September 3-10, 2007

BC, federal agencies monitor diesel spill site at ecological reserve

The federal department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the Canadian Coast Guard, the British Columbia Ministry of Environment (MOE) and LeRoy Trucking (the responsible party) have moved from spill response to a monitoring stage following an August 22 spill of diesel fuel at the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, off the shore of Vancouver Island. The area is an important corridor for the movement of orcas (killer whales) and chinook salmon, as well as providing habitat for various other wildlife species.

The spill occurred after a tugboat and the barge it was towing listed and turned over. The Regional Environmental Emergency Team (REET) and the Coast Guard believe the submerged tanks most likely imploded as they sank, releasing the fuel which evaporated on the surface of the water. Due to the significantly high evaporation rate of diesel fuel, the bulk of the product released in the incident has dissipated. The barge was also loaded with pieces of construction equipment, which sank as well.

LeRoy Trucking, which, as owner of the barge and equipment, is held as the responsible party, has developed a monitoring plan addressing both air and water quality. Surveys by Environment Canada, the BC MOE and the Coast Guard confirmed that the shoreline was not harmed by any sheen or oil. About two dozen whales were believed to be in the area at the time of the incident, and daily observations by whale experts with DFO have found the whales appear to be behaving normally with their typical summer foraging pattern. The protective booms around the rubbing beaches were removed as experts believed they may affect the natural behaviours of the whales.

An environmental group, Focus Wildlife conducted a survey for any affected wildlife and although the MOE received reports of distressed bird sightings, none of these sightings were confirmed amongst the thousands of birds that currently inhabit the reserve. The Canadian Wildlife Service also conducting an aerial migratory bird survey a few days after the spill.

Federal and provincial staff also notified First Nations in the area after the spill, and Transport Canada is investigating the incident for possible violations of the Canada Shipping Act while the Transportation Safety Board is assessing all available information to determine the most appropriate course of action.

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