Oil and chemical spill tracking

Spills of oil and chemicals into British Columbia’s freshwater and ocean environments have killed fish, degraded habitat, and led to closures of commercial, recreational and Indigenous fisheries. They’re bad for the environment, bad for the economy, and bad for communities.

Photo by Alex Harris.

Measure and protect

Given sudden and unpredictable nature of oil and chemical spills, our oil and chemical spill response work at Raincoast entails:

  • Being available for expert support to First Nations, government agencies and industry during a major spill of any product;
  • The availability of sampling kits, safety gear and protocols to collect samples from the scene of a spill;
  • A technical spill response science capacity for both freshwater and marine waters using a Mobile Pollution Lab Vehicle, the marine operations platform SV Achiever, and a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB);
  • The availability of a responsive expert team for the forensic documentation of spill source, transport, fate and impact using high resolution fingerprinting analysis and advanced risk-based evaluation.

Past oil and chemical spills inform our work

It’s easy to forget the accidents of the past, and there are more than a few examples. Consider:

  • The 2005 Cheakamus River rail accident that released 40,000 litres of Sodium Hydroxide and killed 500,000 salmon and trout;
  • The 2007 rupture of the Trans Mountain pipeline by third party construction activities that sent 224,000 litres of crude oil into a Burnaby neighbourhood, with 40% draining into Burrard Inlet;
  • The 2015 spill of more than 3,000 litres of Bunker C fuel from the MV Marathassa into English Bay and Burrard Inlet that oiled beaches;
  • The 2016 sinking of the Nathan E. Stewart north of Bella Bella that spilled 110,000 litres of diesel and lubricants and choked off access to key harvesting areas for the Heiltsuk Nation.

Why we do this work

Being prepared on all fronts is key to limiting damage from a spill to the environment. This means investing in response and mitigation, cleanup, wildlife rescue, tracking and monitoring, and fingerprinting of product from the impacted area and from the suspected source. Spills may be avoidable and undesirable, but they happen. We can never be too ready.

Some poignant and lasting truths emerge from the fog of past spills:

  • Major spills have happened and will continue to happen;
  • Each accident presents unique challenges, confounding the best-laid response plans of governments and industry;
  • Spill response plans continue to focus on the impossible goal of cleaning up more than ~10-15% of any spill;
  • Vital research and monitoring to confirm the origin of the spill, track the fate of the spilled product, and monitor the recovery of ecosystem components routinely fails to be a priority.