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Voisey's Bay Mine and Mill Environmental Assessment Panel Report

10 Marine Environment: Shipping

VBNC is proposing to ship approximately 1,250,000 tonnes of nickel-copper-cobalt concentrate and some 150,000 tonnes of copper concentrate annually. Most of the nickel-copper-cobalt concentrate and all of the copper concentrate would be shipped in the "open water" season - that period when no landfast ice is present. VBNC has proposed to ship up to nine cargoes through landfast ice in the January to March period, allowing the initial ice to become 20 cm thick before beginning icebreaking, and ceasing shipping operations during April and May.

The ships to be used for the nickel-copper-cobalt concentrate would be in the 25,000-tonne range. They would be Canadian registered vessels with Canadian crews because the final destination would be a Canadian port. These vessels would be designed to CAC3 ice class standards or equivalent. VBNC proposes to ship the copper concentrates to undetermined locations in vessels acquired on the spot market, which might be somewhat larger.

VBNC also plans to back-haul most required bulk supplies on the concentrate vessels. Fuel would be transported in special tanks in the transport vessels, with a maximum return cargo of 5,000 tonnes. VBNC has committed not to transport fuel during shipping in landfast ice. At least 20 voyages would be required to deliver annual fuel requirements during peak operations. It is possible that, with the exception of winter shipping, every return voyage would include fuel delivery. Other bulk supplies would be back-hauled in specially designed containers to allow for rapid and safe unloading at Edward's Cove.

Public concern about the shipping regime ran high, both in the nearest communities and in communities further along the coast. Many presenters considered the shipping routes, and particularly shipping in landfast ice, to be an extension of the Project footprint to a point beyond the Hens and Chickens. The following issues caused the most concern:

  • disruption of travel routes caused by shipping through landfast ice, including dangers to ice users created by both the track itself and new cracks created in unpredictable places radiating from or even distant from the track, resulting from the action of winds and currents on the adjacent ice;
  • disturbance of marine mammals, particularly whelping seals, caused by both the noise and the icebreaking action of the transport vessels;
  • potential oil and concentrate spills along the shipping route;
  • disturbance of breeding birds and marine mammals within the Landscape Region by ship traffic during the open water period;
  • ecological impacts on marine life caused by chronic spills and port activity in Edward's Cove and the nearby portions of Anaktalak Bay;
  • disruption of harvesting; and
  • interference with offshore fisheries or with prolific bird breeding areas, such as the Gannet Islands off Cartwright, caused by shipping effects extending to the pack ice and southward along the coast, depending on the shipping route chosen to the final concentrate destination.

In addition, through the Oceans Act and land claims negotiations, the Labrador Inuit Association (LIA) wishes to pursue a marine management plan for the areas to be affected by shipping. It would protect the marine environment and Inuit harvesting rights and management interests. LIA stated that, if shipping proceeded before these negotiations were finalized, the marine management plan, land claims negotiations and harvesting rights to marine resources would be prejudiced.

This chapter discusses most of these concerns, although other potential shipping effects are dealt with in more detail in Chapter 11, Marine Mammals, and Chapter 13, Birds.

10.1 Regulatory Regime

The international nature of shipping, and the many treaties and conventions to which Canada is a signatory, complicate the regulation of shipping. Essentially, Transport Canada regulates, inspects and enforces vessel, equipment and crew procedures under the Canada Shipping Act and related acts and codes. Under the Oceans Act, the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), a branch of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), provides and maintains navigational aids that support commercial shipping and recreational boating, enforces many of the regulations on water and provides icebreaking services. Also under the Oceans Act, the Canadian Hydrographic Service is responsible for "measuring and describing the physical features of Canada's navigable waters and their marginal land areas and making this information available in the most suitable form for use by navigators." Finally, under the Pilotage Act, the Atlantic Pilotage Authority provides qualified navigators to support vessels entering harbours, where this support is deemed necessary.

Years ago, Canada recognized both the unique nature of its large expanse of Arctic waters and the importance of exercising jurisdiction over it. The Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act includes special rules for shipping in waters north of 60° latitude. While this Act does not restrict access, it controls the ice capability of vessels that enter the area and when they may do so. Initially, the Act controlled access based solely on the season. However, ships can now survey ice conditions well in advance of passage. So a new regulatory approach under the Arctic Ice Regime Shipping System (AIRSS) bases the right of access on the percentage of ice cover a ship will encounter. In addition, the Act sets a zero discharge limit for oily wastes instead of the 15 parts per million allowed elsewhere. The application of the Arctic Waters Pollution Protection Act provisions to northern Labrador is an outstanding issue between the Government of Canada and LIA.

