Western Canada Marine Response (WCMRC) is the Transport Canada certified Response Organization (RO) for Canada’s West Coast. We provide the equipment (vessels, skimmers, boom, shoreline clean-up, storage) and personnel for any size of spill response operation. Our staff are trained in the Incident Command System, and we can staff a wide range of roles in an Incident Command Post. With over 45 years of experience responding to spills on Canada’s West Coast, we are the experts.
We have led the way in developing digital coastal mapping and protection strategies (Geographic Response Strategies) for the West Coast. Our Coastal Response Program pioneered a new approach to involving First Nations and coastal communities in spill response.
As one of four certified ROs in Canada, WCMRC is proud to be a principal party in the National Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Regime that the federal government established in the mid-1990s. We take an active interest in new initiatives under the Oceans Protection Plan and are strong believers in and members of the Canadian Coast Guard’s (CCG) Integrated Response Plan working groups (PIER).
Transport Canada recently released a discussion paper with proposed changes to the regulations for ROs and Oil Handling Facilities (OHFs). As the discussion paper mentions, RO regulations haven’t been updated since they were created in 1995. Since then, some ROs have voluntarily moved far ahead of where the current regulations are. WCMRC, the sole RO on Canada’s West Coast, has been actively requesting improvements to the RO regulations for the last decade.
We welcome these proposed improvements, which for the most part are already in place as best practices at WCMRC and on the West Coast. However, in several areas these proposals, in our opinion, are not enacting meaningful change.
Our comments on Transport Canada’s proposed changes to RO and OHF regulations are outlined below.
PROPOSED CHANGES TO THE RESPONSE ORGANIZATIONS REQUIREMENTS
Tailoring requirements to local conditions
Transport Canada is proposing changes to the regulations “so that an RO factors-in local conditions, risks, and logistical factors when they develop response plans”. This could include, dividing their geographic area of responsibility into sub-regions; considering location-specific response procedures and equipment; and show that their response equipment capacity is appropriate for all types of oil that move within its geographic area of responsibility.
WCMRC supports this change.
Geographic specific response plans have long been a best practice in spill response. WCMRC creates Geographic Response Plans (GRP) for specific operating areas of the West Coast. Our GRPs include information on local conditions, potential sources of spills and risk, staging areas, initial mobilization directions, cascading resource requirements, resources at risks and protection strategies, and response objectives.
Better response time standards
It has long been recognized by WCMRC, First Nations and coastal communities that the current response times standards on the West Coast do not meet the public expectations. For most of the Coast, as a certified RO, under the current Canada Shipping Act (CSA) planning standards, you are required to respond within 72 hours plus travel time. That is a response time of upwards of three days. While WCMRC response times are well below those standards, those response requirements have remained the official planning standards since 2001.
Transport Canada’s proposal to improve response time standards is to require ROs to activate their response plans within two hours of being contracted by the polluter. As per the discussion paper, “Activating a response plan could include measures such as conducting an initial incident assessment and mobilizing personnel and equipment to be transported to the site. This new requirement wouldn’t increase the total time a response organization would have to deploy their equipment to the spill site. For example, in the case of a tier 3 spill inside of an environmental response area, the response organization would still need to be ready to deliver equipment onsite within 18 hours of being contracted by the polluter.”
In other words, no changes to the response time standards which First Nations and coastal communities are looking for.
Requiring ROs to activate their response plan within two hours is a meaningless addition to the regulations. We would suggest that all Canadian response organizations would have activated their response plan within two minutes of being called. In addition, on the West Coast there is an integrated call between government, First Nations, communities and industry to ensure an immediate coordinated response.
To meaningfully impact response times, ROs need planning standards that reflect the risks of the coastal areas, which in turn can help dictate equipment needs and the location of that equipment. Without this change there will be no material difference in how ROs plan for and respond to spills following these regulatory changes. The same Canadian spill response regime will remain in effect.
By way of example of what is needed to bring actual change, WCMRC and Trans Mountain recently implemented a voluntary enhancement program to prepare for the increased tanker traffic in the south coast that will result from the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. Along with Trans Mountain, WCMRC proposed and implemented response enhancements that cut our response times to six hours in the enhanced southern shipping lanes and to two hours within the designated port. To meet these new voluntary response time standards required a significant investment in vessels, equipment, bases and personnel.
Improving how we prepare for larger oil spills
Transport Canada is also considering a requirement that response organizations exercise their mutual aid agreements with other response organizations as part of their 3-year certification cycle.
WCMRC supports this change, but feels it falls short of a meaningful requirement to plan and prepare for a large spill.
Like the other proposed regulatory changes, this proposal is already a best practice on the West Coast. WCMRC exercises and trains with our mutual aid partners and other response organizations on an annual basis. WCMRC also regularly participates in the USCG/CCG cross border exercises, including CANUSPAC and CANUSDIX.
WCMRC is also a member of both the North American Co-op Committee/Working Group (APICOM) and the International Committee (Global Response Network). These group share best practices and could support each other with personnel and/or equipment if needed for a large spill. For example, WCMRC rotated 64 people through the Gulf of Mexico spill in support roles.
With regards to planning for large spills on the West Coast, WCMRC, as part of the Trans Mountain Pipeline voluntary enhancements, created a 20,000-tonne capacity. Given that this was a voluntary commitment, Transport Canada does not certify WCMRC to this standard and we rely on a third-party validator to demonstrate our 20,000-tonne capacity.
To ensure preparedness for larger spills and support individual RO initiatives, Transport Canada could begin by acknowledging and certifying the enhanced capacity, perhaps with a new designation of Tier 5.
