Concerns over crude oil shipping and oil spills on the Great Lakes

Petition: 392

Issue(s): Compliance and enforcement, human/environmental health, international cooperation, toxic substances, transport

Petitioner(s): Canadian organization

Petitioner Location(s): Toronto, Ontario and Vancouver, British Columbia

Date Received: 24 February 2016

Status: Completed—Response(s) to petition received

Summary: The Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin is one of the greatest freshwater ecosystems on earth. People rely on it for their livelihoods, recreation, and drinking water. This petition states that the Basin is threatened by growing economic pressures to transport Alberta’s crude oil through the Basin to Great Lakes refineries in the United States, to Canada, and beyond. A spill of crude oil would be particularly harmful because the oil, which is heavier than water, would sink to the lake bottom and be difficult to remove. The petition asserts that the capacity of US and Canadian agencies to manage a major spill on the Great Lakes has been repeatedly called into question.

The petition also states that the companies began shipping crude oil in 2014 and seeking permits for new oil terminals around the Basin in recent years. The petition asserts that the reduction in oil prices has halted some shipping plans, but that these plans could restart when shipping becomes economically viable again. The petition seeks to establish a thorough understanding of oil spills in the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River Basin, and the regulatory gaps, to shed light on the next steps the federal government must take to protect the Basin from oil shipments.

In addition, the petition expresses concerns over the pollutants discharged, or likely to be discharged, by the vessels or oil-handling facilities. The petition asks information about the number of oil tankers operating annually in the Great Lakes, and the number of oil spills occurring there. The petition also demands information on the oil‑handling inspections for the vessels and oil-handling facilities on the Great Lakes. The petition references the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and its relevant regulations, under which the petition requests information related to the oil-handling facilities and the plans and procedures for oil pollution emergencies.

The petition concludes by asking questions regarding the application of the legislation, namely whether there are any penalties for violating specific regulations, practices, and procedures under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and the Canada Marine Act.

Federal departments responsible for reply: Fisheries and Oceans Canada, National Defence, Transport Canada