• James Armstrong

Mapping oil spill risk in a major regional river


PHOTO BY JAMES ARMSTRONG

Members of grassroots citizen groups including Environmental Defence, Ecology Ottawa, Les Citoyens au Courant, Stop Oléoduc Outaouais, Fondation Cul Pas Chez-Nous, and Greenpeace Canada were on hand to launch a simulation to illustrate how a potential oil spill would affect the Ottawa River, the source of drinking water for the region.

A federal pier on the banks of the Ottawa River in Pointe-Fortune was the scene of a simulation on Tuesday, June 20, of how an oil pipeline spill could be carried downstream. Two hundred drift cards made of wood containing identification numbers, instructions, a website address and a toll free telephone number in English and French, were dropped into the river not far from the foot of the Hydro Québec Carillon Dam near the site of where the proposed Energy East pipeline will cross the Quebec portion of the Ottawa River.

Organized by grassroots citizen groups, Environmental Defence, Ecology Ottawa in conjunction with Quebec groups Les Citoyens au Courant, Stop Oléoduc Outaouais, Fondation Cul Pas Chez-Nous, and Greenpeace Canada, the event was meant to raise citizens’ awareness of the dangers of a potential oil spill.

“This project is intended for us to better understand the risks of an oil spill,” said Dale Marshall, National Program Manager for the Environmental Defence organization. “We are trying to figure out how far the oil will travel if there was a spill from Energy East.” Similar drops have taken place in the Ottawa and Bonnechere Rivers near Ottawa. Two more are planned; one in the Winnipeg River in the Lake of the Woods area in Ontario and the other near the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick.

“I hope people will find the drift cards along the river and log the information,” said Katharine Massam, spokesperson for Les Citoyens au Courant. “This is very important to know because TransCanada Pipeline is not providing the information,” said Massam. She described how in previous spills into waterways, oil has travelled as far as 500 kilometers.

PHOTO BY JAMES ARMSTRONG

Bright pink popping up along the shorelines of waterways in the next few months will be a vivid reminder of the distance and speed with which currents can carry contaminants.

What to do

If you happen to find a pink piece of wood covered in black print on a local beach or in the Ottawa or Saint-Lawrence Rivers in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges region this summer, please follow the printed instructions and register the location of the find with the Environmental Defence organization.

Danger to potable water resources

High on the priority list of all the organizations in attendance on Tuesday is the threat to local drinking water resources. “The pipeline that Energy East plans to install in Quebec is 42 inches (1.0668 metres) in diameter. It the biggest pipeline in North America,” stated Massam noting that it will carry 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day. It’s very important to know that the leak detection system will be located in Alberta. It’s a system that detects leaks that happen over 1.5 per cent of the volume. That’s why the vast majority of leaks are detected by people on the ground,” she added. All of the groups expressed concern about the petroleum product that will be pumped through the pipeline. “Only part of the oil floats, the rest of it stays in the body of water and sinks resulting in ongoing pollution of potable water,” said Massam. “We are against the construction of the pipeline. Economically, building it makes no sense,” she said noting that the monetary and environmental costs of a spill outweighs the benefits of the pipeline.

No Plan B

Patrick Bonin, a Climate and Energy Campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, pointed out municipalities, including Montreal, that rely on the Saint Lawrence River for potable water, do not have a back-up plan if that resource is contaminated with an oil leak. “We need the governments to wake up and come up with some credible plans to get us off of fossil fuel, reduce consumption, and protect drinking water,” he said. According to Bonin, the municipalities do not have emergency responders or access to clean-up crews with the training and expertise necessary to deal with a spill.

“Two months ago, I asked the question of the CMM (Communauté Métropolitaine de Montréal) about their Plan B. They were supposed to put a committee in place to come up with a report in May. It’s June now and we haven’t seen the colour of that report,” said Bonin. He wasn’t impressed with the federal government’s attempts to improve the National Energy Board. “They are still evaluating Energy East under the same body, the same National Energy Board who has been recognized as having tons of bias in favour of the oil industry. They are just patching an old process that was rotten and put in place by the Harper government in order to approve, as quickly as possible, oil and gas infrastructure in Canada.”

Results to follow

According Marshall, the results of the wood drift card project will be published in the late summer or early fall. Citizens are welcome to follow the results as they are compiled at www.environmentaldefence.ca.

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