Canada couldn't handle big oil spill: watchdog

Tue Dec 7, 2010 1:21pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's government is not ready to handle a major oil spill from a tanker, in part because its emergency response plan is out of date, Parliament's environmental watchdog said in a damning report on Tuesday.

Scott Vaughan, commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, also said Ottawa did not have enough data to monitor what impact development of the oil sands in Western Canada was having on water supplies.

Concerns about the damage an oil spill could do in Canadian waters increased after the BP drilling accident in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year.

Vaughan said Canada, bordered by three oceans and home to the world's longest coastline, was particularly vulnerable to the consequences of a spill.

"I am troubled that the government is not ready to respond to a major spill," Vaughan said in the report. "We note several areas of concern ... these must be addressed."

Responsibility for dealing with a tanker spill is split between the federal environment and transport ministries, as well as the Coast Guard.

Vaughan, noting that the Coast Guard had not done a risk assessment on oil spills since 2000, said its national emergency response plan was out of date. He also said it did not have a reliable system to track spills.

Echoing widespread concerns expressed by experts, he said a big spill would be particularly disastrous in the Arctic, given its rich wildlife and lack of infrastructure.   Continued...