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Oil spill simulation shows far-reaching results

Oil spilled in Vancouver harbour could reach as far north as Haida Gwaii, according to results of a research project launched by two environmental groups last fall.

In October, the Georgia Straight Alliance and Raincoast Conservation Foundation dropped hundreds of yellow plywood drift cards between Vancouver and Victoria -- a route oil tankers take from Burrard Inlet to the open ocean. This drift card method is one used by the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration and others to simulate the trajectory of oil and other pollutants on water.

Ross Dixon, policy and program manager with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, told The Tyee they received an email last week from a citizen in the tiny community of Tlell, Haida Gwaii, with a photo of a drift card he had found on his morning walk.

"It's a fairly significant indication of how far oil could potentially spread," said Dixon. "The card washed up about 1,000 kilometres from where it was dropped."

As of Dec. 12, said Dixon, 458 cards had been found -- a 28 per cent recovery rate. The organizations created a website to show where drift cards were dropped, and where they have landed. The vast majority have washed up in the Straight of Georgia and Straight of Juan de Fuca. Six have been discovered near Tofino.

The groups launched the project in response to Kinder Morgan's proposal to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline system, which carries Alberta crude to terminals in the Burrard Inlet. The expansion would increase capacity by an additional quarter-million barrels a day, potentially boosting tanker traffic as well.

The company has filed an application with the National Energy Board, and must go before a public hearing. Those who wish to participate in the hearing must apply to do so, and are required to either have relevant expertise or be directly affected by the proposed project. The deadline to apply as a participant is midnight today.

Dixon said the project highlights "the reality of who could be affected by a spill in the marine environment."

Colleen Kimmett is an editor at The Tyee.

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