Friday, March 24, 2006

Digest of News on Queen of the North Oil Spill

Matthew Ramsey and Ethan Baron report in an article in Friday's Vancouver Province entitled "Questions about ferry continue to grow" that two Deepworker 2000 submersibles owned by Nuytco Research Limited of North Vancouver, BC are expected to descend the 370 metres to the site of the wreck of the Queen of the North ferry tomorrow, Saturday. Phil Nuyten, famed founder of the company and developer of the mini-subs, says he expects his two divers on the one-person subs to find the wreck in four pieces on the bottom. The mini-subs are expected to shine their powerful spotlights on the wreckage.

Meanwhile, in an anonymous article on the Canoe web site entitled "Sinking likely to affect communities", David Hahn, President of BC Ferries is quoted as saying "We'll get a better sense of the state of the sea bottom, state of the ship, besides doing the pollution issue". Chief Robert Hill of the Gitk'a'ata Hartley Bay band, is reported to be concerned about the impact of the spill on his community. He is worried that the oil will damage marine resources upon which his people rely.

For its part, Friday's Globe and Mail has a detailed account of the environmental aspects of the sinking. Jonathan Woodward, in an article entitled "Workers race to clean up oil leaking from wreckage", writes that oil continues to bubble to the surface and spread out up to five kilometres from the site of the sinking. So far, though, the slick has apparently not hit the coast. Cleanup crews are trying to protect three sensitive beaches, but bad weather is not allowing booming on the water. The good news is that high winds are keeping the oil in the middle of Wright Sound, according to Wright. Within the five kilometre radius of oil around the site where the ship went down, "long ribbons of fuel are arranged in windrows", covering about ten percent of the area. Mr. Woodward points out that although diesel fuel evaporates quicker than other oil, it is more toxic to wildlife in the short term because it gets absorbed in the bloodstream. Meanwhile, not unexpectedly, the Living Oceans Society is reported here and elsewhere as criticising the slow environmental response to the spill.

Lastly, Larry Pynn, an oil spill veteran reporer from the 'good old days' of the Nestucca barge spill of December 1988, has a piece in Friday's Vancouver Sun entitled "Fuel slick spreads 5 km but no damage so far". Larry claims the slick is moving in a southerly direction, driven by 20 to 30 knot winds coming out of Douglas Channel. Clam and mussel beds are being protected on shore. A Burrard Clean barge is on scene, as is the CCG North Rock. Daily helicopter flights are reportedly tracking the slick and guiding the response effort. It is worth pointing out that BC Ferries and their contracted response organisation, Burrard Clean, are still leading the cleanup operation, with the Canadian Coast Guard acting in a monitoring capacity, according to Don Rodden, a Coast Guard spill response spokesperson. Rodden is quoted by Pynn as saying that he's satisfied with BC Ferries' effort so far.

The last point that I, as an oil spill expert myself, would add, is that the current marine weather forecast for Douglas Channel calls for southerly inflow winds of 10 to 15 knots this morning, becoming light this afternoon. Under conditions such as these, response vessels should be able to deploy containment boom and use skimmers to collect oil off the surface, although the type of oil involved is not terribly conducive to skimming activity. The prototype marine oil spill software my company, Worldocean Consulting Ltd, and another company are developing, indicates that burning the oil on the ocean would not be a viable response option. Application of dispersants is, however, within the realm of possibility. Some commercially available dispersants have been approved for sale in Canada; but, their application on an actual spill has thus far never been approved. Maybe the Queen of the North spill will be a first, although the slick may be a little too close to shore for comfort for dispersant use.


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