Oil spill update: investigation imminent – October 29th 2007

On October 19th, just hours after NGOs led by Living Oceans and Greenpeace released detailed plans for conducting an underwater investigation of the oil spill site in Robson Bight, Canada’s federal and provincial governments reached agreement on conducting an investigation and sharing the costs. There was little doubt that this “good news” announcement came as a direct result of the pressure NGOs and their supporters around the world have been putting on Canada’s governments ever since the tragic August 20th accident dumped a barge load of logging equipment into the pristine waters of the world’s best known orca habitat.

On the face of things, the government decision was exactly what NGOs have wanted. However, it came so late in the day that many among the NGO community worried that delays would now occur that could push the investigation into next year. The oil still welling up to the surface of Robson Bight (video link) reinforces the belief that real potential dangers lie below. Any delay in the investigation adds risk, so the question for NGOs became one of balancing the risk of further delay, including uncertainties associated with deteriorating weather conditions, against the clear benefits of having government involvement, including covering costs.

After an intense week of discussion and negotiation, the NGO side decided to accept the government offer and terms of conduct for the underwater investigation of Robson Bight.  The request for bids was posted last Friday (October 26th) with a closing date at the end of this week (November 2nd).  A mid November deadline for completion of the investigation has been set.  All information obtained will be made available to the public. NGOs will be able to observe the work on site, and have full access to the video and other information obtained during the course of the investigation. Without question, the pace of government action following their decision has been light speed for agencies accustomed to being stalled in bureaucratic fog. This is certainly encouraging.  

The hesitation from the NGO/public side over accepting the government offer is quite understandable.  After all, the money needed had been raised, and a schedule had been set. A “side scan” of the site on October 29th would be followed within days by a detailed inspection by mini sub. In all likelihood, a week later we would know the actual situation at the bottom of Robson Bight. However, once the government had stepped forward, it became clear that their contract would have to include duplication of any NGO effort. Given that this meant any money spent by NGOs would be wasted, the decision to accept the government offer was made. The funds that have been raised will remain available, should they be needed.  

Our fingers are crossed that weather conditions will enable the investigation to be accomplished by mid November.

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