BUSINESS

Vancouver-area mayors grill National Energy Board, Coast Guard on oil spills

04/24/2015 03:40 EDT | Updated 07/25/2015 07:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - Vancouver-area mayors grilled federal officials in charge of pipeline regulation and oil-spill cleanup on Friday, with one saying the Canadian Coast Guard is "vastly underfunded."

National Energy Board chair Peter Watson and Canadian Coast Guard Assistant Commissioner Roger Girouard attended a meeting of the Metro Vancouver Mayors' Committee to discuss pipeline safety in the region.

Mayors interrogated the coast guard for its response to a recent fuel spill in English Bay and lambasted the energy board's approval process for Kinder Morgan's proposed $5.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton said the response to the recent spill — in which it took 12 hours to secure an oil-absorbing boom around the MV Marathassa as it leaked toxic bunker fuel — was inadequate.

"It's very clear it's a significant problem," he said. "My perception, and the perception of many of my colleagues, is that you are vastly underfunded."

Girouard said he understands a post-mortem is needed to discuss how the response could have been faster and how various levels of government could have been better integrated.

But he told the mayors and a large audience gathered for the meeting that the coast guard immediately took action once it had determined the severity of the spill — about three hours after it was reported April 8.

"You all recognize the concept of the fog of war," he said.

The meeting was interrupted frequently by protesters, some carrying anti-oil industry signs, who heckled Girouard and Watson.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said there was an "absolute lack of confidence" in the energy board's approval process for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which would twin an existing pipeline that runs from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C., and bring more tankers to the province's coast.

He said the board was not considering how spills could impact Vancouver's economy, which he said depends on tourism and a high quality of life.

"The images of Vancouver with an oil spill on the water went global," he said.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan called the Trans Mountain review process a "sham" and slammed the board for excluding oral cross-examination and not considering the project's impact on climate change.

Watson is on a cross-country tour to convince the public the board is devoted to pipeline safety.

"I have to stress that we are absolutely committed to doing our job. We are absolutely committed to public safety and environmental protection and of oversight of this infrastructure," he told the meeting.

Earlier Friday, the board confirmed it will audit Kinder Morgan's company-wide emergency response program.

Watson said the board intends to carefully review Kinder Morgan's current practices and scrutinize how executives and employees view safety. He said the process will take about a year and the results will be made public.

Andy Galarnyk, director of external relations at Kinder Morgan, said the audit is part of the normal course of business to ensure their procedures are in compliance with regulatory requirements.

"All NEB regulated pipeline companies are subject to periodic audits by the board," he said in a statement.

"The safe operation of our pipeline and protection of the public and environment is our number 1 priority."

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.