Big holes found in Canada’s oil spill plans

Canadian taxpayers could be on the hook for a massive environmental cleanup bill in the event of an offshore oil leak, reveals the latest audits by the federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.

The document shows authorities are not fully prepared to handle a major leak and that liability limits for oil companies have not been raised in over two decades.

“If there were a major oil spill … on the Atlantic Coast, I don’t think Canada would be able to deal with such an oil spill and control it adequately,” commissioner Scott Vaughan told The Chronicle Herald:

The absolute liability limit for offshore damages and costs in Canada is just $30 million ($40 million in the Arctic), well below other Atlantic countries. In the United States, the limit is $75 million, while in the United Kingdom it is $250 million.

Norway and Greenland both have unlimited liability, and Norway also requires insurance of up to $1 billion.

British Columbia is the other Canadian province that could experience major damages.

Christianne Wilhemson with the Georgia Strait Alliance told that it’s something BC authorities should think about as they consider the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline project.

“One of the things [the Environmental Commissioner] focused on was oil spill response on the East Coast, where the oil and gas industry has been active with off-shore oil and gas for quite a long time and he identified a lot of the things that are lacking, which we have raised as concerns here in British Columbia,” she was quoted as saying.

The report also questions whether Canadians are adequately protected from the 200,000 fracking wells currently active across the country, many of which are here in BC.

Ottawa responded to the report by saying it is contemplating legislative changes likely this spring that would significantly increase liability limits.

“Work is underway to address the financial assurances required of industry to ensure that we protect taxpayers and the environment,” Environment Minister Peter Kent said in the statement.

(Oil spill image courtesy of ThinkQuest)

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