LIA, CCG and Transport Canada all expressed concern that shipping conditions on the Labrador coast are as severe as those "north of 60" but are not as closely regulated. In fact, the Panel notes that it could be argued that the large expanses of landfast ice around the many offshore islands, the dynamic and rapidly moving pack ice driven by the Labrador Current, and the more variable weather conditions might make this area more dangerous to shipping. Transport Canada recommended that AIRSS should be applied to this area. VBNC replied that the blanket implementation of this system would not be beneficial, because it would affect other users of the area, such as coastal supply vessels, fuel delivery vessels and the vessels shipping dimension stone from Ten Mile Bay. The company agreed to implement the applicable aspects of the system in its shipping management plan.

The Panel agrees with VBNC's approach. In fact, AIRSS is apparently largely voluntary and a legislated application would likely take considerable time to implement. The nickel-copper-cobalt concentrates would be shipped in Canadian registered ships with Canadian crews as required under the Coastal Trading Act. To meet the requirements of the extended shipping season, they would be constructed to meet the highest standards required under AIRSS, and VBNC has committed to providing them with the most up-to-date navigational aids. The Panel believes that additional controls are required to ensure "ships of opportunity" contracted on the spot market that enter hazardous Canadian waters to transport copper concentrates do so in a condition that ensures safe passage. A well-designed marine management plan would ensure that such vessels meet required construction and navigational standards.

Recommendation 31

The Panel recommends that vessels built or contracted by VBNC to ship nickel-copper-cobalt concentrates be designed or tested for equivalency to CAC3 standards to ensure such vessels can travel safely through the worst potential ice conditions.

Recommendation 32

The Panel recommends that VBNC incorporate Arctic Ice Regime Shipping System procedures into the Marine Transportation Management Plan to ensure the safe passage of both dedicated and contracted concentrate vessels. VBNC should implement these procedures in consultation with the regulators and with the LIA as part of a bilateral shipping agreement (see Recommendation 97).

10.2 Winter Shipping

10.2.1 VBNC's Proposal

VBNC has stated that, while it would prefer year-round shipping, it would adopt an "extended shipping season" because of the concerns of local residents. The basis of that plan is to stop shipping from the time the winter freeze-up begins until the ice reaches a thickness of 20 cm, allowing the landfast ice to stabilize before icebreaking begins. An ice corridor of approximately three beam widths of the concentrate carrier would then be established in which the nine return-trip passages would take place. The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) stated that it would take a matter of hours for the corridor to refreeze sufficiently that a snow machine could cross safely. In addition, by using backwash, the icebreaking vessel could create ice bridges across the track, a procedure that the Arctic uses at Nanisivik and Raglan when entering through landfast ice.

The nine passages would take place between January and March. During April and May, shipping would again cease because of the potential whelping of ringed seals and because usage peaks during this time as days become longer, weather moderates, and travel for hunting and other purposes increases.

VBNC anticipates that the concentrate carrier would need icebreaker support when travelling in pack ice, but not in landfast ice. The icebreaker would likely wait until the concentrate carrier loaded and returned through the ice track. Transit time from the edge of the landfast ice to Edward's Cove is estimated at 12 hours and loading time at approximately 36 hours.

CCG expressed concern that resources might not be available to meet this requirement. A CCG icebreaker would need 1.5 to 2 days to respond to a request for assistance at Hens and Chickens and it could ill afford the waiting time. Some participants suggested that this service could be provided on a cost-recovery basis and that private icebreaking services might be available.

10.2.2 Safety of Ice Users

Very few issues raised more concern than VBNC's proposal to ship during the winter through landfast ice. For Nain residents, this ice provides transportation routes for hunting, fishing, gathering wood, getting access to cabins and visiting Inuit communities to the south. While concern was greatest in Nain, residents of Utshimassits and coastal communities as far south as Cartwright indicated that they have historically used the landfast ice to access inland caribou hunting areas as far north as Nain.

Concerns focused chiefly on the dangers to ice users caused by winter shipping. In Nain, presenters described their experiences during a period when icebreakers extended the shipping season to bring supplies to the town. In Rigolet, participants discussed an icebreaker's trial voyage into Lake Melville and the way that disrupted traditional travel routes and made travelling on sea ice unpredictable. The Panel notes that, in those cases, the icebreakers were opening passage for other vessels, so the experience with the concentrate ships might be somewhat different.

The following potential dangers were discussed.

  • Because of local conditions that could lead to milder temperatures during winter thaws and fast tides among the islands, the ice might not refreeze as fast as predicted and it might take up to two days to be safe. VBNC conceded that variable weather could make January the most adverse time for ice refreezing during the proposed shipping season.
  • The icebreaker would cross large pressure cracks, which could loosen large pans of sea ice. Cracks from the ice track could extend long distances to reach land.
  • Icebreaking could make ice by the shore more dangerous and the closing of the track could create open water at the shoreline, particularly around the narrows at Paul's Island, or around natural cracks and rattles.

