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Crude oil spill on the St. Lawrence would cost billions

Publication - Lac-Saint-Pierre

A new report released this week by the Council of Canadians and Équiterre says that an oil spill in Lac Saint-Pierre on the St. Lawrence River would cost billions to clean up – far more than the liability limit in Canada. Proposed export shipments from Energy East and Suncor could double the number of shipments and double the size of the shipments on the St. Lawrence.

The report modeled the costs and damages from a spill of less than 10 per cent of the cargo of an Aframax class supertanker, a size of ship that recently received federal approval to ply the waters of the St. Lawrence River. According to the model, a spill of 10 million litres would cost $2.14 billion. The federal limit to liability for oil spills is $1.4 billion, leaving taxpayers on the hook for the difference.

The environmental impact would be devastating to Lac Saint-Pierre, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

The study also reports that in the event of an oil spill, emergency response would be limited by ice conditions and inadequate capacity of the small private company responsible for oil spill cleanup on the St. Lawrence. Under normal conditions, a spill could travel the length of Lac Saint-Pierre in eight hours – far quicker than a response can be mounted.

The report recommends reducing the allowable ship size and number of exports, increasing emergency response capacity, removing the liability limit, and making the exporting company jointly responsible for damages.

 Read Doubling Down on Disaster in English and in French.

Photo credit: N. Gariépy