BC’S local coastal governments hamstrung in oil spill response capability

British Columbia’s local coastal governments need to do more to prepare for a marine oil spill affecting their community, but will struggle to do so until communication from senior spill response agencies improves. This is the major finding of a new report released by Georgia Strait Alliance (GSA) that assesses the marine oil spill preparedness, response, and recovery capability of coastal local governments in the Georgia Strait region.

As an intervenor in the National Energy Board’s (NEB) review of Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline expansion project, GSA contracted the Social Planning and Research Council of British Columbia (SPARC BC) to prepare the report.

Christianne Wilhelmson, executive director of Georgia Strait Alliance (GSA), says, “The recent spill in Vancouver’s harbour revealed that the assumption that local governments aren’t involved in marine oil spills is false. In reality, the consequences of an oil spill are felt locally, and local governments have unique strengths to offer to protect their communities and the environment.”

“Local governments need to recognize this fact and plan ahead”, says Wilhelmson. “Even a small spill can have serious environmental and health impacts on a community. Senior response partners need to ensure that local governments have a seat at the table, and the necessary resources in place to effectively play their part.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • Local governments have important roles to play in a marine oil spill, including communicating to the public about health and safety, coordinating evacuations, closing beaches and other infrastructure, and identifying sensitive areas for priority protection.
  • All but one of the local governments who participated in the research reported limited preparedness, or complete non-preparedness, in the event of a marine oil spill.
  • Local governments are challenged by poor communication from senior spill response partners, a lack of clear and detailed plans outlining the roles and responsibilities of all the agencies involved in spill response, and a lack of capacity and financial resources to respond to the consequences of a spill in their community.

The report makes recommendations to all levels of government to strengthen marine oil spill response in the region, including:

  • Oil spill response plans should be publicly available in BC, much like they are in Seattle and San Francisco.
  • Senior response partners should improve their communication and engagement with local governments regarding marine oil spill planning and training in the Georgia Strait region. They must ensure that funding is not a barrier to local government participation in marine oil spill planning and training exercises.
  • The roles and responsibilities of all the involved parties should be clearly documented.
  • Local governments in the Georgia Strait region should ensure that their emergency response plan addresses marine oil spills and that the plans provide operational detail about all the types of activities the local government will engage in.

Over the next six months, GSA will be taking its message on the road. The non-profit organization will be meeting with local governments and the communities they serve on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast about the vital importance of marine oil spill preparedness in coastal areas. This activity begins in Vancouver with a full-day community workshop on Saturday, June 6 facilitated by Exxon Valdez survivor and internationally renowned oil spill expert, Dr. Riki Ott.

Georgia Strait Alliance (GSA) is a registered charity established in 1990. GSA is the only organization focused on protecting and restoring the marine environment and promoting the sustainability of the Georgia Strait, its adjoining waters and communities. GSA is committed to a future for our region that includes clean water and air, healthy wild salmon runs, rich marine life and natural areas, and sustainable communities.

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For more information, contact:
Christianne Wilhelmson, Executive Director
(604) 862-7579