VBNC suggested mitigation measures to overcome the safety problems. It committed to informing all residents of the communities, by radio or personal visit, when a ship was about to enter the ice corridor. In response to concerns that hunters might be out on the land for two or three days and not be aware that the icebreaker had gone through, VBNC stated that people on snow machines would patrol the track and mark the track and the route to the snow bridges. These markers would only be removed when the route was safe again.

In response to concerns that hunters might not see these markers or the track, especially in stormy conditions, VBNC stated that adequate flexibility would be built into the schedule to allow vessels to wait outside the ice until it is considered safe to enter. During the hearings in Nain, VBNC also promised that it would not proceed with winter shipping if such shipping could not be done safely.

10.2.3 Requirement for Winter Shipping

LIA informed the Panel that it is not convinced that winter shipping is required. It questioned whether the main issue was truly technical problems associated with concentrate storage, as VBNC stated, or whether economic issues were involved. VBNC outlined the economic implications of increased storage time, including financial implications of delays in processing the concentrates, capital costs of increased storage facilities, and additional costs for containers and storage facilities for operational supplies.

During the hearings, the Panel requested additional information on the problems of concentrate storage. VBNC's response included the following points.

  • Concentrates would oxidize during storage. During laboratory tests, concentrate piles underwent complete oxidation in two weeks. It is difficult to scale the results of this test up to a large storage pile in a storage shed, as oxygen might not be as readily available in the core of the pile. The resulting oxidation would form a cemented mass, which would cause concentrate loading problems.
  • Concentrates could also become compacted during storage. Residual calcium carbonate, used to control pH during concentration, could react with the concentrate; the resulting gypsum (calcium sulphate) would cause compaction.

VBNC stated that, although it does not fully understand what would happen to the concentrates in storage, it will commit to solving any problems caused during storage of up to two months. When asked why it decided to maintain a 5-percent moisture content instead of drying the concentrate, as is done at Raglan, VBNC stated that the concentrate characteristics favoured that approach. The Panel notes that the process at Raglan has also had problems. The first incident occurred when rapid oxidation caused handling problems, and the second involved a concentrate spill when a pipe was broken during loading and dry material spilled from the pipe. Maintaining higher concentrate moisture would prevent both types of events.

VBNC made the following additional commitments regarding winter shipping.

  • The winter shipping schedule would not be affected by concentrate destination, as additional nickel-copper-cobalt concentrate carriers would be provided to maintain the schedule.
  • There are no plans for winter shipping during construction, even if project approval comes in winter. Only in emergency situations, such as a major equipment failure, would VBNC need to ship during winter, and then only if the company had worked out a protocol with LIA and responsible authorities.

10.2.4 Approval of Winter Shipping

The Panel notes that VBNC does not require regulatory approval to ship in winter. Concentrates are now shipped from Raglan during the winter. The first such trip occurred in February and March 1998, and additional voyages are planned. Falconbridge plans to suspend shipping during seal whelping or hunting periods, which it will determine in consultation with local Aboriginal groups.

LIA insisted that no winter shipping should take place without its approval. As an element of impact and benefit agreements (IBAs), LIA has pursued negotiations with VBNC to set up a framework process for reaching an agreement-protocol on shipping (see Chapter 17). The agreement would determine whether winter shipping would occur and under what conditions. LIA stated that a shipping agreement is the only acceptable option for addressing Inuit opposition to winter shipping. During hearings, VBNC and LIA both indicated that such an agreement could be reached outside of an IBA. Inuit need trust, time and confidence in the safety of winter shipping. Some participants suggested that, as a first step, VBNC should take LIA representatives to observe the MV Arctic travelling in ice to Raglan to load concentrates. This would give the LIA representatives more knowledge of the behaviour of ice tracks and ice bridges.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The Panel recognizes the importance of landfast ice to the Inuit, who use it for traditional activities, and their concerns about the potential interference and dangers associated with winter shipping. VBNC has stated that it needs the flexibility associated with an extended shipping season to properly plan a viable and economical mining operation, especially during the underground phase.

First, the Panel realizes that, until the operation actually begins, VBNC cannot accurately predict the behaviour of concentrate in storage. Because of its commitment not to ship in April and May, however, it has assumed that it can solve any problems associated with storage of up to two months. Therefore, if winter shipping did not take place, the storage facility would be empty at the end of the operating period, roughly by the end of December, and a shutdown would take place until the beginning of April. The storage area would fill gradually in April and May, until the first concentrate vessels arrived.

VBNC has stated that, during the start-up period of approximately two to three years, the mill would produce at a rate "equivalent" to six months of operation. While production may extend beyond six months at a rate somewhat below mill capacity, there is little likelihood that more than nine months would be required and a shutdown would be possible. Although the Panel has previously expressed concerns about this level of production for such a short period, VBNC plans to produce 20,000 tonnes per day (tpd) for an equivalent nine-month period for the remaining life of the Ovoid. If all goes well and this can be done in nine months, a shutdown would still be possible. However, operating problems or the introduction of lower grade material from the underground may require VBNC to extend that period. The shipping requirement may be somewhat less than nine voyages, however. Based on present plans for the underground, the mill would need to operate year round and winter shipping would be required if VBNC hasn't solved storage problems.

