Energy companies may get bill for oil spills

Ottawa considering ‘significant’ legislation to force corporations to pay for damages: Kent


Environment Minister Peter Kent says the Harper government plans to introduce new rules that would address the gap in the country’s existing legislation, which leaves taxpayers footing the bill for damage caused by the oil and gas industry.

Photograph by: Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press Files , Postmedia News
Offshore oil developers and pipeline companies that cause accidents could soon be on the hook for billions of dollars in liabilities from new legislation under review by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet, Post-media News has learned.

Environment Minister Peter Kent said the Harper government plans to introduce “significant” legislation to close what environmentalists have long described as a gap in Canada’s existing rules and laws that now leave taxpayers responsible for damage caused by industry.

“I can’t break cabinet confidence, but I can assure you, we are well aware (of concern), not only as it pertains to diversifying markets and increased pipeline traffic, but in terms of liability for offshore drilling,” Kent said.

Under existing federal rules, companies that do offshore drilling face maximum cleanup costs of up to $40 million for environmental damage in the north and up to $30 million elsewhere, when no fault or negligence is proven, but critics have warned that this represents a fraction of the cost of multimillion-or multibillion-dollar disasters such as Alberta-based Enbridge’s July 2010 pipeline rupture, which spilled more than three million litres of oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, or BP’s April 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. There is unlimited liability for companies when fault or negligence is proven. BP has just agreed to a $4-billion settlement with the U.S. justice department to avoid criminal charges. This does not include cleanup costs and civil liability.

Environmentalists and opposition critics have also expressed concerns looking ahead to potential Arctic drilling. They have denounced a series of recent pipeline spills in Alberta as well as a Petro Canada offshore drilling ship accident in November 2004, near Newfoundland and Labrador, that spilled about 165,000 litres of oil at an exploration site on the Atlantic Ocean.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said that recent regulatory changes to increase inspections and standards are part of what he described as “world-class standards” in Canada based on a polluter-pay principle. “Our government is committed to periodically assessing financial liability to make certain that Canada’s polluter-pay system remains among the strongest in the world,” Oliver said in an email.

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association said it supports the polluter-pay principle but is “not supportive of legislation that attempts to be punitive.”

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Government and industry engage on world-leading spill plan

FYI Christianne
For Immediate Release
Jan. 22, 2013
Ministry of Environment
Government and industry engage on world-leading spill plan
VANCOUVER – Thirteen key stakeholder organizations, including representatives from the railway, petroleum, transportation and business sectors, are meeting face-to-face today to begin building what will become a made-in-B.C., world-leading spill response plan.
Foundational to the discussion will be the provincial government’s recently released policy intentions paper (, which outlines how government will work with industry to establish a world-leading spill response regime that deals with all hazardous materials spills that may occur on land in B.C.

