The provincial government now has a blueprint in place to create a world-class marine spill prevention and response system, but it doesn't mean the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline is any closer to getting a green light.
Environment Minister Mary Polak said the province hasn't changed its position on the plan to build a heavy oil pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat, despite the fact that one of its conditions was to have world-class marine plan in place.
"There's not just this condition, we've placed five conditions on the movement on any new oil pipeline through British Columbia. And Northern Gateway, in our final submission to the Joint Review Panel, we made it clear that we didn't believe that they had met the conditions we had put in place," Polak said in a telephone interview. "They're tough conditions, but we've said from the the beginning they are the pathway to yes, they are the only pathway to yes and Northern Gateway has not provided us with evidence that they can meet that in their proposal."
Polak's department released a three-volume report Thursday produced by consultant Nuka Research which outlined what's needed for the system to become world-class. It lists 11 elements which need to be present, ranging from vessel monitoring to prevent spills to having enough resources in place to respond to a spill should it occur.
Northern Gateway spokesman Ivan Giesbrecht said the company is still analyzing the report, but remains committed to meeting the province's conditions. When it comes to marine safety, Giesbrecht emphasized Northern Gateway's plan to use double-hulled tankers, have trained pilots on board and the use of tugboats.
"B.Cs marine transportation industry is already very safe, especially the oil tanker industry which has one of the best safety records in the world," he said in a email.
ForestEthics Advocacy spokesman Ben West welcomed the report but said it's findings are appropriate for existing marine traffic, not the increased number of ships expected if Northern Gateway or other energy projects go through.
"[The provincial government is] acknowledging now that there are new challenges that come with diluted bitumen and what the implications of a spill would be if we saw a spill of that kind of oil off the coast," West said, adding the easiest way to reduce the risk of a spill is not to approve any new pipeline projects.
Polak called that view "simplistic" and although the review stemmed from one of the five conditions for heavy oil pipelines, she thinks the entire shipping industry will benefit from the report's recommendations.
"While the public focus as a result of Northern Gateway and other issues has been on oil tankers, there is broad concern up and down our coast about shipping that involves cruise ships, cargo ships, all manner of transport that could have effects just as dire on our coast as marine oil tanker." Polak said. "It's way too simplistic simply to looking at the shipping of diluted bitumen, we have to take an entire coast approach and an entire shipping approach if we're going to reassure British Columbians that the prevention and response capacity we have is actually sufficient."
With the report in hand, Polak said the province now needs to work with the federal government - which holds jurisdiction over many marine issues - industry and the neighbouring regions of Alaska and Washington to ensure they're met.
"We don't have a hypothetical any longer, we have real evidence, real information and that's going to be what we need as we go forward to build this," she said.