In considering the economic justification for winter shipping, the Panel notes that the delay in cash flow stemming from delaying the supply of concentrates would be most significant early in the life of the operation. The additional cost of storing concentrate and operating supplies would be constrained mainly by the increase in production during the four years the Ovoid runs at maximum production.

Using a precautionary approach, however, the Panel is not prepared to recommend that winter shipping never occur, because there is still time to study concentrate behaviour and the feasibility of winter shipping. VBNC does not plan to begin winter shipping until at least four years after the Project begins, and winter shipping might not be essential to the operation until sometime after that. The Panel concludes that this period would give VBNC time to define the problems and develop solutions that would benefit all stakeholders.

Recommendation 33

The Panel recommends that VBNC implement a program, in conjunction with LIA and regulators, to explore the requirement for and viability of winter shipping through landfast ice, which should include the following:

  • additional research into concentrate behaviour and measures to lengthen storage time as operating volumes of concentrate become available;
  • additional study of the behaviour of ship tracks in ice, based on experience from the Raglan operation; and
  • trial voyages by concentrate carriers during initial operating years, under differing winter conditions, to examine the actual behaviour of landfast ice and to assess the safety of such an operation.

Recommendation 34

The Panel recommends that VBNC undertake further modelling studies of the performance limitations of candidate vessels for navigating in ice, and further evaluate their ice navigation performance limitations, including shaft horsepower, hull strengthening, ice-ingestion hazards and ability to operate in ballast condition close to load displacement draft.

Recommendation 35

The Panel recommends that VBNC incorporate the following elements into the Marine Transportation Management Plan to ensure the safety of vessels while shipping in landfast or pack ice:

  • establish a dedicated coordination centre for all shipping to and from the Project area and for all phases of the project;
  • review and adjust shipping plans before the ice season starts to reflect the availability of icebreaker resources and ice conditions;
  • before allowing ships to enter pack ice, ensure that they have sufficient strength and power to operate in ice, that crews are competent in ice and that icebreaker support is readily available, so that such ships are not beset in ice and forced into an uncharted area;
  • provide an ice information system that extends to the limits of pack ice along the route planned for the vessel; and
  • establish protocols to ensure that the icebreaker commander and bulk carrier master reach consensus about procedures to be adhered to during escort, before the ship enters the ice.

10.3 Ship Routing Considerations

VBNC indicated that the key factors affecting the choice of a shipping route include the availability of hydrographic information, the need for a route that does not require demanding route changes or passage near dangerous shoals, and the location of important ecological sites, such as seal whelping locations or bird breeding colonies. The Panel notes that all three of these factors have certainly imposed severe constraints on the route to Edward's Cove.

10.3.1 Hydrographic Information

The proposed shipping route is shown on page 84. The route from the Hens and Chickens to the vicinity of Whale Island is based largely on traditional routing to Nain and the availability of hydrographic information for the area. The Panel notes that the level of hydrographic information available for the Labrador coast can at best be described as grossly inadequate. As outlined by DFO, of the 49 charts serving inshore Labrador, 18 are based on British Admiralty and French sources from before the early 1900s, 24 on US sources from the 1940s and 1950s, and 5 on German sources.

To overcome that problem along the shipping route, VBNC contracted for independent hydrographic surveys and, in conjunction with the Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS), charts are available for the proposed route to Edward's Cove. CHS recommends enhancing the source data used to compile these charts (5051 and 5052) to ensure that they meet modern hydrographic survey standards and the draught requirements for vessels envisioned for the Project. While there are no known significant problems with these charts at present, they cannot be deemed problem free until the recommended enhancements are completed. VBNC agrees that this would be done.

There are, however, considerable "white spaces" along the route where no hydrographic surveys are available. CHS has recommended that additional hydrographic surveys of these neighbouring areas be undertaken in the interests of ship safety, environmental response, search and rescue operations, and icebreaker operations. VBNC agrees but considers charting to be a CHS responsibility.

10.3.2 Alternate Routes

Environment Canada and others stated that VBNC should consider alternatives to the eastern portion of the proposed route. The route from Whale Island to the south of Paul's Island necessitates several course alterations and interacts with important hunting routes from Nain to the Sina. No route completely avoids important ecological sites or hunting routes, but alternate routes allow for choices based on weather and on changing marine mammal or bird concentrations, and ensure that disturbances are not concentrated at any particular site.

Again, alternate routes raise charting considerations. VBNC stated that it was considering an alternate, more direct route but that only preliminary hydrographic work has been carried out to assess such a route.

