British Columbia’s largest-ever expansion of spill response personnel and equipment is underway on the South Coast, following the final investment decision for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP).

Trans Mountain Pipeline is facilitating an investment of $150 million by Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) to establish six new response bases, about 135 new personnel and 43 new vessels including spill response craft and barges. These new resources will be located along shipping lanes in the Salish Sea. About 70 of the new WCMRC employees and most new vessels will be located at bases on Vancouver Island.

All new personnel, facilities and equipment will be in place several months before the first oil tankers associated with the expansion begin calling at Burnaby’s Westridge Marine Terminal in Burrard Inlet in late 2019.

“There has been a lot of work going on behind the scenes to get the engineering drawings prepared, to get the permits in place and all the work done so that shovels can go in the ground right away, now that the Trans Mountain Expansion Project is proceeding. We have to be fully operational six months before the pipeline goes into full production,” explained Michael Lowry, communications manager for WCMRC.

“We’re looking at just over a year for construction of the bases. We’re aiming for the second quarter of 2018 for the bases to be complete. The bases come first because you have to get the staff in there and you have to start the training process.”

Wherever possible, new personnel will be from the immediate community. “There will be some highly-skilled jobs there and some entry-level positions as well. Our first preference is to hire locally,” Lowry said. “Our model is hiring people with marine experience and training them in spill response tactics.

“It will take six months to a year to get everyone trained up. These people already know how to operate boats. We train them to operate booms, skimmers and the tactics for containing and recovering oil.”

Here are details about new base locations, personnel and equipment:

  • Vancouver Harbour and Lower Fraser River. Both are components of the Port of Vancouver Response Strategy. The Vancouver Harbour base will be located at the bottom of Commissioner Street near New Brighton Park. It will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Between them, the bases will get 45 new personnel, a 65-foot skimming vessel, a 50-foot landing craft and response barges. Existing equipment includes the 45-foot MJ Green Sentinel skimming vessel and the Sentinel 302 response barge.
  • Nanaimo, a hub base on Nanaimo Port Authority property, staffed seven days a week. The base gets 21 new personnel and key response vessels, including a 5,000-tonne response barge and a 78-foot coastal response vessel as well as landing craft and workboats.
  • Saanich Peninsula, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The base gets 22 new personnel, a 65-foot skimming vessel, a 50-foot landing craft and workboats
  • Port Alberni and Ucluelet, the initial rapid response locations for the west coast of Vancouver Island. In total, 17 new personnel and key response vessels including a 78-foot skimming vessel, a 78-foot coastal response vessel, landing craft and workboats
  • Beecher Bay, 15 new personnel, a 78-foot skimming vessel, a 78-foot coastal response vessel, landing craft and workboats
  • As well as the new bases, WCMRC will situate an offshore support vessel at Ogden Point near Victoria Harbour. The vessel will be available 24/7. “This is going to be a pretty significant asset,” Lowry said. “An offshore support vessel is ideal for spill response because it can transport a lot of response equipment to a spill and also it becomes your product storage barge. To meet our enhanced requirements for the Trans Mountain Project we have to be able to deliver on scene within six hours enough equipment for a 2,500-tonne spill — all the way out to J Buoy near Port Renfrew and then also out to the Gulf Islands. This one vessel is really key in meeting those requirements.”

WCMRC calculates that personnel will grow from 70 at present to 200 with the Trans Mountain expansion. Its vessel fleet is more than doubling, from 40 to 83.

The enhancements will cut spill response time to two hours in Burrard Inlet and the Fraser River, and six hours anywhere else in the Strait of Georgia and Juan de Fuca Strait.

Already, WCMRC’s response capacity is 2.6 times larger than Canada Shipping Act requirements. Because of the Trans Mountain expansion, WCMRC will have 62,890 tonnes of spill recovery capacity compared to a CSA requirement of 10,000-tonne spill — more than six times what’s required. WCMRC’s customer base has more than 2,200 members including oil handling facilities, barging companies, freighters visiting our ports, ferries, cruise ships and others.

Although TMEP is facilitating the funding, the new WCMRC personnel, vessels and equipment will be available for any spill incident along the BC southern marine shipping route.

“We are required to have the capacity to clean up a 10,000-tonne spill in 10 days. Right now we have equipment to do 26,000 tonnes. With the enhancements it’s closer to 63,000,” Lowry said. “When WCMRC talks about enhancements, many will assume it’s for oil tankers. But it’s important to note this equipment is going to be available for any incident.”

WCMRC is also enhancing its response capabilities by identifying, through a GIS mapping program, environmentally sensitive locations where additional protection measures will be carried out in the event of a spill. At each location, they’ve developed a specific strategy for setting booms to contain spilled oil. Having these strategies defined in advance and readily available to responders will ensure rapid response to protect sensitive areas.

“So far we’ve done 400 individual Geographic Response Strategies. We’ve mapped each location and what its booming strategy will look like. The next step is to determine how much boom we need to put into a cache at each location and then look for local contractors who can deploy it as required,” Lowry said. Trans Mountain has been facilitating the acceleration of this program.

Lowry noted the planning work has been under way for two years following the recommendations of a federal Tanker Safety Expert Panel.

Since that time, WCMRC has been working with federal agencies to develop the best possible set of response planning standards.

“The key piece was to move to planning standards that are based on risk. We took a state of the art approach, looking at other jurisdictions and bringing world-leading practices into our planning and our operations,” Lowry explained.

“We’re on a Pacific task force working with Transport Canada, Coast Guard, Environment Canada, DFO and the BC Ministry of Environment to assess the risks associated with a spill on the coast, determine if we have enough equipment in place and that it’s in the right location.”