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Tanker safety report obscures truth

December 3, 2013
Canada remains unready to deal with supertankers on the B.C. coast

VANCOUVER, B.C.─The Tanker Safety Report, released today, fails to identify some key aspects of the nation’s state of preparedness to deal with the massive increase in supertanker traffic proposed for Canada’s west coast, according to Living Oceans Society’s Executive Director, Karen Wristen.

“The report highlights many areas where we need additional regulation, infrastructure, training and human resources,” said Wristen. “However, it ignores the essential fact that it will take many years and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to put those essential pieces in place. Meanwhile, regulatory processes are steaming ahead with proposals that could see up to 700 laden supertankers plying B.C. waters each year.”

Living Oceans applauds the government for striving toward a “world-class” oil spill preparedness regime but notes that it will require careful groundwork.

“The government cannot legislate safety at the stroke of a pen,” said Wristen. “The hard work—identifying sensitive resources that need protecting, finding safe places for ships to weather a storm, installing and testing a whole new system of navigation—has simply not been done. To suggest that we can move ahead with massive increases in tanker traffic without these precautions is foolhardy.”

Today’s report is the first in a series planned, at a cost of $120 million, to look into the issue of tanker safety. Tanker traffic calling on B.C. ports is subject to periodic inspection, but not every vessel is fully inspected on every trip. In 2010, forty percent of vessels inspected failed to meet standards.

“Right now, there is an excess supply of supertankers and so charter rates are very competitive, meaning smaller profit margins and pressure to cut corners with maintenance,” Wristen said. “This is not something that can be cured with regulation.”

Living Oceans authored a report on double-hull tanker safety in advance of the Enbridge Northern Gateway regulatory process, in which it found that even the newer, double-hulled tankers present safety and maintenance concerns. Some of those, such as pitting and corrosion in the tanks, are only exacerbated when the tankers are carrying tarsands bitumen, which is more acidic than other oils.

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Contact Information

Karen Wristen
Executive Director
604-788-5634

Background

Miscellaneous sources

Only 10 to 15 percent of the oil from a marine spill can be recovered. This is based on estimates of open-water recovery efficiencies for mechanical equipment. Pew Environmental Trust. Response Gap. July 28, 2011. oceansnorth.org/response-gap. See also: International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation.

From the Nuka Research report, West Coast Spill Response Study, July, 2013 released by the B.C. Government last month:
Finding: In 2010, deficiencies were found in 40 percent of foreign vessels inspected in Canada. (Vol.3, p. 15)
Finding: There is an insufficient number of trained pilots to accompany projected levels of tanker traffic in waterways at significant risk for tanker accidents. (Vol.3, p. 20)
Finding: There are no dedicated rescue or salvage tugs available on the north coast of B.C. (Vol.3, p.23, 24)
Finding: There are no places identified where tankers could shelter in the event of bad weather. (Vol. 3, p. 26)

Oil Spill Response Plan:
Finding: There is no plan. (Vol. 3, p. 33)
Finding: When a spill occurs, there will be no-one who knows how to prioritize what resources to protect. Response efforts will be guided initially only by the owner of the ship. (Vol.3, p. 27)
Finding: We have no capacity to respond to a worst-case scenario spill. (Vol.3, p. 37)
Finding: In some places on the coast, wind, weather and wave height conditions would make it impossible to respond to an oil spill for as much as 45 percent of the time. At other times, response measures would be of limited effectiveness. (Vol. 3, p. 39)
From “Tanker Technology: Limitations of Double Hulls”, Living Oceans, 2011:
When double-hulled tankers were mandated world-wide, steel thickness was reduced and designs changed to maximize the volume of oil that could be carried. Some of these changes actually increased the stresses to which the tanker is subject, rendering it more liable to break up especially after repeated exposure to heavy seas.

Inspection of tankers is time-consuming and difficult. Tanks must be vented fully before inspection; inside the cargo tanks, they are dark and difficult to access. Within one tanker there are literally tens of thousands of intersections of crossing structural members, each of which has several points of attachments, and all of these joints are susceptible to cracks. Corrosion, a particular problem with highly acid oils such as bitumen, can be difficult to detect before it has eroded steel thickness to critical levels.

Double-hulled tankers do not prevent spills; a collision or grounding at speed will rupture both hulls. Such tankers have been ruptured by passing barges and even their own escort tugs. At best, the double hull works to reduce the volume of oil spilled. Had the Exxon Valdez been double hulled, US Coast Guard estimated that the spill would have been reduced in volume by only 25-40 percent.

From Pipeline and Tanker Trouble, Living Oceans, 2011:
Between 1999 and 2009, there were 1,275 marine vessel incidents along Canada’s Pacific coast, including collisions, explosions, groundings, and sinkings.

Images

  • Karen Wristen