Today’s meeting is the first of several discussions between government and industry to lay the groundwork for future policy
The Ministry of Environment receives approximately 3,500 notifications of environmental emergencies per year; this includes oil-tank leaks, home-based oil spills, overturned tanker trucks, oil and fuel spills on water, rail accidents and chemical spills. While approximately 90 per cent of these are considered minor, the projected increase in the movement of hazardous materials throughout B.C. necessitates a well-co ordinated response and preparedness plan.
Environment Minister Terry Lake will give an overview presentation on the intentions paper, highlighting the need for policy change in support of a full polluter-pay system where the costs associated with a spill rests with business and industry and not taxpayers. Among the topics discussed will be spill management in neighbouring coastal jurisdictions that include key concepts such as: industry funding into government program budgets and spill response funds, increased emergency-response staff and membership in a collective spill-response organization.
Representatives from each of the 13 stakeholder organizations will then be given an opportunity to give direct input on the content of the paper to government.
The 13 organizations represented at today’s roundtable include :
* Canadian Fuels Association
* Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
* Canadian Energy Pipeline Association
* Railway Association of Canada
* Chemistry Industry Association of Canada
* BC Oil and Gas Commission
* Transport Canada
* Environment Canada
* Canadian Coast Guard
* Chamber of Shipping British Columbia
* BC Business Council
* BC Environmental Industry Association
* BC Trucking Association
The industry organizations represent the sectors responsible for the transportation, storage, and use of significant volumes of hazardous materials which present risk to public safety and the environment should a spill occur.
Engagement and discussion on the intentions paper will continue between ministry staff and industry representatives. Comments received in these meetings, as well as through the web-based consultations, will be summarized and posted on the ministry’s website.
A land-based spill prevention and response symposium is planned for March 25-27 in Vancouver. Here, spill-response experts from around the world will give presentations and discuss best practices to build and shape B.C.’s policy going forward.
Terry Lake, Minister of Environment –
“Our number-one priority is to protect the environment, and we know how
important this is to British Columbians, as evidenced by the response to
public hearings on NGP. This is why we are not stopping at the
establishment of five key conditions for heavy oil pipelines, and are
developing world-leading policy that deals with all land-based hazardous
materials spills including those from trucks, railcars, home oil tanks
and chemical spills. Today’s meeting and the future symposium represent a
great opportunity for industry to demonstrate to its customers, clients,
shareholders and the public its commitment to sustainability.”
Rich Coleman, Minister of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas –
“Our government has shown leadership when it comes to safety practices in
protecting our environment. Working with major stakeholders, we must
strengthen oversight and management as we look at the prospects of new
industrial projects coming forward. Together, we are working to keep
B.C.’s coastline and wildlife safe.”
Michael Bourque, president and CEO, Railway Association of Canada –
“The Railway Association of Canada is anxious to work co-operatively with the
government of British Columbia and other stakeholders on its spill
preparedness and response regime for land-based spills. Regardless of
which mode is used to transport crude oil and other regulated
commodities, transporters must be prepared and capable of doing so
responsibly and safely.”
Brian Ahearn, vice president, Western Division, Canadian Fuels
Association –
“We endorse this review by the B.C. government. It is consistent with our
members’ commitment to safe handling of petroleum fuels that reflects
best practices, including emergency preparedness plans and response
capabilities. Canadian Fuels members continually strive for leading-edge
industry performance with a focus on continuously improving
environmental, health and safety performance of all facets of their
Quick Facts:
* The policy intentions paper “Land Based Spill Preparedness and Response
in British Columbia” builds on one of the five requirements the B.C.
government has set out as being necessary for support of heavy-oil
projects – world-leading practices for land-oil spill prevention,
response and recovery systems to manage and mitigate the risks and costs
of heavy-oil pipelines.
* The key elements outlined in the paper include :
o Establishing a world-leading regime for land-based spill preparedness
and response.
o Developing effective and efficient rules for restoration of the
environment following a spill.
o Ensuring effective government oversight and co-ordination of industry
spill response.
* The Ministry of Environment is currently requesting an abstract for
possible presentations at the March symposium; the deadline for
submissions is Jan. 25.
* The symposium will bring together people and organizations from diverse
backgrounds who all have an interest in seeing a strong spill response
program in B.C. – representatives from government, First Nations,
industry, response organizations, key stakeholders, environmental
organizations and academia from around the world are expected to
participate in the symposium.
* B.C.’s Environmental Emergency Program currently has 16 full-time staff
and about $2.4 million per year in dedicated funding. In the event of a
major spill, the program can also draw on support from technical
specialists from, and funded by, other government programs.
* The Environmental Emergency Program covers the inland areas and coastal
shoreline of B.C. (an area of 947,800 kilometres squared, with a
coastline of 27,000 kilometres).

New Report: Financial Liability for Kinder Morgan

Gwen Barlee
New Report: Financial Liability for Kinder Morgan

Today we’re excited to announce the release of a brand new report, co-authored by the Wilderness Committee with our allies at the Living Oceans Society, Georgia Strait Alliance and West Coast Environmental Law.

The report, Financial Liability for Kinder Morgan, takes a deeper look at the price tag for a potential oil tanker spill in the Salish Sea resulting from the proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker route. This proposal represents a massive increase in the risk of a major oil spill—one that could have severe impacts on coastal industries and highly-populated communities including Vancouver, Victoria and the Southern Gulf Islands. But shockingly, the limited amount of insurance available to pay for the response and damages associated with such a spill would leave taxpayers on the hook for up to 90% of the cost.

Even though the BC government has been talking about asking polluters to pay for land-based oil spill cleanup, the province’s new spill response plan would not address marine-based spills from tankers like the ones being serviced at the Kinder Morgan terminal. And experience has shown us that spills in water are much more damaging, and more difficult and costly to clean up than spills on land.

Just this month, Kinder Morgan announced that they would be increasing the planned capacity of their proposed Trans Mountain pipeline from 750,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels per day; that means even more tar sands diluted bitumen flowing underneath our communities and into tankers on the Salish Sea. Instead of 300 tankers per year coming into the Vancouver harbour as originally planned, the proposal would now see more than 400 oil tankers travelling through these waters every year.

British Columbia’s coastal communities—and their local economies—rely on a clean, productive and beautiful ocean. An oil spill here would have long-lasting impacts and economic repercussions, especially for key industries like tourism, fishing and recreation.

