Monday, March 27, 2006

More Details Emerge as to Queen of the North Oil Spill Response

According to a CBC News story posted on its web site Monday morning, the 225,000 litres of diesel fuel in the sunken Queen of the North's fuel tanks are leaking out at the rate of 50 litres per hour. It is not clear from the article whether the leak is from both of the tanks, or just one. If it is just one, then at the current flow rate it would take just over three months for the tank to empty. If both tanks are leaking, it could take up to six months. Of course, that's not to say that all the oil will escape; for one thing, officials will be trying their utmost to staunch the flow, and hopefully they will be able to do this within a matter of days. But, it does give one an idea of the magnitude of the task confronting the responders.

The same CBC News report indicates that the following resources are involved in the cleanup:

- two fishing vessels
- two tugboats
- two equipment barges
- three support boats
- one skimmer
- 3 kms of floating boom

Notably absent from this list is any mention of Canadian Coast Guard vessels. Nor is the Coast Guard represented on the Joint Incident Command team, according to details included in the latest press release issued by the BC Environment Ministry, who seem to have taken de facto control of the response operation. The Coast Guard's role appears to be relegated to the relatively minor role of calculating the flow rate of oil from the wreck; using free software from NOAA, this can be done in a matter of minutes if you know the dimensions of the fuel tanks, the amount of oil in the tanks, the rate of flow, etc.

The Coast Guard's mandated role in a response operation such as this is that of FMO, or Federal Monitoring Officer. That is to say, it keeps an eye on things, and if it feels at any stage that the RP ( Responsible Party ) is either unwilling or unable to act, then it will intervene, taking over repsonsibility for the operation. There is no indication that this stage will ever be reached in the case of the Queen of the North incident.

As for the state of the wreck on the bottom of the sea, a BC Ferries press release Sunday night indicated that the 145 metre-long sunken hulk of the Queen of the North "is resting in silt on her keel", intact, in 1400 ft. of water. ( For those of you on metric, 1400 ft. is 427 metres. ). On CBC Radio News morning, a reporter in Prince Rupert added that the silt the vessel was resting in came right up to the level of the passanger deck.

In terms of the spill's environmental impact, a Vancouver Sun/Canadian Press story by Darah Hansen, with files from Jonathan Fowlie, cites Mark West of Burrrard Clean, BC Ferries' RO or Reponse Orgnaization, as saying that clam beds are protected from the oil because they are "deep below the water in a muddy substrate", whereas the oil is on the water's surface. This makes it "...harder for the fuel to penetrate the shellfish". The article also has Nick Russo of Environment Canada indicating that "...clams would be tested after they were harvested to see if they were contaminated".

Another article, this one by the Canadian Press and posted on the web site, cites Mark as saying that protective booming has been placed around the shellfish beds, with limited effectiveness.

Finally, Nick Russo of Environment Canada reported Monday that three birds were found that had apparently been stressed by the spill.


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