Saturday, March 25, 2006

Shedding Light on Queen of the North Oil Spill

An article in Saturday's Globe and Mail penned by Jonathan Woodward and Petti Fong sheds a bit more light on the environmental aspects of the Queen of the North oil spill off Gil Island on BC's central coast.

According to the story, it now appears that two mini-subs will descend this afternoon to the site of the wreck on the bottom of the seabed. One of the tasks of these manned submersibles will be, according to a BC Ferries representative, to "locate the hull breaches through which diesel fuel is leaking into Wright Sound...". Officials still do not know how much of the ship's 220,000 lites of No. 2 diesel, 20,000 litres of light oil, along with 220 litres of hydraulic oil, has leaked from the two fuel tanks on board.

Woodward and Fong also report that BC Ferries is "...examining options to plug the leaks or to pump out the remaining fuel", according to Phil Nuytten, designer of the mini-subs.

It is now being reported that because the weather was calmer in Wright Sound on Friday than the day before, response crews succeeded in looping 330 metres of containment boom around the point where the spilled fuel was reaching the surface. It appears the ship went down in area off of Gil Island's Juan Point. A propos, on CTV NewsNet last night, there was an aerial shot of deflective boom that had been deployed across what looked like the mouth of an inlet that was perhaps 300 metres wide. Encouragingly, the boom appeared to be holding.

Gettting back to the latest 'Slop and Pail" piece, Nick Russo of Environment Canada is cited in the latest Globe as saying that the "choppy waves" of Friday's storm evaporated much of the diesel on the surface, and that "...what remains is an incredibly thin film".

We are now hearing that "(s)ome fuel made it to fragile clam beds, but they would survive", according to Russo. This is the first time we have heard that sensitive resources have been impacted in any way, and it is not terribly reassuring, as diesel fuel, while considered very light, is also very toxic.

As for the latest marine weather forecast for the area of Douglas Channel, Environment Canada is calling for moderate to strong east to southeast winds. However, late today westerly winds are expected to move on to the central coast. Winds will be light, rising to southerly inflow 15 knots this morning, and then easing to variable 5 to 15 knots this evening. There is expected to be variable cloud, and shower activity. The outlook for the next 24 hours is for light to moderate southerly inflow winds.

All in all, then, the prospects look fairly promising for the response effort today, as well as for the launch of Nuytco Research Limited's two Deepworker mini-subs.

Readers are encouraged to let me know if they have any information to add to this Saturday morning SitRep. In any case, I shall keep you posted as matters unfold. Bonne journee, en tout cas!


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