Thank you, Madam Chair.
Madam Chair, vice-chairs, members of the committee, as director of the environmental science and technology laboratories, science and technology branch, I supervise a team of scientists who undertake a research program to study the effects of spilled chemicals on the environment and the cleanup of spills.
Environment and Climate Change Canada has more than 40 years of experience in understanding and responding to oil spills. Much of the research on conventional heavy crude oil and fuels is long-standing; however, emerging challenges in recent years have included unconventional heavy products such as diluted bitumen. This research continues under the oceans protection plan.
The most basic part of the research involves understanding the physical behaviour and chemical nature of oil. ECCC has assessed hundreds of domestic and international oils and makes these results publicly available on the Internet. The ECCC oil catalogue is the largest publicly available oil-spill-related database in the world. The great majority of data are for persistent oil products.
In an effort to measure the composition of the oil, ECCC has also led research on the forensic identification of oil, which is used to determine the source of spilled oil. This is important for enforcement of Canada's environmental laws, which were used recently in cases such as Lac-Mégantic in Quebec and the MV Marathassa spill in Vancouver, British Columbia.
ECCC also studies the fate, effects, and behaviour of spilled oil. We look at the many ways in which an oil spill can change in, and interact with, the environment, including evaporation, emulsification with water, dispersion into water, mixing with sediments, and other mechanisms by which an oil may sink, for example.
We also have a special focus on how oils interact with shorelines, in particular how they can penetrate and become sequestered in riverbanks and marine shorelines.
All of this contributes to ECCC providing predictive models of the trajectory of a spill and its impacts on habitats and ecosystems as well as our communities.
Spill modelling is used not just for response to spills; it is also key to planning for contingencies and for assessing the potential impacts of new projects as they arise through the environmental assessment process.
ECCC also studies how to clean up oil spills using both traditional response techniques and newer alternative response techniques in both laboratory and large-scale experiments. ECCC has a major focus on the evaluation of the effectiveness and toxicity of spill-treating agents, including chemical dispersants and surface-washing agents. Much of this work leads to international standards to codify best practices for spill response.
ECCC has also led in the development of oil spill remote sensors and the assessment of oil contamination on shorelines. As an example of our work, I'd like to highlight recent studies on the potential for spills along the northern and southern coastlines of British Columbia.
First, we surveyed the BC shorelines, to understand the existing geology and biology, and also the existing background levels of oil-related chemicals. This is essential both for planning for potential spills and for understanding what the target endpoints for clean-up need to be following a spill.
Secondly we've examined the potential for heavy oils, both conventional ship fuels and non-conventional diluted bitumen, to sink and migrate, especially as small particulates in water, again using sediments and beach material taken from BC coast lines. The potential to sink, move with currents as particulates, and for penetration, or "stickiness", have been identified as major issues affecting spill clean-up in recent years with conventional oils like ship fuels and non-conventional oils like diluted bitumen.
All of this work is focused on improving Canada's capability to respond to marine oil spills including those involving persistent oils. Understanding how the properties of spilled oils change over space and time is critical to better predictive models of spill behaviour, which in turn enables better planning and response.
ECCC also plays a role under its mandate in enforcing environmental laws and regulations that pertain to the marine environment. While Transport Canada remains the federal government's lead for monitoring, regulating, and enforcement with respect to ship-source pollution, ECCC enforces the pollution prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act that prohibit any substance that is deleterious to fish from entering water frequented by fish, the disposal-at-sea provisions of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and the Migratory Birds Convention Act, which contains penalties for birds oiled at sea.
In summary, Environment and Climate Change Canada continues be engaged in Canada and internationally with governments, academia, the petroleum industry, spill responders, non-governmental organizations, and the public to identify oil spill research needs and establish priorities for future activities.
All of our stakeholders have identified the need to improve our understanding of the fate and behaviour of spilled persistent oils. Recent oil spill research and development activities undertaken by Environment and Climate Change Canada and other federal departments have led to an improved understanding of persistent and heavy oils.
I would like to thank the members of the committee for their time and welcome any questions that you might have.