'World class' tanker safety system announced by federal government

The federal government rolled out eight new measures on Monday at the Port Metro Vancouver office that it says will create a "world class tanker safety system."

Federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said the new measures are part of the new Safeguarding Canada's Seas and Skies Act, which was introduced in Parliament earlier Monday.

The new measures include:

Increased inspections of foreign tankers.

An expanded national aerial surveillance program designed to monitor shipping traffic and detect oil spills.

The establishment of a new Canadian Coast Guard incident Command System.

A review of the existing tanker escorting system.

More ports designated for traffic control.

New and modified navigational aids.

The establishment of a tanker safety panel.

B.C.'s Environment Minister Terry Lake says he welcomes the announcement.

"It looks to me like they're making a great effort and they understand from British Columbians that you can't simply increase the transport of hazardous goods through B.C. without also increasing the environmental safeguards and protection mechanisms that are in place," Lake told CBC News.

Oliver said the federal government did consult with the province extensively and dealt with the concerns that were raised. He also said the new panel would continue to consult.

Tanker safety has become a hot issue in B.C. because of the Enbridge proposal to build the Northern Gateway Pipeline from the Alberta oilsands to a tanker terminal in Kitimat on the West Coast, raising concerns about oil spills in the marine environment.

Last summer Premier Christy Clark announced five conditions that would have to be met before the province signs off on any new heavy oil pipeline. One of those conditions was a requirement for a world class oil spill response system.

Following the federal announcement on Monday some of those opposed to the pipeline said the new measures would not change their position.

Forest Ethics spokesman Ben West says most British Columbians remain opposed to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline and the expansion of the existing Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline.

"The federal government is continuing to push this public relations machine to try to give the impression that somehow this could be done safely," said West.

But West said other recent moves by the federal government to shut down marine resources on the West Coast have made the situation less safe.

"With the closure of the coast guard stations in Vancouver, the marine traffic control centre, and the oil spill response units, we have actually been aggressively moving in the wrong direction on this file."

West did welcome having "more eyes on the water," but said it would not replace the role of the coast guard.

"It's definitely good to have more resources going into oil spill response, but it doesn't mean that it makes it OK to actually bring in more pipelines. We need more safety for existing traffic and I think a lot of people would be concerned to hear that we don't already have world-class safety and monitoring."

A recent UBC study estimated the cost of cleaning up a major oil spill on B.C.'s northern coast could hit $9.6 billion.

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