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Canada not ready for major oil spill: commissioner

by Staff Writers
Ottawa (AFP) Dec 7, 2010
Canada is not ready to respond to a major oil spill from a tanker in its waters, its environment commissioner warned on Tuesday.

In a damning report, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development Scott Vaughan said the Canadian Coast Guard's emergency response plan is out of date.

As well, he said the Coast Guard has not done a national risk assessment of oil spills from ships since 2000, and does not have a reliable system to track spills.

As a result, it cannot accurately determine the number of spills that occur each year, the size of those spills, their environmental impacts as well as how many required onsite responses, Vaughan said.

"I am troubled that the government is not ready to respond to a major spill," he said in a statement.

"We note several areas of concern, from incomplete risk assessments to out-of-date emergency response plans," he said. "These must be addressed to ensure the federal government is ready to respond to any ship-source oil spill occurring in Canadian waters."

Concerns about a possible major oil spill in Canadian waters increased after the BP drilling accident in the Gulf of Mexico.

The April 20 explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and sparked a massive oil spill that crippled local fishing and tourism industries and did untold damage to the Gulf's fragile ecosystem.

In September, an oil tanker ran aground in the Northwest Passage without breaching any of its diesel fuel load and a cruise ship struck an uncharted rock in the region the previous month, forcing an evacuation of its passengers.

Canada has the world's longest coastline, bordering three oceans.

Environmentalists, Inuit groups and political factions have repeatedly expressed concern over the risks of ecological disaster caused by sinking tankers and exploitation of natural resources in Canada's waters particularly in the Arctic Ocean.

With the acceleration of Arctic ice melt, interest in the region has soared, as the shrinking ice has opened up sea navigation and could give oil rigs improved access to the sea floor.

Vaughan echoed those concerns, saying a spill in the Arctic would be devastating due to a lack of infrastructure to allow for a proper response.

Canada's Environment Minister John Baird responded to the report, saying the government would better equip the Coast Guard to respond to spills.

Vaughan also rapped Ottawa for not adequately monitoring Canada's fresh water lakes and rivers, not keeping a commitment to take the lead in protecting the environment and moving toward sustainable development, and failing to come up with a plan to adapt to the impact of climate change.

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