Robson Bight ( Michael Bigg) ER Potential diasaster
Spilled Oil Caught as Truck Salvaged
By Judith Lavoie
Excerpted from the May 22, 2009 edition of the Times Colonist A specially designed metal jacket wrapped around a fuel truck that has sat on the ocean floor for almost two years in an environmentally sensitive area is believed to have captured almost all of the oil that spilled as the truck was lifted this week. “It was entirely anticipated that would happen and that’s why the jacket was there,” said Randy Alexander, environmental protection manager for the Environment Ministry. Oil is lighter than water, so it floated to the top of the deepwater- recovery container belonging to Netherlands-based Momoet Salvage B.V., which conducted the salvage of the tanker truck and a metal cube containing barrels of hydraulic oil. They are among 11 pieces of equipment that slipped off a barge into Robson Bight Ecological Reserve in August 2007.The container, fuel truck and oil cube were returned to New Westminster, where the amount of oil that escaped into the jacket will be assessed. The fuel and hydraulic oil will then be pumped into a vacuum truck and recycled. The day before the recovery, when the truck wheels were pulled out of the mud 350 metres below the surface, a small amount of oil leaked out, but most was caught by booms and absorbent mats. “It was a burp of a couple of litres and it was collected on the surface,” Alexander said. But it was a scary moment for observers who saw fuel rise to the surface and wondered if the tanker, carrying up to 10,000 litres of diesel, had ruptured, said Oonagh O’Connor of the Living Oceans Society. It’s now believed the fuel might have come from the truck’s fuel tanks, she said. “If that’s the only incident, that’s amazing.” Living Oceans is asking Transport Canada for rule changes to make barge traffic safer, and for an immediate halt to commercial shipping through the fragile ecological reserve,said O’Connor, adding barge cargo should be tied down. “We have 100,000 barge movements on the B.C. coast each year and no requirement for tying down. You get substances like barrels of hydrochloric acid just sitting on barges.” Living Oceans also wants mandatory inspections of barges to ensure they are seaworthy. The recovery inadvertently offered a window into the workings of the provincial government’s Public Affairs Bureau when a news release included an e-mail between two communications staffers. “Think the background info should be simplified and not mention the leak of some oil — raises new questions. Should just offer the basics — how it was lifted, that it was successful and next steps. Not budget either — they can call about those details if they chose (sic),” it says. Environment Ministry spokeswoman Kate Thompson said the inclusion of the e-mail was inadvertent, but none of the information was secret. The budget for the recovery operation was set at $2.5 million, but will probably come in at about $2 million, she said. Government is still hoping to recoup some of the operation cost from Ted LeRoy Trucking of Chemainus, which owns the equipment, but the company has declared bankruptcy.
Charges have been laid against LeRoy Trucking and Gowlland Towing of Campbell River.
Paul Cottrell, the DFO acting marine mammal coordinator was in Robson Bight ensuring there were no whales around as salvage crews recovered the sunken fuel truck. Coincidentally, a humpback whale in distress was reported just 45 minutes away.
Update: June 18, 2009
The fuel truck that sat on the ocean floor of the E.R. Robson Bight has finally been lifted and removed by a heavy duty salvage ship. A large container of barrels of hydraulic oil was also removed. This should greatly reduce the danger of contamination in the ER and the effects that may have had on Orca whales.