Mock oil spill in Charlottetown Harbour tests response system

Published on June 18, 2014

Greg Willson, left, Provincial Environment, Debbie Johntson, Provincial Environment, Joe LeClair, standing, Canadian Coast Guard Atlantic Region, Jean Francois Aublet, Environment Canada, Arja Page, Parks Canada, and Fernand Savoie, DFO

©THE GUARDIAN/Heather Taweel

It’s an environmental horror story in the making.

A gravel carrier inbound to Charlottetown has struck the old Irving unloading dock in the Charlottetown Harbour, releasing 200 tonnes of IFO 180 marine fuel oil into the water.

It’s just 350 metres south of the Hillsborough Bridge and passengers crossing the bridge can clearly see a slick on the water.

Although the ship is stable at anchor, the potential exists for even further fuel loss and the environmental damage that comes with that scenario.

The oil which has already leaked out must be contained and any further loss of oil must be prevented.

What do you do first?

What do you next?

Who do you involve?

Who’s in charge?

Those are the kinds of questions being addressed in Charlottetown today as more than a dozen federal, provincial and municipal departments and agencies and a number of private companiestake part in the annual regional oil spill response exercise.

Joe LeClair, superintendent of environmental response for the Canadian Coast Guard for the Atlantic region, said Wednesday the purpose of this exercise is to assemble the people needed to respond to a marine oil spill and to practise the skills needed to contain any such spill.

On Wednesday, personnel involved in the exercise came together in a command post on the sixth floor of the National Bank Tower for the management component of the exercise.

Surrounded by navigational charts, ship schematics and story boards on which information pertaining to the imaginary oil spill was continually updated, the various players tried to address every potential scenario that might arise, starting with the initial notification of the spill.

They looked at everything from establishing the chain of command and defining the various areas of responsibility to developing a trajectory analysis to determine where the oil would go and ultimately developing a plan to deal with it.

Today, they take everything outside.

LeClair said they will be doing field deployments in the Rocky Point/Fort Amherst area.

Two operational strategies will be carried out simultaneously today.

The first strategy will see people utilize shoreline cleanup assessment technology.

While that is taking place, other people will be engaged in implementing the second strategy, which involves beach flushing.

That will include using a containment boom to allow for the deployment of a skimmer to simulate collection and recovery of flushed contaminants.

LeClair said the incident they’ve simulated for Charlottetown is one they believe has an air of reality.

“We try to deal with something real, something that you might really have to deal with in the Charlottetown Harbour. So the simulated vessel, for example, is one of the large vessels that routinely carries gravel in and out of Charlottetown. It has an incident in the harbour and spills a simulated 200 tonnes of oil into the harbour. It’s fairly realistic.”

LeClair said exercises like these are mounted annually, rotating around the region and have proven to be beneficial in terms of preparing people to deal with the real thing, should it ever happen.