10.3.3 Pilotage and Navigation

The proposed shipping route into Edward's Cove in some locations is narrow and several turns have to be negotiated. Transport Canada evaluated the route and concluded that it would be acceptable only if modern navigational aids were in place. It was also concerned that a ship beset in pack ice could be carried into rocks, shoals and small islands. Transport Canada said that personnel with local knowledge of the area should be available to assist with transit to Edward's Cove. VBNC has stated that it would include local advisors on the marine management team.

The Atlantic Pilotage Authority would determine whether the shipping corridor is a compulsory or non-compulsory pilotage area once VBNC provides definitive information on the actual vessels selected. Such determinations are based entirely on ship safety criteria. The Panel understands that the master of a Canadian registered vessel using a route regularly can be authorized as a pilot. For vessels chartered on the spot market, the Pilotage Authority would provide a pilot on request.

10.3.4 Communications/Electronic Navigational Aids

The route assessment carried out by Transport Canada placed considerable emphasis on navigational aids to ensure vessel safety. CCG has provided a plan of navigational aids that must be in place before concentrate shipping starts and has recommended that VBNC and CCG negotiate the provision of those aids. VBNC stated that a single user should not have to provide the navigational aids, and that CCG is responsible for ensuring safe navigation.

CCG indicated that local, land-based navigational aids should be available to supplement modern electronic navigational devices. CCG recommended that all vessels possess an electronic charting display information system (ECDIS) and VBNC agreed. CCG also recommended the use of a differential global positioning system and said the system being established in Rigolet should provide adequate coverage for the Project area. Changes to domestic shipping regulations include the mandatory introduction of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System on February 1, 1999.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The Panel concludes that, while VBNC, Transport Canada and CCG have all stated the opinion that vessels of the proposed size can safely travel the route to Edward's Cove, strict safety devices and precautions must be followed to prevent accidental events. Adequate modern hydrographic charts would be one important factor. It would also be critical to provide modern electronic and fixed navigational aids and to ensure that all candidate vessels can use these aids. Local knowledge should be incorporated into approach planning and, in the case of chartered spot market vessels, pilots should be available for the trip.

There is debate as to who should pay for improved charts and navigational aids and for required maintenance. The Panel feels strongly that, given the inadequate level of marine services provided to date to the Labrador coast, Canada should bear a significant share of these costs. This is an area that could see other economic development, particularly increased shipping in conjunction with ecotourism and development of a national park. VBNC should be required to provide resources for infrastructure dealing directly with final approaches into Anaktalak Bay and Edward's Cove. The Panel suggests that the federal government consider developing cost-sharing policies based on the principle that, the closer the approach comes to serving a single client, the higher the proportion of the costs assumed by the client should be.

Recommendation 36

The Panel recommends that Canadian Hydrographic Service survey additional areas adjoining the proposed route in the interests of ship safety, environmental response, search and rescue operations, and icebreaker operations.

Recommendation 37

The Panel recommends that VBNC, in consultation with DFO and LIA, review one or more alternate shipping route(s) into Anaktalak Bay, and that hydrographic surveys and subsequent charting of these route(s) to modern Canadian Hydrographic Service hydrographic standards be carried out within the next three years.

Recommendation 38

The Panel recommends that the Atlantic Pilotage Authority declare Edward's Cove a compulsory pilotage area to ensure that non-Canadian vessels chartered on the spot market are required to carry a pilot with local knowledge.

Recommendation 39

The Panel recommends that, before shipping begins, VBNC install the best available electronic and fixed navigational aids, including a fixed tide gauge, to ensure precise vessel locating along the shipping route.

10.4 Chronic Spills and Accidental Events

10.4.1 Ballast Water

Presenters expressed concerns about the management of ballast water and the release of such water during loading operations in Edward's Cove.

In the EIS, VBNC identified the need for a ballast water management program to reduce the risk of introducing non-indigenous species into Anaktalak Bay and committed to developing such a program as part of its environmental management system. DFO concurred with the need for such a program. It listed several mitigative options, such as treatment before taking on or discharging ballast water, and mid-ocean exchanges. DFO indicated that the program should address the varying risks associated with different intake locations and with marine safety issues. DFO does not currently regulate ballast water, although ballast water has been identified as a priority concern under the new Oceans Act. Some ports in Canada have found other ways to enforce ballast water controls.

10.4.2 Cargo Loading Controls

Participants were also concerned about the safety of the concentrate cargoes. It is important that the moisture content of fine cargoes such as the concentrate be closely controlled, as such cargoes can liquefy and cause structural damage or stability problems for the ship. Moisture content must be tested to ensure it is within the Transportable Moisture Limit and cargoes above this limit must be carried in specially built ships. The onus is on the shipper to carry out testing but it is the responsibility of the port warden to ensure the safety of the cargo. While a port warden is not mandatory for domestic cargoes, the Panel understands that Canadian masters are authorized to act as port wardens in those situations. Problems with concentrate oxidation should become better understood over time but, again, the Panel understands that concentrate carriers have nitrogen flood systems to prevent on-board problems.

