|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.
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.
If you have any questions or concerns relating to WWF-Canada please
e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 1-800-267-2632.