Category Archives: Environment

Pix eulachon

The monster of Kitimaat and other tales at Enbridge hearing

Everybody loves a good storyteller and I’m no exception.

Last week, I listened to some of the live streaming of the Enbridge hearings from Kitimaat, the First Nations village a few clicks outside the company town of Kitimat in northwest B.C.

It was the tail end of the first day and the Haisla’s Chief Councillor, Ellis Ross, was telling how Kitimaat was founded and the stories of betrayal over the years.

Now I’ve been to nearby Kitimat, and my memories are of a blue-collar town dominated by the blazing hot furnaces inside Alcan (now Rio Tinto Alcan);  the Eurocan Pulp and Paper mill spewing God knows what (now closed); and touring around Methanex  (also closed).  To be honest, I never even saw the native Indian village, on the east side of the Douglas Channel.

I’ve always known Kitimat and nearby Prince Rupert as shippers of the “dangerous and the dirty”.  If Enbridge has its way, shipping bitumen and condensate through the long fiords embracing the Northwest Coast will continue that tradition, managing to combine the  worst of both worlds: the dangerous (for the environment) and the dirty (heavy oil).

But Chief Ellis Ross and other members of the Haisla Nation took us back eloquently to the time before the “dangerous and the dirty”, before pollution wiped out the eulachon runs and when whales chased herring all the way up the Douglas Channel.

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What if a containership ran aground on Nootka Island?

By Alison Bate

When a ship gets into trouble off the remote west coast of Vancouver Island, there are very few rescue services around.

The province relies on a commercial tug in the area being able to help out. Currently, major seagoing tugs carry electronic tracking devices so they can be located in real-time on computer charts. This information is provided to US and Canadian Marine Vessel Traffic Services to refer to if there is an emergency request for tug assistance. This is known as a “tug-of-opportunity”.

Apart from the fact that there may not be a tug capable of holding a large ship cruising by at the right time, there are several other flaws in this arrangement. Continue reading

Tug escort rules vary in B.C.

By Alison Bate

I must admit I was a little surprised not to get a straight answer from Transport Canada at first about the number of tug escorts traveling with condensate tankers into Kitimat.

I assumed it was clearly set down in the legislation whether tankers carrying this kind of hydrocarbon mixture required tug escorts and, if so, how many.

After all, set rules are laid down for laden oil tankers passing through Haro Strait. They are required to travel with tug escorts, as are laden crude oil tankers leaving the port of Vancouver, typically from Kinder Morgan Canada’s Westridge Terminal in Burnaby.

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What if a tanker heading for Kitimat hit another vessel?

By Alison Bate

What would happen if a tanker on its way to Kitimat collided with a tug in the scenic Inside Passage?

According to the author of a new report, major flaws would be exposed in the way marine accidents are handled here in British Columbia.

“Nobody is essentially watching the store – at least not the whole building,” says EnviroEmerg consultant Stafford Reid, near the end of a mammoth 144-page report quietly released in mid-September.

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The end of the New Carissa

By Alison Bate

The Ship That Will Not Die has finally been laid to rest, after nearly a decade stuck in the surf zone of a remote Oregon beach.

Titan Salvage used the jack-up barges Karlissa A and Karlissa B to remove the last visible remains of the New Carissa this week.

The stern of the New Carissa in 1999

The stern of the New Carissa in 1999

The Florida-based company signed a $16.5 million US contract with Oregon Department of State Lands last year and salvage work on the rusting remains of the stern began in May.

Wendy Wiles, from Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality, told the 2008 Pacific States/B.C. Oil Spill Task Force meeting in Victoria, B.C. recently that very little oil was released during the salvage project.

A series of failed attempts to remove the wreck followed after the ship ran aground during a storm on Feb. 4, 1999, leaking about 70,000 gallons of oil and killing around 2,300 seabirds.

The lawsuits also followed but in 2006, Oregon State Land Board approved a $22 million US settlement with the owners, and used most of the money to sign the current salvage contract with Titan.

Published in 2008, revised June 2019

See also:
* My story after landing on the wreck of the New Carissa in 1999
* New Carissa 20 years later (published in Feb. 2019)

The legacy of the Cosco Busan

By Alison Bate

It looks like a primitive computer game, but this real-time ship tracking system on the website shows the containership Cosco Busan hitting the Bay Bridge in San Francisco Bay last November.

The ship, leaving its berth in Oakland in heavy fog with the required pilot on board, is shown as a bright red arrow in the right of the animation. Its tug is shown as the blue arrow trailing in its wake of the containership. After hitting the bridge span, the ship anchors, and the tug scurries away.

More than 53,000 gallons of bunker fuel spilled into the Bay, killing at least 1,800 birds, oiling another 1,000, and triggering enormous clean-up costs.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Jonathan Cilley

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Jonathan Cilley

The ship left port on Dec.20, 2007, as this U.S. Coast Guard picture shows, but the repercussions still continue, the 2008 Pacific States/B.C. Oil Spill Task Force heard in Victoria, Canada on Sept. 18.

A barrage of bills in the wake of the spill last year is now in political limbo. California lawmakers were highly critical over the spill response and passed a series of bills to address the problems. But now an impasse between the state’s Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratic-controlled legislature has put the bills in limbo.

The state budget was due to be set on July 1, but still hasn’t been decided. In retaliation, the governor vowed to veto all 800-plus bills under consideration – including the oilspill bills – unless lawmakers first approve a state budget by Sept.30.

“We’re all putting on our helmets and waiting to see what happens. It’s going to be very interesting,” said Steve Edinger, acting administrator of California’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response.

Other developments:

* Legislation has also been introduced at the federal level to make ships safer and assess and improve vessel tracking procedures.

* Around 14 investigations have been launched into the incident, including a key review by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, due to be released in early January.

* Fleet Management has offered to plead no contest to charges of negligence and falsifying documents related to the spill. A judge has refused to accept the offer. The company was indicted by a federal grand jury and charged by the US Justice Department in July.

* Capt. John Cota, the pilot navigating the Cosco Busan at the time, also faces several criminal charges in connection with the spill.