Improving how we evaluate and certify response organizations.
To improve the transparency of the regulatory process and address Indigenous concerns, Transport Canada is looking to add exercise program requirements into the regulations. This could include:
- requiring ROs to involve Transport Canada when they develop exercise goals.
- requiring ROs to undertake unannounced exercises; and
- requiring ROs submit post-exercise reports for Transport Canada’s review.
As with the other proposed changes, these items are already in place at WCMRC.
WCMRC works regionally with government, industry, First Nations, and community representatives as part of an Exercise Planning Committee when developing scenarios and the exercise goals and objectives. Transport Canada is invited to participate on this committee.
Also, each of WCMRC’s seven response bases conduct unannounced exercises/drills on an annual basis. The most recent being in the Fraser River by our Fraser River Response Base team.
WCMRC submits an After-Action Exercise Report to Transport Canada after each exercise.
The discussion paper also proposes the creation of a standard formula that response organizations would use to calculate the total rated capacity of their equipment.
WCMRC supports this suggestion, and we are prepared to work with Transport Canada to formalize an equipment capacity formula. That said, Transport Canada, as part of the modernization of the response regime, must also recognize new technologies and efficiencies, as part of the planning standards. For example, the effectiveness of new skimmers that have greatly improved the separation of oil to water ratio thus decreasing the storage requirements currently under the CSA planning standards. Transport Canada needs to change the standards to recognize these efficiencies, which in turn can allow ROs to turn savings in one area into enhancements in other areas.
Increased Indigenous People and stakeholder participation in exercises.
The final Transport Canada proposed change to RO regulations is to require that response organizations give Indigenous and coastal communities, other jurisdictions and stakeholders, a chance to participate in exercises.
We support this change.
This has also been a best practice on the West Coast for several years. WCMRC’s last two certification exercises had participation from more than 20 Indigenous and coastal communities. As mentioned above, our exercise planning committee involves these nations and communities in the planning of the exercises.
OTHER RO REGULATIONS AND PLANNING STANDARDS COMMENTS
In addition to our comments on the proposed RO regulatory changes, WCMRC has several other areas that we feel could be improved.
Risk Based Response Planning
Between 2014 – 2015, the government of Canada led a series of workshops on risks and regional area planning sessions. The consultant leading the sessions was Dillion. The results of this risk assessment have never been incorporated into response planning. The Canadian spill response regime was built around risk. This is a foundational principle and requires high risk operations to pay for preparedness.
Designated Port Status for Prince Rupert
The CSA Regulations and Planning Standards have never been updated to reflect regional changes and associated risks in coastal communities. A primary example on the West Coast is the Port of Prince Rupert. From a risk profile, Prince Rupert should become a designated port within the spill response regime. This would upgrade the spill response posture (e.g., time to respond) that WCMRC currently has in place. Note: WCMRC is not required to have any personnel or equipment in Prince Rupert under the current time planning standard.
The foundational principle of the Canadian response regime is a polluter-pay model based on risk. Prince Rupert is already the third busiest port in Canada and is on track to become Canada’s second busiest port. The container ships that call on the port’s newly expanded terminals are some of the largest vessels in the world. There is also a new bunkering operation going into Prince Rupert that will see large-scale fuel transfers within the Port’s boundaries. In our opinion, this increases the importance of preparedness for the area. Our question is – to what standard does the government define risk?
Response Organization Area Plan Template
A standard RO template was introduced to standardize the area planning process across the country in 2015. This was done as part of the risk working groups. However, this has never been implemented as part of the planning standards.
Continuous and Timely Improvement
The Government of Canada first asked for feedback to improve the RO planning standards in 2018. Now in 2024, Canada is finally proposing the changes. However, as mentioned throughout our response, most of the proposed changes are already in place. Furthermore, the changes will likely not be implemented until 2025 or beyond – that’s more than seven years after first asking for feedback. This process must improve.
UPDATES TO THE REQUIREMENTS FOR OIL HANDLING FACILITY OPERATORS
Updating how we classify oil handling facility operators.
Transport Canada plans to “update how oil handling facilities are classified to better reflect modern practices. TC plans to change the criteria so that it’s based on an oil handling facility’s maximum simultaneous transfer rate. We don’t plan on changing the transfer rate amounts listed in the regulations.”
This is a reasonable proposal. However, it fails to address the fact that the CSA does not define what an oil handling facility is. As a result, recent high-risk operations have fallen outside the CSA.
The prominent example here is Wolverine Terminals new bunkering operation in Prince Rupert. Transport Canada has determined that the Wolverine facility does not classify as an oil handling facility and is therefore exempt from paying a bulk oil cargo fee. This decision means that a substantial source of oil spill risk in Prince Rupert Harbour will lack financial support for response preparedness.
All oil handling facilities in Canada are required to pay a bulk oil cargo fee to a Transport Canada certified RO. These fees play a vital role in guaranteeing that response organizations possess the necessary resources and capabilities to effectively address any potential spills.
The Wolverine Terminals facility is expected to handle between 1,200,000 to 4,000,000 tonnes of fuel every year, making it comparable in risk to the major oil handling facilities in Vancouver Harbour. By comparison, the Coal Harbour legacy fuel barge in Vancouver Harbour handles less than 20,000 tonnes of fuel annually and is classified as an oil handling facility (despite having no land-based structure) by Transport Canada.
This is a dangerous precedent that could see future high risk operations operating outside of the regime without helping pay for preparedness within their area of operation.