Canada panel urges better response plan for oil spills

Tue Dec 3, 2013 6:55pm EST
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By Julie Gordon

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada must be better prepared to respond to major oil spills if more crude starts to flow in pipelines to the country's Pacific Coast, a government panel said on Tuesday, as fears of a major marine disaster grow.

The report, by the federal transport department, makes 45 recommendations, including ensuring companies are prepared for a worst-case scenario and new guarantees that taxpayers will not be liable for costs related to spills in Canadian waters.

Regulators are currently weighing separate proposals from Enbridge and Kinder Morgan to build new pipelines to carry oil from Alberta to the British Columbia coast, which could bring an additional 600 tankers to the region each year.

The review of Canada's ship-source oil spill regime is a key part of the federal government's push to reassure Canadians that it has prepared for that additional traffic and has a policy in place to respond if there is a major spill.

Under current rules, a polluter is required to pay for the entire cost of a clean-up and there are funds set aside to compensate those affected by pollution damage from a maritime accident, though there is a cap on damages per incident.

The report, which was prepared for Transport Canada by a panel of independent experts, recommended that the cap be abolished and also said that an emergency account, funded by industry, should be created to pay when Canada's Coast Guard is called in to lead a clean-up mission.

"Canadian taxpayers should not bear any liability for spills in Canadian waters," said the report, the first major review of Canada's spill response plan in nearly 20 years.

It also urged more flexibility in response techniques and recommended that spill response be managed on a regional basis, ensuring that procedures are tailor-made for different geographies and environments.   Continued...