WWF-Canada: Burnaby Oil Spill Update

Yesterday, an oil spill occurred in Burnaby, B.C., after a construction crew accidentally punctured a pipeline. According to news reports, an undetermined amount of oil escaped, shooting plumes of oil 20 metres into the air for nearly half an hour. WWF-Canada staff based in our Vancouver office have been monitoring the situation and have spoken with the local Port Authority.

Crews are continuing cleanup efforts. The initial response focused on mopping up oil on the ground, but the spill has reached the nearby waters of Burrard Inlet where crews are using booms to contain the spill.
© Vancouver Port Authority
The part of the inlet where the spill is flowing into is the central harbour, bordering the mouth of both the Port Moody Arm and Indian Arm. Immediate concern is for wildlife include seals and waterfowl, which can become directly affected by ingesting or coming into contact with the toxic crude. A drop of oil the size of a quarter can be enough to kill seabirds, as oil destroys the insulative properties of the feathers.

Important areas for biodiversity nearby, such as Maplewood Flats, Cates Park and Belcarra Regional Park, do not appear to be in immediate danger, if reports on oil containment are accurate. There are several small creeks adjacent to the spill area that may be affected, however the risks to biodiversity are undetermined.

The effects of an oil spill are often long-term and not easily detected, as the oil becomes more difficult to clean up as it disperses, and takes a long time to break down. For example, long-term monitoring of Prince William Sound, the site of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, has shown that wildlife such as sea otters and sea ducks still have not recovered. While yesterday’s spill is not nearly of that magnitude, the Exxon Valdez experience demonstrates that oil spills have long-term and often unpredictable effects on wildlife and biodiversity.

While it is not yet clear what could have been done to avoid this particular spill, two points are clear.

First, it is impossible to totally remove the threat of oil spills, whether in the drilling process, in pipelines, shipping or other forms of transportation. Spills will happen, through human error, neglect, or just plain bad luck. This means we must be adequately prepared for cleanups.

Second, when it comes to effects on wildlife, the amount of oil spilled is often much less important than where or when the oil spill occurs. For example, if this spill had occurred near an important breeding or staging area for migratory birds, during the nesting or migration season, the effects on wildlife could be disastrous.

These two points highlight the need to safeguard critical wildlife areas before industrial development occurs – which WWF terms the “Conservation First” principle. WWF has been working to implement this principle worldwide, including in B.C., where protection of our ocean and coasts is lagging far behind industrial development decisions. This puts at risk not only the wildlife and wild places that make B.C. unique, but also the economic and cultural values that are based on B.C.’s natural resources.

Each and every oil spill is unfortunate, but let’s make sure risks are managed as much as possible, by setting world-class regulatory standards, preparing properly for spills, and ensuring our most vital wildlife and natural resource areas are protected.

WWF-Canada will continue to monitor this situation, and wish the best of luck to all involved in the cleanup effort.

  Contact Us
If you have any questions or concerns relating to WWF-Canada please
e-mail ca-panda@wwfcanada.org or phone 1-800-267-2632.

4 Responses to WWF-Canada: Burnaby Oil Spill Update

  1. Conor says:

    How can I help with this mess?
    Am I able to volunteer?


  2. verbena19 says:

    Call them at the number above, or send them an email (address above). Let me know how you make out. best~ annamarie


  3. Mike says:

    Regarding the Burnaby oil spill:

    Yes, it was a stupid mistake. It was one guy, in an excavator, making a mistake. But before we jerk out the ever-ready bullhorns to condemn the millions of people earning their livelihoods in the hydrocarbon-energy industry, with distinct overtones of my-god-humans-are-bad-for-our-fragile-little-planet, let’s try to gain some perspective:

    Oil spills are not great for the environment – but then neither are pyroclastic flows, flood basalts, plate-rupturing earthquakes, hundred-foot tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, grass fires, forest fires, flash floods, and a whole lot of other things that happen all the time – including comet strikes. Are mistakes that are bad for the environment made by humans somehow worse? The answer, unless you think humans don’t belong here (which in my books makes you a son of a bitch) is: no.

    It is sad when wildlife is killed by oil. But it is also “sad” – I suppose – when wildlife is killed by disease, or starvation, or parasitic infestation, or predation, or exposure to the elements. Is wildlife being killed by a human mistake somehow worse? The clear answer is, again: no.

    If you take the time to step back from the flood of media and NGO hysteria on nearly any environmental issue, you will see the true agenda being promoted: the anti-human agenda. The agenda of central control of human activities by agencies with global powers. The delimitation of human activity, from the national to the individual level, enforced by the power of law, and initially conceived by fanatics whose entire worldview is informed by bitterness toward Western humanity and a distorted, sentimental view of nature. Again, Vaclav Klaus has put it so much better than me: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/9deb730a-19ca-11dc-99c5-000b5df10621.html.

    A guy in an excavator made a mistake – doesn’t make for a very good headline, does it? But that’s what happened.


  4. verbena19 says:

    Mike, thank you for your input. No, I am not condemning the poor guy or anyone else making a living in the hydrocarbon-energy industry, and of course he made a mistake, he did not do it intentionally. Mistakes can and do happen. Yes, Nature also wreaks havoc with the natural disasters you mention, and all of these adversely effect wildlife and humans. Both natural disasters and human-made disasters are equally devastating. All we mere mortals can do is try our utmost to minimize our ‘mistakes’ and live in better harmony with the other inhabitants of our planet.

    To live with respect for our planet does not take away from our quality of life. On the contrary, it enhances our living experience by making us more aware. We do not need to leave huge environmental footprints and agencies should not have to tell us this, our common sense should. The more we degrade our Planet, the less it will be able to provide for us. It is really that simple. If some people do not have the common sense to see this and live accordingly, then that leaves no recourse but ‘global agencies’, as much as we may not be in favour of them. There is nothing wrong with ‘progress’ as long as we do this without decimating our Earth in the process. Our actions today should keep in mind the generations to come. If we want our progenitors to live in an inhabitable, safe environment, we must do our part now. This is not a ‘distorted, sentimental view of nature’. It is simply the ancient law of the land that predates our existence here. You reap what you sow. If you extract our resources faster than they can be replenished, sooner than later you will have none left. The proverbial well will have run dry.

    This does not make me ‘anti-human’ or ‘anti-West’. It just makes me a human being who cares…


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