10.4.3 Concentrate Spills

Participants were concerned about the environmental effects of concentrate spills. Such spills could occur as chronic releases during loading at Edward's Cove and or as an accidental event. The Panel notes that a major release of concentrate could only happen as a result of a catastrophic breakup of the concentrate vessel.

VBNC carried out two modelling exercises that included releases of 25,000 tonnes of concentrate, one at the dock in Edward's Cove and the other at the east end of Paul's Island. In Edward's Cove it is predicted that, because of the low currents, most of the material would sink in place and only 1 percent would be dispersed beyond the immediate area after eight weeks. For such a localized spill, a large portion of the material would presumably be recovered but smothering and long-term contamination of local organisms would occur.

For the spill at the end of Paul's Island, the model included a bottom current of 0.25 m/s. It is predicted that the coarse fraction (45 percent of the material) would remain within 30 km of the spill but that the finer fraction would be dispersed beyond that. DFO argued that, given the dynamic nature of the marine environment along the shipping route, the model used overly simplistic assumptions, particularly for the Paul's Island scenario.

DFO was also concerned that metal concentrations could persist at high levels for extended periods, causing toxicity effects that would be worse than the physical smothering. Elevated toxic concentrations in the spill area would have large-scale impact if distributed widely in a high-energy environment, and contaminated sediments may also influence colonization and recolonization of the habitat. DFO suggested that this could lead to effects greater than those indicated in the EIS. Experience with the cleanup of contaminated dredge spoils indicates that recovery processes frequently liberate even greater levels of contaminants into the surrounding environment.

DFO recommended that concentrate spill modelling be extended to evaluate the effects of spills in other areas along the shipping route where physical oceanographic parameters would cause more widespread distribution of the concentrate spilled. The effects of such scenarios on marine organisms in the area should be considered.

VBNC placed considerable emphasis on concentrate spill prevention, environmental protection, engineering design and inspection, and operational training and practice.

The Panel concludes that chronic spilling of concentrate in Edward's Cove is the more likely problem. This could be controlled only through the design of the loading system and through strict dust control. The concentrates would be stored at 5-percent moisture but drying during concentrate oxidation would occur. The Panel notes that the type of "runaway" spill experienced recently at Raglan is not likely to occur, but training and care during loading would be essential.

10.4.4 Oil Spills

All ships and docks require an approved Oil Pollution Emergency Plan (OPEP) in accordance with the regulations of the Canada Shipping Act, as a contingency measure in case an incident occurs. CCG has approved the current temporary oil handling facility at Edward's Cove, but it would have to recertify the facility if the facility becomes permanent. The plan for vessels, known as the Shipboard Oil Pollution Emergency Plan (SOPEP), is a ship-specific document and must also be certified by CCG. Owners of ships and docks must also have a contract with an approved response organization that would respond to a major incident. For eastern Canada, including Labrador, this organization is the Eastern Canada Response Corporation (ECRC), based in St. John's. Vessels operating in Canadian waters are not required to carry pollution containment and clean-up equipment on board.

CCG maintains a 10,000-tonne spill response depot independently of ECRC in St. John's, for both inshore and offshore response. It also has a small depot at Goose Bay with a 150-tonne capacity. The CCG response centre becomes involved only when a spill source is unknown or when the contracted response organization does not respond effectively. If a polluter is unwilling or unable to respond, CCG will manage the cleanup and seek to recover costs.

VBNC contends that, with the emphasis it has placed on safety measures and emergency preparedness, the risk of marine accidents would be low. VBNC characterized the probability of a major fuel oil release resulting from a ship being damaged in ice or open water as very low, although it did not assign a numerical probability to that event. The estimated probability of a small loading/discharge spill of less than four tonnes is one in 29 years.

VBNC presented modelling results for what it characterized as credible worst case spill events for a location at Edward's Cove and another east of Paul's Island. In both cases, VBNC modelled a 400-tonne oil spill in open water in July and a 200-tonne oil spill in fast ice in March. It also considered the behaviour of a 200-tonne oil spill in pack ice around Whale Island.

An open water spill in Edward's Cove would be trapped within the confines of Anaktalak Bay. Its rate of spread east and west would depend on tidal conditions at the time of the spill. VBNC estimates that there is only a 1-percent probability that it would escape to the outer part of Anaktalak Bay within five days. Modelling of the same size of spill off the southeast coast of Paul's Island indicated that there was only a 5-percent probability of it extending more than 8 km east-west along the southeast shore after five days, and a 1-percent probability that it would extend west into Anaktalak Bay, or east or southeast to a distance of perhaps 25 km, over the same time period.