I encourage you to read this report to learn more about the international agreements and funds in place to deal with marine-based oil spills, and about the potential economic losses that would be faced by the Salish Sea region in the event of a spill. Click here to visit our website and download the full report.

You can also help out by sharing this report with your friends, family and colleagues. Being informed about the risks and consequences is essential if we’re going to stop this pipeline and protect the coast from an oil spill!


Gwen Barlee | Policy Director
Wilderness Committee

LEAKED: Stories from Oil Spills

Forest Ethics
Michelle Barlond-Smith woke up in late July 2010 to find her town of Battle Creek, Michigan in the midst of a crisis. There was an oil spill in the Kalamazoo River—just six miles from her house – and the smell penetrated throughout the community.

“You get this headache,” she said. “I can’t explain it to most people, it’s right through the eyes and you live with it constantly. You are dizzy, you are nauseous.”

This is just one of the compelling stories that will be told when ForestEthics Advocacy hosts LEAKED: Stories from Oil Spills on January 31st from 7pm-9:30pm at the Heritage Hall in Vancouver, British Columbia. Join us and hear for yourself the devastation oil has caused in Alberta, Michigan, and British Columbia:

  • Melina Laboucan-Massimo, member of the Lubicon Cree Nation and campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, will share her community’s struggle through an oil spill, including the response from the government and oil industry.
  • Michelle Barlond-Smith from Battle Creek, Michigan will share her first-hand experience living through the disastrous Lubicon Cree nation oil spill in 2010 that left her community heavily scarred.
  • Leah George-Wilson from the T’seil-Waututh Nation will discuss the 2007 Kinder Morgan Burnaby oil spill and how her nation was called into action.
  • Activist and songstress Ta’Kaiya Blaney will raise her powerful young voice to protect our coast from oil spills.

This event coincides with the wrap up of the Enbridge Joint Review Panel hearings in Vancouver, where many stories and creative actions created a buzz. Events like LEAKED are opportunities for us to unite with communities near and far, and offer a clear warning on impacts to British Columbia should tar sands pipeline and rail proposals be approved.

This is one event you’ll be sorry you missed. RSVP today or watch the event live on our YouTube channel the night of the event wherever you may be!


Nikki Skuce
Senior Energy Campaigner, ForestEthics Advocacy

P.S. ForestEthics Advocacy’s organizer Jolan Bailey spoke out at the JRP hearings last week. Check out the video of his testimony!

Sierra Club to Engage in Civil Disobedience for First Time in Organization’s History to Stop Tar Sands

Michael Brune
Eco Watch / News Report

If you could do it nonstop, it would take you six days to walk from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond to President Barack Obama’s White House. For the Sierra Club, that journey has taken much longer. For 120 years, we have remained committed to using every “lawful means” to achieve our objectives. Now, for the first time in our history, we are prepared to go further. Next month, the Sierra Club will officially participate in an act of peaceful civil resistance. We’ll be following in the hallowed footsteps of Thoreau, who first articulated the principles of civil disobedience 44 years before John Muir founded the Sierra Club.

Some of you might wonder what took us so long. Others might wonder whether John Muir is sitting up in his grave. In fact, John Muir had both a deep appreciation for Thoreau and a powerful sense of right and wrong. And it’s the issue of right versus wrong that has brought the Sierra Club to this unprecedented decision. For civil disobedience to be justified, something must be so wrong that it compels the strongest defensible protest. Such a protest, if rendered thoughtfully and peacefully, is in fact a profound act of patriotism. For Thoreau, the wrongs were slavery and the invasion of Mexico. For Martin Luther King, Jr., it was the brutal, institutionalized racism of the Jim Crow South. For us, it is the possibility that the U.S. might surrender any hope of stabilizing our planet’s climate.

As President Obama eloquently said during his inaugural address, “You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time, not only with the votes we cast, but the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideas.” As citizens, for us to give up on stopping runaway global temperatures would be all the more tragic if it happened at the very moment when we are seeing both tremendous growth in clean energy and firsthand evidence of what extreme weather can do. Last year, record heat and drought across the nation wiped out half of our corn crop and 60 percent of our pasturelands. Wildfires in Colorado, Texas, and elsewhere burned nearly nine million acres. And superstorm Sandy brought devastation beyond anyone’s imagining to the Eastern Seaboard.

