Expected increases in tanker traffic from British Columbia and a deadly accident involving an oil train has caused the government of Canada to look for ways to beef up tanker safety standards in both modes, Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt told North American port officials gathered in Washington on Tuesday.
Canadian oil exports, including oil shipped from the Alberta oil sands, are rising. Each year, 80 million tons of oil are shipped off Canada’s east and west coasts. On any given day, there are 180 large commercial vessels operating within Canada’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone. There are about 1,500 tanker movements off the Canadian West Coast per year -- less than 1 percent of all vessel movements. Oil is moved mostly via the ports of Vancouver, Prince Rupert and Kitimat.
Canada's goal is to have a "world-class safety system" to prevent spills and quickly respond to any incidents, Raitt said.
The government has appointed a Tanker Safety Expert Panel to examine Canada's spill preparedness and response regime, both below the 60th parallel and in the Arctic, and make recommendations for improvements. The panel submitted its first report in November with recommendations to improve tanker safety on both coasts, and it is now studying what policies to implement to protect the Arctic region.
Measures underway include a review of pilotage and tug escort requirements for vessels using Canadian ports; improving the system of navigation aids; conducting research on diluted bitumen to better understand its behavior in the marine environment; and developing options to enhance the existing navigation system, the minister said at the American Association of Port Authorities' spring conference.
Canada already inspects tankers operating in Canadian waters once a year and continually flies aerial surveillance aircraft with remote-sensing equipment as an early warning system for spills. The government also uses satellites to track pollution and is establishing an Incident Command System to allow the Canadian Coast Guard to coordinate effective response to major incidents, according to Transport Canada.
The rail accident in Lac-Mégantic last year that killed more than 40 people and caused nearly $1 billion in environmental damage has also focused attention in Canada on older tank cars and increasing safeguards for oil trains.
In January, Canada issued new regulations for the next-generation tank cars, including thicker steel requirements and the addition of top fitting and head shield protections.
Some companies have begun building tank cars to the new standard, and those are already in service in Canada, Raitt said.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is preparing a rulemaking to improve the design of the DOT-111 tank car, which are prone to rupture, and the railroad industry has called for the older cars to be retrofitted or phased out and new cars be built to more stringent standards.
The Transport Ministry has appointed a Railway Safety Advisory Committee composed of railway companies, the Railway Association of Canada, provinces, shippers, suppliers, and municipalities, and it is discussing with U.S. regulators how to improve the older cars in a coordinated fashion, Raitt said.
Canadian leaders have made it clear that the older DOT-111 cars must be phased out, with the only question how long it will take, she said.