In open water, 10 to 15 percent of the spilled diesel would soon evaporate. In stormy conditions outside the islands, turbulence would break the slick into particles, which would be entrained in the water column. In more protected waters, much of the spill would be contained within channels and between islands, where the possibility of entrainment in the water column would be less likely to happen.

Spills at the same locations in March in landfast ice would be more confined, as the fuel released would behave differently under ice and would not be transported by wind. A scenario for a 200-tonne oil spill in pack ice near Whale Island indicated that the fuel would solidify and be ground into particles that would become dispersed and gradually incorporated into the ice and carried southwards with it. After three weeks, when it might be near Belle Isle in decaying pack ice, the remaining weathered oil would be entirely dispersed in the water column.

VBNC proposes the following mitigation measures.

As part of VBNC's Marine Management Plan, ships would have a quality management system consisting of a comprehensive set of operating manuals, based on the International Safety Management Code, that would describe routine and emergency practices and procedures. Procedures manuals guide both ship and shore personnel in safe operating practices and planned response capability. Required procedures include the SOPEP referred to above.

The ECRC is certified for a 10,000-tonne response capability, with the nearest depot in St. John's rated at 2500 tonnes. Additional equipment can be brought in from other east coast locations, as required. The Canada Shipping Act allows response organizations a maximum of 72 hours to respond to outlying clients, and it was suggested at hearings that response times could be less than 12 hours under favourable conditions. VBNC stated that it intends that all shipping contracts include a condition that would allow the company to activate emergency response if a ship operator failed to do so.

VBNC expects to have 800 m of boom on shore at Edward's Cove for early response, with more available from ECRC. Booms could be deployed in open water situations to protect certain sensitive areas. VBNC indicated that the information collected from 780 km of shoreline mapping adjacent to the Project site could be used to support contingency planning. Chemical dispersants are not considered effective, so they would probably not be used. VBNC characterizes residual effects of an accidental oil spill in some cases as moderate (significant).

DFO asserted that the potential for oil spills is more serious than the EIS indicates, and that the oil spill modelling was limited in scope and not based on worst case scenarios. The model for Paul's Island relied on minimal current measurements, despite the dynamics and complexity of water movement and bathymetry in the area. The Edward's Cove models assumed no net currents outside the cove itself. The scenarios did not include the effects of ice movement and breakup on dispersal, and did not consider the impacts of a full 5000-tonne loss in Anaktalak Bay in open water or the impacts of a major loss in winter.

CCG advised the Panel that response planning would involve each of the parties with legal liabilities: VBNC, the shipowner, the port operator, and the response organization. For the purposes of tactical response and priority setting, response planning could include stakeholders through advisory committees. CCG maintains a database of shoreline sensitivity mapping, including wildlife and harvesting areas, for inshore protection and cleanup.

DFO recommended that

  • VBNC carry out improved modelling of oil spill scenarios, taking into account sea ice as marine mammal habitat, seasonality and a more detailed consideration of the effects on marine mammals (see also Chapter 11, Marine Mammals);
  • OPEPs be submitted to CCG for review once a new oil handling facility is complete;
  • vessels carry a minimum amount of oil spill response equipment including boom, skimmers, sorbents and storage; and
  • VBNC provide a support vessel at Edward's Cove to respond to minor incidents at the wharf or along the route, and to maintain navigational aids (CCG envisages a small work boat capable of handling inshore oil spill booms and skimmers, transporting technicians to navigational aid sites along the route, and supporting other functions normally associated with a major marine operation; the vessel would also be able to assist CCG in search and rescue operations by becoming a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary).

LIA questioned the appropriateness of the worst case scenarios identified, in terms of both the likely quantities of spilled oil and the times and locations of such spills, and noted the lack of quantitative probability estimates for oil spills. It considered the modelling of oil spill dispersion and fate inadequate, in part because there was insufficient consideration of currents and ice. LIA also noted that VBNC did not consider the cumulative effects of hydrocarbon releases from Project-related shipping in Anaktalak Bay. LIA recommended that these deficiencies be addressed, and also that an appropriate vessel be positioned to respond to a spill within 12 hours.

VBNC characterized the 5000-tonne case as an "incredible" worst case scenario as it would involve the near-instantaneous release of the entire cargo, whereas catastrophic spills rarely release more than 20 percent. VBNC considers that formal probability modelling of rare events is not very accurate, and would not be helpful in responding to them. It did, however, undertake to continue developing spill scenarios as part of its response planning and OPEP implementation. VBNC agreed that response equipment must be close by, but asserted that it would be better located at Edward's Cove than on a ship. It agreed to provide a work boat in Edward's Cove. CCG review of OPEPs is a regulatory requirement and VBNC agreed to it.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The Panel considers that VBNC's emphasis on safety measures and emergency preparedness is the best way to minimize the risk of marine accidents. If the appropriate navigational aids, ice and weather forecasting systems, and operating and emergency procedures are in place and properly maintained, the probability of a vessel incident resulting in a concentrate or oil spill is low.

