World Class BS

Need more lipstick, PM Haprer
- from the interwebs
Our dear leader's has taken yet another clumsy step in softening the ramming of a pipeline down the throats of British Colombians. The press release starts with "Harper" and included a press conference by no less than two cabinet ministers in Vancouver, last Monday. The high profile plan / announcements makes no real sense to me, and is strictly to open another avenue of propaganda, which will only serve to enrage the hardcore opponents, which evidently there is much of in BC.

For those of you not from BC, or Canada for that matter, here is a little background.

Canada has huge oil resources in Alberta, but it is trapped in sand. The sand has to be mined, then washed with boiling water to loosen the oil and the sand particles apart. It is an intensely energy demanding and expensive process, which also creates massive amounts of waste - and the industry is moving at a breakneck race to produce it. The Canadian government, headed by the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper from Alberta, has put all it's eggs in this oil sands basket.

Unfortunately, the less than ideal bitumen product that result from the oil sands mining, is fetching a lower values because the of the glut of oil in the US, and the the fact that most pipeline from Alberta are to the US. Therefore the oil companies want a pipeline west, from the oil sands in Alberta, to the private port of Kitimat, on BC's north coast, so they may fetch more dollars per barrels from Asian customers. This part of the coast features long, narrow and deep fjords posing some very real challenges to the whole idea of moving very large, crude filled tankers, through pristine ecology. An environment supporting local people, fishing industry, tourism, just to name a few stakeholders.

- from the interwebs
There is tremendous opposition to this plan, most of it is from hardcore environmentalist, which usually drown out any possibility for a reasonable discussion on the subject. But they cannot solely be blame for the projects opposition, since any rational human being would have some serious misgivings resulting from the main proponent, Enbridge's dubious pipeline operation track record. The result is this clumsy window dressing announcement by the Harper government, to "strengthen tanker safety to World Class Standards" whatever that means.

I am very happy that he is shinning a light on this; we should have "world class" standard - at the very least, since an extremely low number of tankers in Canadian ports are actually Canadian vessels, manned by Canadians. Unfortunately, "World Class" standards that are being talked about are already part and parcel of the tanker trade, underwritten by international regulations under the International Maritime Organization. These standards are of course the lowest possible, thus the nervousness of operating tankers in sensitive BC waters. The "world class standards" are already legislated, the problem is more with enforcement, and action. 

Furthermore, most commercial tanker operators and users are far more active in meeting basic "World Class" standards. They achieve these higher standards by using independent vetting inspections, following ISGOTT and OCMIF standards - which far exceed any standards Canadian regulators are able to enforce. Operators also follow required "World Class" standards from Class such DNV, ABS, LR, etc, and voluntary trade association standards like BIMCO, etc. The tanker operators do this because otherwise, they are not able to trade with any reputable oil handler - an oil trading / owning company - it is usually required under the charter agreement.

All that aside, lets look at some of the proposed action by the government...

Minister for Natural Resources Joe Oliver (l), Transport Minister Lebel (r)

Eight new measures will strengthen Canada’s tanker safety system.(Taken from the government's website)
  1. Tanker inspections: The number of inspections will increase to ensure that all foreign tankers are inspected on their first visit to Canada, and annually thereafter, to ensure they comply with rules and regulations, especially with respect to double hulls. 
    My comments - This is great, news, and should have been required long ago. When the government allowed a foreign tanker to work between ports in Canada last summer, putting my ship and its entire crew out of work, Transport Canada advised me that the were not allowed to inspect the ship, "...because it wasn't due". I think this is the only measure that was announced that I see as useful to safety and "saving jobs". Unfortunately, Transport Canada has a mandate to slash budgets, so the availability of this service will come at the detriment of other services. How are the inspectors going to be properly trained to carry out these inspection, since very few inspector have modern tanker experience - Canada has very few crude tankers sailing under its flag.

  2. Systematic surveillance and monitoring of ships: The government will expand the National Aerial Surveillance Program (NASP).
    This is pointless, all discharges are reportable by law already. This will only affect illegal discharges from minor operators and small outfits, not the more serious headline grabbing tanker incident. Again, as small as the program is, where will the funding come from? What kind of preventive measure is this anyways?
  3. Incident Command System: The government will establish a Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) Incident Command System which will allow it to respond more effectively to an incident and integrate its operations with key partners.
    I believe this is already in place, but hey great re-news.

  4. Pilotage programs: We will review existing pilotage and tug escort requirements to see what more will be needed in the future.
    Oh great, another bureaucratic review exercise. Anyways, it's already reported that escort tugs will be utilized, I would not accept anything less.

