred just four days after efforts to clean up the 875-tonne Nestucca spill in Gray’s Harbour, Wa., wrapped up.

But lessons in how to respond to such disasters were learned.

Crew training is better, more people and agencies are involved, and equipment is better and more plentiful. From Vancouver Harbour, regulations dictate equipment to detain and recover 150 tonnes of oil must be out within six hours of a spill. The Canada-U.S. Joint Marine Pollution Contingency Plan provides a framework for co-operation in response to spills threatening the inland or coastal waters of both countries. It pre-clears response teams to freely cross the border.

“The purpose of this treaty is to basically make the border disappear, because the oil doesn’t care,” Rodden said.

Wednesday’s exercise was part of being prepared for the worst. It was “to test the equipment, to get it out; to manoeuvre the vessels to make sure the equipment works efficiently,” Rodden said.

It saw the hovercraft pull up onto the sandy beach, much to the delight of a class of elementary students out on a field trip. On-water operations were practised, along with shoreline booming; and, members of the Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Team honed their skills.

SCAT was developed in Canada, to conduct assessments prior to spill clean-ups, said Stafford Reid, provincial emergency planner for the Ministry of Environment. The protocol is used worldwide. Teams determine how much oil there is, what steps should be taken to clean it up, what not to do, and when clean is clean.

The latter point can be the most contentious, Reid said. Sometimes, the effort can appear to not go far enough.

“In open ocean, natural cleaning will take care of it better than we ever will,” Reid said.

Odds are slim one will ever happen here, Rodden said.

“But we do have tanker traffic coming into Cherry Point,” he said. “Hopefully, it’ll never happen, but there’s always human error and mechanical failure.”

~ by fredfelleman on June 15, 2007.

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