We are watching a global crisis unfold before our eyes, and to stand aside and let it happen, even though we know how to stop it, would be unconscionable. As the president said on Monday, “to do so would betray our children and future generations.” It couldn’t be simpler: Either we leave at least two-thirds of the known fossil fuel reserves in the ground, or we destroy our planet as we know it. That’s our choice, if you can call it that. The Sierra Club has refused to stand by. We’ve worked hard and brought all of our traditional tactics of lobbying, electoral work, litigation, grassroots organizing and public education to bear on this crisis. And we have had great success, stopping more than 170 coal plants from being built, securing the retirement of another 129 existing plants and helping grow a clean energy economy. But time is running out, and there is so much more to do. The stakes are enormous. At this point, we can’t afford to lose a single major battle. That’s why the Sierra Club’s board of directors has for the first time endorsed an act of peaceful civil disobedience.

In doing so, we’re issuing a challenge to President Obama, who spoke stirringly in his inaugural address about how America must lead the world on the transition to clean energy. Welcome as those words were, we need the president to match them with strong action and use the first 100 days of his second term to begin building a bold and lasting legacy of clean energy and climate stability. That means rejecting the dangerous tar sands pipeline that would transport some of the dirtiest oil on the planet, and other reckless fossil fuel projects from Northwest coal exports to Arctic drilling. It means following through on his pledge to double down again on clean energy, and cut carbon pollution from smokestacks across the country. And, perhaps most of all, it means standing up to the fossil fuel corporations that would drive us over the climate cliff without so much as a backward glance.

One of my favorite quotes is from Martin Luther King, Jr., although it has its roots in the writings of Theodore Parker (an acquaintance of Henry David Thoreau): “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” I believe that, given sufficient time, our government would certainly follow the moral arc that leads to decisive action on this crisis. We have a democracy, and the tide of public opinion has shifted decisively. What’s more, I doubt that even the most ardent climate denier actually wants to destroy our world.

We have a clear understanding of the crisis. We have solutions. What we don’t have is time. We cannot afford to wait, and neither can President Obama.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, holds degrees in Economics and Finance from West Chester University in Pennsylvania and comes to the Sierra Club from the Rainforest Action Network, where he served seven years as executive director. Under Brune’s leadership, Rainforest Action Network won more than a dozen key environmental commitments from America’s largest corporations, including Home Depot, Citi, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Kinko’s, Boise and Lowe’s.

LEAKED: Stories of Oil Spills

January 31st from 7pm-9:30pm at the Heritage Hall in Vancouver, British Columbia. Join us and hear for yourself the devastation oil has caused in Alberta, Michigan, and British Columbia.
Forest Ethics

How high school students discovered a chemical leak: Chevron’s MTBE spill

From Jennifer Moreau’s blog at Burnaby Now(

“As you know, we’ve been following the ongoing Chevron oil leak at the North Burnaby refinery since last spring. Local residents have raised the issue of the MTBE leak at Chevron, which happened years ago. MTBE is an additive to gas that was banned in the U.S. after it started showing up in drinking water all over the country. Chevron in Burnaby used to use MTBE up until 2000, and apparently it had leached into the ground because the tank it was in had a rusted-out bottom.

I was chatting with Judi Marshall about Chevron’s history, and she mentioned that the MTBE leak (the stuff that was getting offsite) was discovered by some local high school students in 2001. She sent this story from 10 years ago… (keep reading below, there are a couple other posts on the same subject.)”


By Murray Dobbin

May 29 2001 – There’s a story from British Columbia that warrants exposure across the country because it speaks to the issue of citizenship — the flesh and blood kind, the corporate variety and their differences. Let’s call this a comparison-shopping column in deference to our dominant cultural paradigm. Which of the following citizens would you choose?

It all started with two high school students, Matthew Clive, 17, and Kevin Kelln, 16, doing a science project for their grade 11 class at North Burnaby’s Alpha Secondary School. The goal was “to determine the effects of the Chevron refinery on the surrounding environment and community.” The refinery in question is on Burrard Inlet. When they got the results of their groundwater tests back from the private lab, they discovered the water, taken from north of the refinery, was contaminated by MTBE, a gasoline additive.

They then discovered that MTBE is so potentially dangerous and so persistent once it enters the environment that a CBS 60 Minutes report referred to it as “the biggest environmental crisis of the next decade.” The United States announced a phase-out plan last year. California has moved even faster to discontinue its use because it has more than its share of the hundreds of public water systems that have been ruined by the stuff. Possible human health problems include cancer, asthma and depression of the central nervous system.

When Mr. Clive and Mr. Kelln revealed their findings to the community, with the help of the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation, Chevron simply denied there was a problem. Their community affairs manager Ray Lord told the media “There is nothing operationally here that would indicate any problems.” That was on April 8. But Chevron had a different story for the B.C. Ministry of the Environment (ME). Four days earlier they had told ME staff about “finding a ‘pool’ of MTBE-contaminated groundwater” on their site with concentrations “significantly higher than those found off site.”

