Friday, April 28, 2006

Queen of the North Oil Spill Blog Generates Heated Response

More than one month after the Queen of the North ferry sank off Gil Island, the environmental aspects of the incident, which this blog has focussed on, are starting to generate feedback. Within the past three days, three sets of anonymous comments have been posted on the blog by someone ( perhaps more than one person ) who obviously is or has been involved in the response operation. Readers can access the comments by scrolling down the page to the end of each article. I'll just summarise the comments here, and provide a bit of a rebuttal where I feel it is warranted.

The gist of the comments is that the amount of oil spilled is minimal, that it is not in any case recoverable, and, above all, that it is having minimal impact on marine life and shorelines in the area.The diesel in question is said to evaporate rapidly, and what doesn't evaporate becomes weathered and disappears within half a day.

We are also told that chronic pollution near our ports or indeed anywhere along the coast of BC is far worse than anything coming from the Queen of the North wreck. Furthermore, the claim is made that this is just the latest in a series of wrecks off the BC coast that either has leaked oil, is leaking oil, or will eventually leak oil. What, then, is all the fuss about, the commenter wonders?

The latest comment suggests that over the course of the first week of the response effort, only about 20 litres of oil was recovered, at a cost of one million dollars. The commenter goes on to suggest that as a result of message boards such as this one, and also because of alleged "false media coverage", the incident has been politicised. We are told that money shouldn't be wasted on trying to recover oil that is basically unrecoverable, and that deploying protective boom is the only response strategy that's working right now.

This last commenter obviously has some first hand experience with the incident, because he or she claims that the oil comes up in drops the size of a pea which, within the space of about 30 seconds, explodes into a four foot plus rainbow sheen visible from the air and from boats. However, it cannot be recovered, will be visible for under four hours, and will then become invisible to the naked eye.

With this in mind, the commenter wonders whether this is a good way to spend taxpayers' money, risking the health and safety of workers in the process, just because of the optics. We are told not to come back later on and complain that the operation cost the taxpayers a lot of money.

My response to these comments is as follows: great, you have added a lot of useful information, but where were you a month ago when this kind of info was sorely needed and scarcer than a bikini in January in Tuktoyaktuk? So, now we know how much oil was recovered ( virtually nil ), that it cost a whack of money ( a cool million ) to even try, and that the current on-the-water operation is being paid for by BC taxpayers. That latter point in particular is news to me; what ever happened to the polluter pays principle? In other words, how come BC Ferries, a private entity, is not paying for the response operation?

Now that this kind of information is out there in the public domain, perhaps now, belatedly, we can have an informed and intelligent debate about the extent and utility of a continued response operation. The need for a sustained monitoring program would seem obvious, and the potential for avoiding damage by deploying protective boom would also seem compelling, but is there any need to do anything else, particularly if no other strategies are said to work? Personally, this is the first time I heard that the authorities are doing anything else. What, pray tell, are they doing? Do they have any vessels, booms, skimmers and sorbent pads out on the water?; if so, you could have fooled me. But assuming they do, is there any net environmental benefit from resorting to these strategies, or is this just another case of PR boom being deployed, showing the flag, looking busy, etc? You know, all the typical response options that generate positive media coverage and keep the public happy, but have virtually no positive impact on the marine environment?

So, let's hear more of your comments, and let's here more from the authorities, who have done a rather pathetic job of communicating with the public until now, more than one month after the incident occurred.


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