University of Victoria to play major role in tanker safety

The Harper government announced a $20 million, three-year pledge to fund a program that will use data from the University of Victoria’s internationally-recognized oceanographic data collection program to help Canada develop a “world-class tanker safety system.”

The contribution, announced at the Vancouver Aquarium by Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, goes to the Smart Ocean Initiative being run by UVic’s Oceans Network Canada.

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ONC, launched in 2006 and funded primarily by the federal government and IBM Canada, includes land and ocean floor-based observatories connected by about 850 kilometres of cables.

The program’s website describes one of the organization’s key long-term goals as being the search for a “deeper understanding of how large-scale climate-related changes are impacting British Columbia waters.”

But Tuesday’s announcement put more of an emphasis on a bread-and-butter matter regarding the potential for ONC’s sensors and coastal radars to assist Canada’s energy export potential.

“The data provided by this technology will contribute to a World-Class Tanker Safety System by enhancing navigation safety and marine oil spill prevention, and providing environmental protection for marine areas,” Raitt said in a statement.

Ottawa and the oil and gas industry have pushed for years the argument that Canada needs to build pipelines to the B.C. coast to link Alberta’s oilsands sector to energy-hungry Asian markets.

But the B.C. government, responding to warnings of potentially catastrophic spills issued by pipeline opponents that include First Nations and environmentalists, has said it will oppose such initiatives unless Ottawa meets five key conditions.

Two of Premier Christy Clark’s demands were the establishment of “world-leading” prevention, response and recovery systems to deal with land and marine spills.

Tuesday’s funding will help ONC provide data that helps vessel operators avoid accidents, especially in areas where the oil and liquefied natural gas industries are targeting development, according to a government statement.

“The goal of the Smart Ocean Initiative is to help prevent marine accidents, predict and warn of natural hazards, and improve overall marine situational awareness near Port Metro Vancouver, Campbell River, Kitimat, the Douglas Channel and Prince Rupert,” the government said.

ONC, while stressing its contribution to climate science in its publications, has also pointed to its potential role in oil spill prevention and response.

It released a video in April in connection with a previous $9.1 million federal contribution that noted its role as part of the “solution” to growing public concerns about spills.

In a dramatic video showing supertankers and the scene of a marine accident, it declares: “The risk is real and growing in B.C.”

Then it states: “Real time data supports industry and sustains the environment,” and “Long after cleanup ONC will be there keeping watch of the ocean for a better future.”

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