Matthew says Chevron called him at home and told him he wasn’t being “helpful.” Chevron’s manager, Tom Kovar, penned a letter to the company’s Community Advisory Panel decrying the “unwarranted alarm” that was being created.

Stay with me now, dates are important here. Just days after the students revealed their findings, Burnaby’s Director of Engineering did his own testing of the same sites examined by the students. He found levels three times as high as theirs. He informed Chevron of the test results on April 17, two days before Mr. Kovar wrote his letter.

In the meantime, Burnaby City Council was becoming infuriated with being kept in the dark. At two heated meetings it discovered that the Ministry of the Environment had a verbal agreement with Chevron not to reveal the on-site MTBE contamination to the public or to Burnaby council. It wanted Chevron to have time to get its story straight, something “we do all the time” admitted ME spokesman Ray Rob. The Ministry, said Mr. Rob, was aware of a “plume” of contamination covering over 2,500 square feet at a depth of 100 feet. Readings were as high as 2,000 times greater than that found by Burnaby’s Engineering Department.

But that’s not all. The flurry of testing resulting from the students’ chance findings has now revealed that the “plume” of MTBE also contains Benzene. And if you think MTBE is bad, benzene is one of the world’s nastiest chemicals. We know it causes lymphoma, leukemia and other blood diseases. Chevron’s Ray Lord informed me that Workers Compensation inspectors did an unscheduled examination of the site and were satisfied that workers were not in any danger.

I asked Matthew Clive what he thought about all the commotion he and Kevin had caused. “If we hadn’t done this, no one would have known. But the thing that concerned me the most was the secret agreement that, as long as all the contamination remained on the [Chevron] property, they wouldn’t say anything publicly. Then it was off the site and they still didn’t say anything.”

Chevron says the off-site levels are barely above the acceptable levels for drinking water. But that’s hardly the point. There wasn’t supposed to be any MTBE off site. And this sixty-five-year-old refinery is falling apart, with numerous accidents and spills over the past few years. What was Chevron planning to do when it closed down? This is where disasters like the Sydney Tar Ponds get started. Despite this, corporate lobby groups insist that voluntary self-regulation is the way to go. God help us.

One last note. Corporate citizen Chevron is part owner of rights to offshore oil in northern B.C. British Columbians might want to ask how they could trust Chevron with such a delicate operation (if it goes ahead) when we can’t even trust them to keep their own site clean or tell the public about contamination?

Maybe we could ask real citizens Matthew and Kevin to keep an eye on them.

And here’s a press release from SPEC, the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation.


Burnaby students find leak of toxic gas additive near Chevron refinery

VANCOUVER- Two grade eleven science students from North Burnaby’s Alpha Secondary have found toxic methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) gas additive draining into Burrard Inlet from a pipe below Chevron’s North Burnaby refinery.

Matthew Clive, 17, and Kevin Kelln, 16, were conducting a science project to determine “the effects of the Chevron oil refinery on the surrounding environment and community.”

According to their report, Clive and Kelln took samples around the refinery and in adjacent Confederation Park ” which is designated as a dog park and inhabited by animals. The trail is utilized on a daily basis and many people continue down to the ocean and along the railroad tracks.” A sample from a pipe halfway between the refinery and Chevron’s nearby tank farm showed a level of 6.9 micrograms/litre of MTBE. Clive and Kelln say that “when surveyors went and tested the ground water in California the highest recorded contamination was recorded at 5.6 micrograms/litre.”

MTBE is added to gasoline as an octane booster and is notoriously difficult to contain. Even tiny amounts of MTBE can poison water supplies such as happened in Santa Monica, Calif. A 1998 University of California study determined that “MTBE is an animal carcinogen with the potential to cause cancer in humans.” California is phasing out MTBE.

Chevron’s North Burnaby refinery is a major MTBE producer. Last May, when 80,000 litres of MTBE leaked from a tank at the refinery, Chevron and Environment Ministry officials assured the material was contained on site. After two workers cleaning up the spill were injured in an explosion a week later, the Environment Minister called for a safety review of the accident plagued refinery. The review is expected to be completed by early 2002.

Whatever the results of the review, Clive and Kelln have reached their own conclusion. “The Chevron Refinery in North Burnaby has a negative effect on the community and the environment,” the two students say in their report.

Clive and Kelln will release full details of their study at a Science Fair at the UBC Student Union Building on April 6 and 7.

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