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Watson Island pipe leaking fuel oil into ocean

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Jul 31st, 2013
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  8. Watson Island pipe leaking fuel oil into ocean
  10. By Todd Hamilton - The Northern View
  11. Published: July 30, 2013 9:00 PM
  12. Updated: July 30, 2013 9:11 PM
  13. Fuel oil is leaking from Watson Island into the ocean.
  15. Whether it is entering Porpoise Harbour at a significant rate or not, the City of Prince Rupert, the responsible agency currently for the site, is not saying anything.
  17. However, site superintendent, Grant Derry did say Tuesday that there has been a spill at the former Skeena Pulp Mill but in a short, tersely-worded response to the Northern View, would not comment further.
  19. "I'm too busy to talk right now," he said. "I wouldn't say it's a major oil leak."
  21. A respected and reliable source well-known to the Northern View with significant knowledge of the situation on Watson Island said the leak has allegedly been ongoing since Sunday and that the Canadian Coast Guard has been on site.
  23. "Apparently it's been leaking for two days, but [the city] only reported it today [Tuesday]," the source said.
  25. When contacted, David Karn from Environment Canada confirmed the body had been made aware of a "small leak" coming from a pipe at the Watson Island site.
  27. Officials at Watson Island refused entrance to the site to reporters.
  29. The fuel oil spilling into Porpoise Harbour is Bunker C also known as No. 6 fuel oil ... the same oil currently trying to be recovered from a sunken Second World War U.S. vessel near Hartley Bay.
  31. According to the City of Prince Rupert, who has been engaged in a long-term legal battle with Sun Wave over the property, Watson Island has 30,000 barrels of Bunker C or No. 6 fuel oil.
  33. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) terms No. 6 fuel oil as a "dense, viscous oil produced by blending heavy residual oils with a lighter oil (often No. 2 fuel oil) to meet specifications for viscosity and pour point. When spilled on water, No. 6 fuel usually spreads into thick, dark-colored slicks, which can contain large amounts of oil. The most viscous no. 6 oils will often break up into discrete patches and tarballs when spilled instead of forming slicks. Oil recovery by skimmers and vacuum pumps can be very effective when early in the spill. Very little of this viscous oil is likely to disperse into the water column.
  35. No. 6 fuel oil is a persistent oil; only five to 10 per cent is expected to evaporate within the first hours of a spill. Consequently, the oil can be carried hundreds of miles in the form of scattered tarballs by winds and currents. The tarballs will vary in diameter from several yards to a few inches and may be very difficult to detect visually or with remote sensing techniques.
  37. The specific gravity of a particular No. 6 fuel oil can vary from 0.95 to greater than 1.03. (The specific gravity of seawater is 1.03.) Thus, spilled oil can float, suspend in the water column, or sink. Small changes in water density may dictate whether the oil will sink or float.
  39. Floating oil in a high sediment environment (rivers, beaches) could potentially sink once it picks up sediment, resulting in subsurface tarballs or tarmats.
  41. These oils can occasionally form an emulsion, but usually only slowly and after a period of days. Because of its high viscosity, beached oil tends to remain on the surface rather than penetrate sediments. Light accumulations usually form a "bathtub ring" at the high-tide line; heavy accumulations can pool on the beach.
  43. Effects on Wildlife and Plants
  45. Adverse effects of floating No. 6 fuel oil are related primarily to coating of wildlife dwelling on the water surface, smothering of intertidal organisms, and long-term sediment contamination. No. 6 fuel oil is not expected to be as acutely toxic to water column organisms as lighter oils, such as No. 2 fuel oil.
  47. Direct mortality rates can be high for seabirds, waterfowl, and fur-bearing marine mammals, especially where populations are concentrated in small areas, such as during bird migrations or marine mammal haulouts.
  49. Direct mortality rates are generally less for shorebirds because they rarely enter the water. Shorebirds, which feed in intertidal habitats where oil strands and persists, are at higher risk of sublethal effects from either contaminated or reduced population of prey.
  51. The most important factors determining the impacts of No. 6 fuel oil contamination on marshes are the extent of oiling on the vegetation and the degree of sediment contamination from the spill or disturbance from the cleanup. Many plants can survive partial oiling; fewer survive when all or most of the above-ground vegetation is coated with heavy oil. However, unless the substrate is heavily oiled, the roots often survive and the plants can re-grow.
  53. Shoreline cleanup can be very effective before the oil weathers and becomes very sticky and viscous."
  55. The City of Prince Rupert has said in legal filings that in addition to the 30,000 gallons of Bunker C fuel oil, there is 1.5-million gallons of black liquor, a caustic by-product of the wood-chip cooking process that, in contact with natural ecosystems, absorbs oxygen and starves all fish and plant life, 500 tonnes of pulp; caustic soda in 10- and 50-per-cent concentrations; 23 tonnes of sulphur stored in a damaged and leaking warehouse; 50,000-cubic metres of hog fuel; PCBs; 38 nuclear devices, used to measure the flow of solids in pipes; and asbestos—lots of it, in the walls and laying in plain view throughout the island.
  57. Repeated calls to the City of Prince Rupert to ascertain the magnitude of the leak or whether it has been stemmed have not immediately been returned.
  59. Environment Canada told the Northern View "an Emergency Response Officer will be onsite as soon as possible to assess and advise what action needs to be taken".
  61. ~With files from Martina Perry
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