Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Queen of the North Oil Spill Response Effort Winding Down?

Eight days after the Queen of the North ferry sank and started discharging oil and fuel oil from its berth on the seabed, under 1400 ft. of water, the response operation appears to be winding down. The last press release was issued Tuesday, the 28th of March, and appears to indicate that the only plan from here on in is to monitor the situation, which we are told has "stabilised", whatever that means. It seems the BC Environment Ministry was ready to pull the plug on the operation, but in response to flak from the community of Hartley Bay, Burrard Clean has decided to stay in the area beyond Friday.

Why do the responders apppear to be about to fold their tents? Well, for one thing, it appears that the leak from the wreck has slowed to a trickle. Also, the cleanup operation was somewhat futile to begin with. Of course, economics also play a role: oil spill response operations can get pretty darned expensive.

Who can blame the authorities for planning an exit strategy? I mean, after all, booms and skimmers don't work on light diesel, and sorbents are of limited utility when the oil is spread so far and wide. I guess it's just that old standby response strategy of: "Let nature take its course", is it not? You know, the prefered strategy of most response organisations around the world.

But, a lot of hard questions remain, and answers are few and far between. For instance, I have a few queries for the Incident Commander. I would like to know the following:

1- What has happened to all the ribbons of oil that were displayed on those nice maps you put out? Have they all dispersed, dissolved and evaporated? If so, why not put out a new, updated map indicating that? And what about those pockets of oil around Fin Island?

2- What have the Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Teams (SCAT) found? For instance, how many kms of beaches and rocky shoreline are oiled or soiled, and what is the plan to mitigate the effects?

3- What kind of wildlife have been impacted, aside from three groggy birds? There have been reports of an oiled seal, for instance; is there any truth to that?

4- How much oil do you estimate escaped from the vessel, and how much remains? Is it all coming from one tank, two tanks, or do you not know?.

5- You say the flow rate has slowed considerably. The last estimate you provided was 50 litres per hour, which could have meant the spill would go on for months and months. What is the current flow rate, and how long do you think the tank or tanks will continue to empty out?

6- It seems the mini-sub did its job and headed home; is that right? We saw some nice still shots and video of the vessel's stern and hull, but what about the source of the leak or leaks? Did they find anything? How exhaustive was their search? How many leaks did they find? Are the tanks below sea level?

7- If leaks were found from the sunken hulk, what is the plan - to staunch them, suction the oil out of the tanks, encase the vessel in concrete, perhaps?

8- What about the clam beds, and the seaweed harvest, and the coming herring spawn, and the imminent arrival of killer whales? What are your contingency plans for each of these? Are you just going to monitor these elements, and hope for the best, or are you taking any concrete steps to protect them? Is there a shellfish closure in effect, and if so, where?

9- Who is monitoring the surface above the wreck to determine whether oil reoccurs, and at what rate? Is Coast Guard on scene for that, or local fishing boats, or what?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just 2 words for you, "Risk Management"

This is just diesel, some lube and hydraulic oil. Hmmm
Not like it is crude or bunker.

I wonder if this was to happen on the other side of Gill Island or west of the Estevan. Would there be such a fuss? would anyone care? Out of sight and out of mind.

As time goes on, wrecks from the 40's and 50's that are presently sitting on the bottom of our oceans all over the world not just our BC coast, are going to start to leak. They will be and they are leaking bunker.

Is anyone making a fuss about these?

America: 116 tons. Sunk in collision in Grenville Channel 1946

Foss 138: 125 tons. Sunk in collision with vessel MACCLOUFAY in Grenville Channel 1951

Chemainus: 153 tons. Struck Ragged Islands, north of Lund, Geogia Straits. 1945

Clarksdale Victory: 7,000 tons. 439ft long. Sunk at Hippa Isles, QCI. 1947

Cowichan: 962 tons. Foundered in collision 4 mls SE Sechelt Light, Georgia Straits. Lying in 60 faths. 1925

D B M: Steamer 102 tons. Foundered at Cascade Inlet, BC. 1949

Denali: Steamer 2164 tons. Sunk in passage between Zayas and Dundas Islands. 1935

E Edith Foss: Sunk top end Princess Royal Channel. 239 tons. Cause not known. 1944

Eastholm: Steamer 174 tons. Sunk in English Bay 1937.

George Walton: 7,229 tons. Foundered about 40 miles NE of Cape Flattery. Broke in two, 1951.

Gulf Stream: Steel Hull- Ferry, 147ft long. Sunk at Dinner Rock, 8 miles South of Powell River. 1947

Zalinski: American Army cargo Steamer sunk in Grenville Channel 1940's. Currently leaking bunker.

And the list goes on.....tic tock tic tock.

12:34 PM  
Blogger GG said...

Excellent points! In the case of QOTN, however, the spill site is close to the First Nations community of Hartley Bay,and the locals are worried about shellfish beds, as they should be, because diesel is quite toxic. Crude basically just smothers everything, whereas diesel is more insidious. As for the Zlainski, that's a real headache: not just the bunker but the explosives, which could blow up at any time, possibly triggered by a cruise ship overhead. Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful reply.

3:51 PM  

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