  5. Public port designations: More ports will be designated for traffic control measures, starting with Kimitat.
    This is good news, but it's already reported that pilot(s) will be utilized, I would not accept anything less. We should certainly expect more than just one pilot on duty as well; and all the proactive guidelines on fatigue, bridge resource management training, etc etc.

  6. Scientific research: The government will conduct scientific research on non-conventional petroleum products, such as diluted bitumen, to enhance understanding of these substances and how they behave when spilled in the marine environment.
    Science and the Harper government; those words together should tell you all you need to know. Muzzled scientist, gutted programs, cutting out public research altogether, lack of vessels to carry out research.
  7. New and modified aids to navigation: The CCG will ensure that a system of aids to navigation comprised of buoys, lights and other devices, to warn of obstructions and to mark the location of preferred shipping routes, is installed and maintained.
    Again, great sounding idea, with what funding and what ships. The West Coast ships of the Coast Guard are already so multi-tasked that they hardly know which is the priority anymore, that is if they are put to sea in the first place, since there is funding shortfalls there as well. With modern navigation tools and a pilot onboard this is a bit of a moot point, and one already broached in the TSB MV Petersfield investigation, a grounding that recently occurred in Douglas Channel (Kitimat). 
  8. Modern navigation system: The CCG will develop options for enhancing Canada’s current navigation system (e.g. aids to navigation, hydrographic charts, etc) by fall 2013 for government consideration. Again with bureaucratic bubbly squat talk, great, get on it, should have been done long ago. Again, where is the funding.
The above is from one of the five "backgrounder" regarding this press releases. Personally, I thought the northern gateway pipeline is the the most responsible way forward for getting Alberta oil to market. However, I don't like this rush to develop the oil sands at all cost; its been in the ground for billions of years - well for those Harperites, at least 2000 years - I am sure its not going anywhere before we can come up with a less destructive way to make use of it. But it is being develop, and I would rather see it benefiting Asian countries, most of which are in poverty, then having to deal with US corporation with dubious business ethics.

I think we could have a viable pipeline, ashore and at sea, where we can demand from operators proper, modern, engineering and operational safeguards. But it seems this discussion has sunken to a tit for tat match, "no my dad is better than your dad" between the cheerleaders and the hardcore environmentalist. In the absence of real meat and bones discussions, I believe the whole project will be rammed down our throat, using the minimal standards, world class, they might be.

Yes, the government is creating another large hot air balloon of BS to make it look like they are really concerned about the wishes of the locals. It is so blatant that they are not, that even I am questioning the motives behind the whole idea. I was all for it. I work on tankers, I know the procedures and scrutiny, I know the area around Kitimat, I know the capabilities of modern tugs, I know we can engineer a robust pipeline.
Note: Canada west coast's largest oil spill response vessel in background,
world class indeed - from the interwebs

By the way, did you see the press coverage of the announcement, featuring Vancouver's harbour, with the tiny oil skimming vessels of the West Coast Marine Response Corporation in the background - the primary contractor for oil spill response on the west coast. I though it was quite emblematic, as being the smallest (cheapest possible) response available. Just like this project, trying to do it on the cheapest possible way, talking  your way out of concerns rather than putting real solutions on the table, for the citizens of BC to digest.

The backgrounder the federal government supplied, listed the oils spills that have occurred in BC, consisting of refined products, to a maximum of 1000 tons. A small skimmer like the one shown behind the minister is apt at handling - at least looking like handling - since evaporation will probably do the bulk of the clean up work. I am not an expert in Tar Sands Bitumen, but I believe a spill involving a tanker carrying this stuff will be much more significant and complex, then we have ever seen in BC before.

One of 15 oil spill response vessel pre-positioned
in the US - source MSRC
Oil spill response capabilities - I have to laugh on that point alone, look at the equipment available to western Canadians in case of an oil spill, versus the equipment available to Americans, one of 15 ships, is stationed just south of Vancouver, at Port Angeles. A full size oil spill response ship, ready to go at a moment's notice, holding close ties with regulators, by practicing their roles routinely. Talk seriously about putting one of these ships in northern BC, and then we start having a discussion.

Otherwise, the opponents will be proven right when this project is shoved down our throats, and the government will have delivered what was purchased; the new reality of the world economy will once again be proven. Oil will be shipped on foreign owned tankers, flying a flag of convenience, using the lowest possible amount of third world crew members as possible, saddling them with mountains of paperwork and regulations, and threatening their every move. Sure to be a success story.

Here are some stories from local media - Vancouver Sun another here, didgitaljournal as well.

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