Oil spills from rigs off East Coast far exceed predictions: York study

The number of small spills reported by the energy companies that operate Canada’s offshore oil and gas rigs has far exceeded their original predictions, wrote The Canadian Press Sept. 15 in a story about a new study co-authored by York Professor Gail Fraser published Monday in the Journal of Environmental Assessment, Policy and Management.

Fraser, a bird biologist in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, said the study should provide a wake-up call to the two regulatory bodies that oversee the offshore energy industry in Atlantic Canada – the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board and the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.

“I’m not faulting the operators for going over their predictions,” she said in an interview. “The board has not followed through on their job…. They’re not fulfilling their obligations under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.”

Fraser said the environmental assessment predictions are worthless unless the boards – responsible for environmental protection and enforcement of regulations – do something with them. “The boards haven’t articulated that the predictions are not working for this region. It’s their job,” she said. “Our goal is to move the management of this industry to best practices, and I don’t think they’re there yet.”

Fraser stressed that the environmental impact of small spills can be considerable.

Small amounts of oil and other drilling fluids can spread over a large area and researchers have long known that it takes only a few drops of oil or drilling fluid to foul the feathers of a seabird, leaving it with no chance to survive the cold waters of the Atlantic. “There is no relationship between the size of the spill and the number of birds killed,” Fraser said, citing prior research. “You can have very small spills that kill lots of birds.”

Fraser said the study did not include large spills because no predictions were made about such events, and the Hibernia project – operated by ExxonMobil Corp. – was not included because its development started before spill predictions were required.

Fraser said it’s important to note there has been only one large spill from a rig on the East Coast. In late July 2005, Petro-Canada was charged with spilling more than 1,000 barrels of crude from its Terra Nova production vessel.

  • The discrepancies show a failure by the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board to follow up on the mandatory environmental assessments to ensure the forecasts were realistic, said lead researcher Gail Fraser, a bird biologist in York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 16. The petroleum board has a “zero-tolerance” spill policy, she said.

“If there was zero tolerance, you’d think that there’d be something coming down the pipes when a project exceeds its predictions,” Fraser said. “Why does it take me to point this out? They should be pointing this out.”

But Sean Kelly, a board spokesperson, said the environmental assessments are for spills from the platforms only, while “[spills] from tanker loading and production operations are assessed separately and have their own probabilities,“ he wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. As such, the projections of 5.3 and 2.38 are just for one type of spill, while the report covers all kinds of spills, he said.

Fraser doesn’t believe that’s the case, noting that the environmental assessments are “over the course of the project,” which she believes includes all aspects of it. Terra Nova has already had eight platform spills, more than the 5.3 predicted, she added. “They can slice the pie however they want to slice it,” she said. “A spill is a spill, and it’s with the project.”

The study was published yesterday in the Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management in association with The Alder Institute, a Newfoundland non-profit ecology collective with which Fraser has previously partnered.

  • The Toronto Star also published a short story on Fraser’s study Sept. 16.

Schulich alumnus joins hospital staff in his native Sault Ste. Marie

Sault Area Hospital will have a new director of communications, come October, wrote The Sault Star Sept. 16. Sault native and York alumnus Mario Paluzzi (MBA ’81) starts the job Oct. 6. Aside from being a media liaison, Paluzzi will be in charge of government-hospital relations, volunteer activities and complying with the French Language Services Act.

Paluzzi has more than 20 years experience in marketing and public relations. He spent 14 years in Toronto’s advertising industry, most recently working with clients such as Molson Breweries, TSN, Hitachi, Simmons and Avis. He has spent the last seven years as a FedNor communication officer in Sault Ste. Marie.

Sun notes construction of rapid bus lane to York

Drivers, finally there’s a small reason to rejoice, wrote The Toronto Sun Sept. 16. The city is building new lanes for buses to York University from Downsview station (a $20-million temporary fix until the subway is ready in eight years).