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Entrepreneur: Nova Scotia not ready to deal with offshore oil spills

by Robert Devet

David Prior, a Nova Scotia entrepreneur, believes that current technologies to deal with offshore oil spills are ineffective. He says he's received more interest in his solutions abroad than in Canada. Photo contributed.
David Prior, a Nova Scotia entrepreneur, believes that current technologies to deal with offshore oil spills are ineffective. He says he's received more interest in his solutions abroad than in Canada. Photo contributed.

K'JIPUKTUK (Halifax) - Offshore oil spills are nasty and cleaning them up is no easy feat.

David Prior, a Nova Scotia-based entrepreneur, believes he has developed the clean-up technology that can make a difference. But he says he feels ignored by both oil and gas industry and government regulators.

"Regulators and industry seem happy to have a 95 per cent failure rate," Prior says "There is no will to do better. They learn nothing from one spill to the next."

Prior claims that his oil skimmer vessel technology with vacuum and pumping units is much more effective than current approaches and that it will work even in high waves or thick ice conditions.

His company, Extreme Spill Technology, developed a small prototype in 2006. In 2011, the federal Canadian Innovation Commercialization Program invested $400,000 when sea trials in rough water, performed outside Halifax, proved promising.

Prior built a larger vessel with that money – a vessel that is now collecting dust in a Canadian Coast Guard storage shed.

Prior believes this should concern not just Atlantic Canadians. It should bother anybody whose shores and lakes are at risk because of tanker traffic, pipeline breakages or oil rig accidents.

Oil spills damage marine environments and devastate communities that rely on fishing or tourism.

Some, like the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico four years ago, or the Exxon Valdez oil spill 25 years ago, have immediate name recognition.

There are other spills we don't hear about. Offshore oil spills happen all the time, often without making headines, says Prior.

"It only takes 200 tonnes of oil to wipe out hundreds of kilometers of coast. That's just the fuel tank of a small ship. And shipwrecks often happen very close to shore," Prior cautions.

How ready are we if a spill were to occur off our coast?

Not ready at all, says Prior.

"The window of opportunity to apply chemical dispersants is very short, it's only about 24 hours before the oil starts to thicken up and it becomes resistant to the chemicals," Prior explains.

The use of dispersants is the main line of defense in case of any open water oil spill.

"Suppose the accident happens at midnight, it takes a few hours for the crew to go out, then the planes have to be made ready, quite possibly they need to install the equipment, the planes need to be loaded... "

And weather is likely to be a factor. The Atlantic in winter can be very nasty.

Using chemical dispersants is harmful as well, Prior argues.

Prior refers to the use of chemical dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere to make that point. Nearly 2 million gallons of dispersals were applied after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Many scientists argue that dispersants such as Corexit should be banned until its toxic effects to humans and aquatic organisms are better understood.

Meanwhile, it looks like David Prior will have to continue to fight his uphill battle on his own.

The regulator of Nova Scotia's offshore oil and gas industry, the Canada - Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, told the Halifax Media Co-op in an email that it is aware of Prior's technology. But it will not look at it until the industry adopts it, the email suggests.

Environment Canada wrote that it intends to look at alternative response measures to spills, but that it is in no position to offer further comment at this time.


See also:

Making it go away: oilspills, corexit and Nova Scotia's offshore

Blue whale, black oil and the race for the Gulf

Offshore exploration too close to Marine Protected Area

Drilling for oil off the coast of Nova Scotia

Offshore seismic testing puts wildlife at risk, biologist fears

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert



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