The Panel concludes that concentrate losses at the loading dock could be a problem with localized effects, if proper handling and dust control measures are not implemented. VBNC would need to monitor loading operations and to improve loading procedures if it detected problems.

Recommendation 40

The Panel recommends that VBNC integrate concentrate loading procedures and controls into the Marine Transportation Management Plan in consultation with Transport Canada. VBNC must provide the services of a port warden when required, especially when loading copper concentrate on non-Canadian vessels. VBNC should also monitor dockside concentrate handling operations, and take corrective action if it observes chronic concentrate losses.

The Panel agrees that a ballast water management program would be needed, and that compliance with it should be made an integral part of all shipping contracts. A precautionary approach would be essential because it might well be impossible to mitigate any adverse effects after a non-indigenous species had been introduced. Therefore, the objective of the program should be to ensure that no ship discharges untreated ballast water into Anaktalak Bay that originates from beyond a defined regional ecological boundary.

Recommendation 41

The Panel recommends that, before any Project-related shipping begins, VBNC be required to develop a ballast water management program in consultation with DFO. This program should give a high degree of ecological protection to marine waters near the Project. Requirements of the program should be made part of all shipping contracts, which should include a financial penalty for non-compliance.

The Panel notes that the proposed oil cargoes are certainly larger than the current level of cargoes transported on the Labrador coast. At the same time, they are also much smaller than the large tanker loads that have been involved in the most catastrophic ocean spills, and the product carried would be more easily dispersed. There is limited utility in developing formal probability estimates, but a precautionary approach suggests that response planning should assume that a significant spill would occur at some time during the life of the Project. Further modelling, incorporating various factors identified by participants, should continue as a basis for emergency response planning. The Panel considers that VBNC should develop and model worst case scenarios not only to enhance emergency planning, but also to enhance public understanding of the probability, extent and consequences of a catastrophic event.

Emergency response planning should focus on a "credible" worst case scenario. Advance planning for boom deployment, oil slick recovery and shore cleanup would require a response plan establishing priorities for protecting specific coastal locations and shoreline types (based in part on existing sensitivity mapping), and incorporating agreement on appropriate clean-up methods. This plan should be at least partially based on existing sensitivity mapping and agreements on appropriate clean-up methods. This planning should involve, not only the legally liable parties, but also potentially affected communities and economic interests. The Environmental Advisory Board (EAB) would be an appropriate framework for ongoing planning and response involving those parties.

Recommendation 42

The Panel recommends that VBNC implement its proposed safety and emergency preparedness measures with respect to oil spills.

Recommendation 43

The Panel recommends that VBNC and DFO reach agreement on a credible worst case scenario for oil spills, and that all responsible parties then base their oil spill response planning on this scenario. Response equipment should be positioned, response plans reviewed and updated, and emergency preparedness maintained and tested accordingly, throughout the shipping component of the Project. VBNC and LIA should also include response planning in their proposed bilateral shipping agreement. VBNC should continue to develop oil spill scenarios and fate modelling and should incorporate DFO and public concerns, as appropriate, in its ongoing emergency response planning. Emergency response plans should include specific provisions for effects monitoring, and evaluation of the effectiveness of response measures, that would begin immediately if a major spill occurred. VBNC should ensure that its shippers are fully aware of and prepared to implement this requirement.

The Panel was advised that if a spill occurred under stormy conditions (i.e. waves over 3 m), containment and recovery would likely be ineffective. Emergency preparedness and rapid shore-based response capability would be the most important strategies for minimizing the effects of a spill. However, the nearest major response centre is a minimum of 12 hours away in favourable conditions, and relatively little equipment would be located on shore at Edward's Cove. If an incident occurred, it might well happen under conditions of darkness, fog or storm. Enhanced shipboard capability is therefore desirable as a first line of response, even though the potential for early containment and recovery would still be low under adverse circumstances.

Recommendation 44

The Panel recommends that VBNC require ships carrying fuel to the site to carry oil spill response equipment on board, including booms, skimmers, sorbents and storage.

Recommendation 45

The Panel recommends that VBNC provide a support vessel at Edward's Cove to respond to minor incidents, provide docking support, maintain navigational aids and serve as a first line of response to a major oil spill along the shipping route.

A comprehensive shore-based clean-up strategy and plan should be developed before shipping begins. The Panel considers that the vulnerability of Voisey's Bay to an oil spill occurring along the proposed shipping route is low. However, because of its estuaries and mudflats, where oil could remain in harmful form for a long time, it is a particularly sensitive area, and emergency planning should take this into account.

Recommendation 46

The Panel recommends that the Canadian Coast Guard, with the cooperation and assistance of VBNC, and in consultation with LIA, update and complete existing sensitivity mapping of shoreline types, critical coastal habitat, key harvesting areas and other areas of local importance, as a basis for cooperative planning of response strategies and priorities.