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Oil-spill centre moving out of B.C.

Apr 19 2012

The federal government is closing B.C.'s command centre for emergency oil spills at a time when the province is facing two possible pipeline projects and a potential spike in tanker traffic in West Coast waterways.

Ottawa has said it will shut down B.C.'s regional office for emergency oil-spill responders, located in Vancouver, and centralize operations in Quebec in the wake of the cost-cutting March 29 federal budget.

The move could affect about 42 jobs in the B.C.Yukon region.

The closing comes as pipeline operator Kinder Morgan says it hopes to increase capacity on its Edmonton-to-Burnaby Trans Mountain line, potentially increasing the number of oil tankers in Vancouver's harbour from roughly 70 a year to 360.

Meanwhile, public hearings continue on Enbridge Inc.'s proposed $5.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to B.C., which could result in additional tanker traffic out of a new marine terminal in Kitimat.

The B.C. government was pressed for answers in the legislature Wednesday on how it plans to ensure environmental safety in the province in the wake of the federal cutbacks.

B.C.'s environment minister has his "head buried in the sand" and doesn't seem to know the impact of the federal cutbacks, said NDP environment critic Rob Fleming.

"Any reasonable person understands that it makes no sense to even consider major pipelines and oil tankers while closing the Pacific coast's regional oil-spill response centre," Fleming said. "Can the minister tell British Columbians how he is standing up for their interests to strengthen, not weaken, the capacity for oil-spill response in our province?"

But Environment Minister Terry Lake said he's "not going to comment on speculation," and is still gathering information from Ottawa on the changes.

"My understanding is that Transport Canada and the [Canadian] Coast Guard have had their funding increased, and the coast guard is the primary responder to marine oil spills," Lake said in an interview.

"Of course, we want to understand fully what any changes mean to us."

The federal government has sought to downplay concerns about the changes. "This will not impact Canadians or the environment," said a statement from Environment Minister Peter Kent's office this week.

"These employees were not cleaning up spills. They were providing information about environmentally sensitive land and species at risk."