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Water Today Title June 29, 2022

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Update 2017/11/9


This story is brought to you in part by Borrum Energy Solutions

By Cori Marshall

Last week, WWF-Canada convened groups of Arctic stakeholders around the topic of oil spill response in the region. What would a major spill in the Beaufort Sea, or along any northern coastline look like, what would be the response, and are the necessary resources present in the North?

The scenario of an oil spill in the Arctic raises many questions which is why we spoke with Andrew Dumbrille, WWF-Canada's Senior Specialist on Sustainable Shipping.

Dumbrille said that "the idea of the workshop was to bring a community to community dialogue on oil spill response." To facilitate this, the organization called on "Coastal First Nations from B.C., US Tribes from the west coast as well as Alaska, to share their experiences with community members in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and Nunavut," Dumbrille explained.

Many federal and territorial departments took part as well including Transport Canada (TC), Canadian Coast Guard, Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), and the Government of Nunavut.

WWF-Canada looked at the response capacity of Arctic communities and "found gaping holes, there was a lack of training, resources, planning, and a lack of equipment," Dumbrille underlined.

    "The communication between on the ground community members and those responsible for spill response, whether it was the Coast Guard, Government of Nunavut or [Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada] INAC, there was a big disconnect there."
    Andrew Dumbrille, Senior Specialist on Sustainable Shipping, WWF-Canada

Dumbrille said that "it became very obvious what we needed to do was put both of those groups in the same room, so people could have an understanding of the realities."

The Sustainable Shipping Specialist found that "many in the room were talking about identifying cultural and environmentally important areas to prioritize spill response." This means that in the eyes of the different communities there are areas that are more important. Oil spill "response organizations don't have that information, they are not connecting with community members, so they don't know where those areas are," Dumbrille said.

"There could be hunting areas, and subsistence areas, there could also be very sensitive habitats that deserve more attention than others," Dumbrille added.

Another key area of concern was training. Dumbrille said that "many community members are not plugged into training and planning." These community members will be the first responders in the event of a major spill in the north.

Dumbrille underlined that these communities and their members "should be at the table when it comes to developing a plan for the region and also training to help respond to a spill."

Communication was a major issue during the workshop. Dumbrille said that "90% of spill response is communicating with the right people." Best practices would dictate that regulators would be in constant communication with northern communities.

A hindrance to oil cleanup in the region is heavy fuel oil (HFO). Dumbrille described it as "a thick, viscous, sludgy type of oil, it is actually a byproduct of the refining process, it has extremely toxic emissions when it's burned, and if it's spilt it acts very differently than other fuels."

    "[Heavy fuel oil] emulsifies on the ocean surface creating a mayonnaise-like substance, which makes it hard to use any of the three main ways of cleaning up a spill, it's almost impossible once this happens."
    Andrew Dumbrille, Senior Specialist on Sustainable Shipping, WWF-Canada

Other fuels like diesel tend to evaporate over time, though they are still harmful to the surrounding environment. Dumbrille explained that HFO is "more persistent than other fuels, so it will stick around and float to shore." Many important and sensitive areas are along the coast in the North.

The way forward is a combination of legislation and communication. Dumbrille added that "it has to be a dual approach, communication and engagement is a top priority, [...], there is a place for legislation and regulation as well, often prevention is the best response possible, and if you phase out HFO it would go a long way in preventing some of the dangerous impacts."

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