Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic April 21, 2017 - 7:00 am

Canada’s unprepared for fuel oil spills from Arctic shipping: WWF

“There is no CCG process in place to ensure that sufficient equipment will ever exist in any of the villages”

This map shows the areas that the World Wildlife Fund-Canada studied for its report on Canada's capacity to respond to fuel oil spills from ships operating in the Arctic. (WWF IMAGE)
This map shows the areas that the World Wildlife Fund-Canada studied for its report on Canada's capacity to respond to fuel oil spills from ships operating in the Arctic. (WWF IMAGE)

Though fuel oil spills represent the worst environmental threat posed by increased Arctic shipping, authorities, including the Canadian Coast Guard, are ill-prepared to cope with them, the World Wildlife Fund’s Canadian wing says in three related reports issued earlier this month.

“An Arctic shipping oil spill would devastate the surrounding marine environment, including the destruction of habitat for polar bears, seals, walrus, sea birds, as well as beluga, narwhal and bowhead whales,” WWF Canada said.

But at the same time, Arctic communities, and not the polluter, would bear the most of the consequences, the WWF said.

“Not every community has response equipment for a marine spill. In the communities that do, the equipment is limited and could be used to respond to only a very small spill.”

Of the WWF’s three reports, one provides background information on Nunavut’s High Arctic, the other provides background on the Beaufort Sea region and one summarizes conclusions and recommendations made from studies on the two regions.

For Nunavut, the WWF’s researcher looked at oil spill response capabilities in four of Nunavut’s most northerly communities, all of which lie around Lancaster Sound: Grise Fiord, Resolute, Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet.

Of those, Grise Fiord and Arctic Bay see the smallest number of ships, while Pond Inlet, especially with the additional ships that now serve the Mary River iron mine, sees the most marine traffic.

During the 2013 open water season, that region saw 27 adventure and tourism voyages, 12 of which involved passenger vessels as opposed to yachts.

And in 2013 eight tankers and 14 cargo vessels passed through Lancaster Sound. That included the Nordic Orion, which transported a shipment of coal from western Canada to Finland, and is the first bulk carrier to transit the Northwest Passage.

As for Mary River, 13 voyages carried ore out of Milne Inlet through Eclipse Sound past Pond Inlet in 2015, and more vessels carried fuel for the Mary River mine.

At the same time, many of those ships still use heavy fuel oils, or HFOs, which would pose the greatest risk in the event of a spill.

“Heavy fuel oil (HFO) is the fuel most often used by large shipping vessels. Of all the marine fuel options, it is also the most damaging in the event of a spill,” the WWF Nunavut report said.

Some other vessels use intermediate fuel oils, or IFOs, a blend of marine gas oil and heavy fuel oil.

And others use Arctic diesel fuel, which the WWF says is a more refined product than HFOs and IFOs.

Arctic diesel fuel, which is designed to work at low temperatures. dissolves and evaporates more quickly than heavier fuels but at the same time, it’s more poisonous for people, animals and plants when it’s first released.

Overall, the communities around Lancaster Sound are not prepared to cope with a major spill from a commercial vessel and neither is the Canadian Coast Guard, the WWF found.

“As this report notes, Grise Fiord has no CCG-stockpiled oil spill response equipment and the other three communities have equipment that could clean up only a very small amount of oil.”

The Coast Guard’s community packs included enough equipment to clean up only about one tonne of spill oil: 1,350 to 3,650 feet of boom, a skimmer, a 16-foot aluminum boat, a storage tank, plus shoreline kits comprising rakes, shovels, pitch forks and tarps.

Also, the Government of Nunavut’s Petroleum Products Division provides each community in Nunavut with 150 feet of floating boom, 200 feet of rope, two bales of absorbent pads, four empty 205-litre drums and other equipment.

But there is no guarantee that any of this stockpiled spill response equipment would even work, the WWF said.

That’s because it’s not checked regularly and it’s in uncertain working condition.

And the Coast Guard response packs may not even be accessible to residents of some communities.

“Some communities don’t have a key for the locked storage containers because the CCG is concerned about maintaining responsibility for the equipment inside,” the WWF said.

As for the Coast Guard, it’s unlikely that any of its vessels could reach a spill fast enough to make much of a difference.

That’s because there are usually only three Coast Guard ships responsible for the entire Northwest Passage.

“Moreover, there is no CCG process in place to ensure that sufficient equipment will ever exist in any of the villages to clean up the amount of oil that could spill from ships currently travelling in the region,” the WWF report said.

Other problems include:

• low numbers of trained oil spill responders;

• poor communications infrastructure, especially cell phone and internet networks;

• no hazardous waste disposal facilities in the Arctic; and,

• the Arctic climate, such as high waves and strong winds that can make it impossible to contain oil spills using floating booms.

  Oils Spill Response Capacity—Nunavut by NunatsiaqNews on Scribd


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(3) Comments:

#1. Posted by Putuguk on April 21, 2017

What this article fails to come to terms with the likelihood of a spill. This is essential for assessing risk.

Around 700 tonnes of fuel were spilled from tankers worldwide in 2016. That is less than the single event maximum modeled by the WWF for these Arctic waters.

This continues a downward trend from the 1970’s where today we have less than 1/8th of the spills compared to 5 decades ago.

This is even though the volume of fuel transported on the oceans has increased by a factor of 10.

So this industry has improved its performance by a factor of 80 in 5 decades.

Of course no fuel spilled is a good thing, and it would be tough to deal with a spill here in Nunavut.

Given the minuscule amount of traffic compared to the entire world, should we realistically expect something big and bad to happen?

Equally hard on the environment would be a catastrophic failure of a community tank farm. But would the WWF write a report on that far fetched an eventuality?

#2. Posted by Mabro on April 21, 2017

I think the point of the report is to illustrate that, if shipping traffic increases in the Arctic, which it almost certainly will, then the risks of an accident go up and we are not prepared to deal with it. Yes, the chances of an accident are small but if it happens, the impacts could be catastrophic. And if oil and gas drilling starts happening, we are talking about much, much larger volumes of oil being spilled if an accident ever happens. There is no proven way to clean up oil in icy waters. Is it worth the risk?

#3. Posted by Wolf on April 23, 2017

Cry wolf, gets attention alright. So the solution is, no development, no tourists, no heating fuel, no aircraft. No supplies by sealift. I have always enjoyed the authors of these many articles of leaving the oil in the ground, or laying to page the catastrophic potential disaster of spills. Which is just fine but then there is reality of the requirements of human beings to survive and markets and services to function to provide for those realities. How about coming up with ideas or perhaps some cash towards solutions rather than expending resources telling the world what is wrong. We all have a pretty good idea what is wrong but then the issues become clouded with reality.

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