07/06/2015 03:57 EDT | Updated 07/06/2016 05:59 EDT

Clear Seas, new non-profit watchdog on tanker activity, launches

A new non-profit organization is tasked with keeping B.C. waters safe with the potential of increased oil and LNG tanker activity along the coast. Clear Seas Centre for Responsible Marine Shipping launched on Monday as a research organization conducting studies of best practices for oil movement.

While the organization says it is completely independent in its research, it is funded by the federal and provincial governments as well as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

Richard Wiefelspuett, the executive director of the organization, spoke with The Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

What is your organization's mandate?

Clear Seas was created to look at the anticipated increase in marine shipping. On the coast we have seen incidents recently and this has triggered conversation [asking] are we doing the best we can in terms of keeping our coast lines safe. 

How much influence will you have over shipping?

Our objective is to become the leading voice of information regarding safe and sustainable shipping based on facts and evidence. We will provide information to the public and policy makers to make sure we have the best practices in place.

How does the mandate of Clear Water differ from what we already have in the form of Port Metro Vancouver?

It doesn't differ but it brings additional information to the discussion. We'll look at the entire risk portfolio that exists today in the shipping world — not just oil and gas. By looking at how we can best mitigate those risks, we may find that some things we do very well already but we also may find gaps.

In addition to being funded by both the government of Canada and the government of Alberta, Clear Seas also receives funding from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. How can you ensure that your organization is not influenced by your funding sources?

I'm very confident that we can be independent. The funding agreements give us an arm-length approach. We can pick our research independently, we don't have to report the organizations about we're going to do and we won't be censored by anybody.

One would imagine the CAPP has a direct conflict of interest with your organization's mandate. How big of a concern is that for you?

I think the important question is why is CAPP interested in funding an independent organization like Clear Seas. The fact is everybody is interested in safe and sustainable marine shipping. Transport Canada, the province of Alberta, and CAPP endorse that objective of Clear Seas to be providing independent information.

How well prepared is B.C. for increased tanker activity?

We have seen a couple incidents recently — the Marathassa incident and the drifting ship off Haida Gwaii — these were incidents that show us we have a structure in place to respond to those [situations] but the question is, is it the best structure we can have in place? If we want to be world class, we need to probably look at improving our process and systems there.

If a spill happens, how will your organization be involved?

We will not be physically involved. Our objective is to provide information for the discussion around whether there should be more marine traffic in Canada, what we need to do to make it the best and safest as possible, and if we have the best people in place to deal with incidents.

This interview was condensed and edited. To hear the full interview, click the audio labelled: New org to keep waters safe from spills.