Category Archives: Fish and wildlife

Nearly a year and a half later: Here’s why Gogama’s Makami River ‘will never be pristine again’

Repost from CBC News

Here’s why Gogama’s Makami River ‘will never be pristine again’

Small town pushing Ministry of the Environment to require CN to continue clean-up
By CBC News, Aug 10, 2016 7:33 AM ET
Gogama Fire Chief Mike Benson stands by the bridge over the Makami River where an oil train burst into flames in March 2015.
Gogama Fire Chief Mike Benson stands by the bridge over the Makami River where an oil train burst into flames in March 2015. (Erik White/CBC )

The fencing around the site of the Gogama train derailment is coming down today, as the clean-up from the oil spill has been declared complete. But residents say their local waters are still contaminated with oil.

Sheens of oil are commonly seen on the Makami River, over which the oil train derailed in March 2015, as well as lake Minisinakwa, on which the town is built.

People have also found several dead fish in recent weeks and wondered if it’s connected to the spill.

“I understand it’s never going to be pristine again,” says Gogama Fire Chief Mike Benson. “There was no sheen, there was no dead fish, there was no oil spill on Mar. 6, 2015.”

“So, we got to try to get it closer than that. Let’s get it to the point that there’s no fish dying. And I’m not going to die of throat cancer in five years because I’ve been eating the fish out of this lake.”

Benson said CN rail is willing to continue the clean-up, but has been told by the Ministry of Environment that the work is satisfactory.

CN has agreed to let more soil samples be taken from the site and be sent away for independent testing, along with some of the dead fish, at the company’s expense.

In a statement the railroad said that “CN recognizes that local citizens have identified areas of concern, where they believe further clean up should be done in order to protect human and fish populations. CN is today on the ground in Gogama, working with local residents to identify specific areas.”

Gogama derailment site
After a year and a half, the fencing around the site of the train derailment and oil spill near Gogama will come down and it will once again be open to the public. (Erik White/CBC )

Benson said he was surprised to find out over the last year and a half that the railroad was responsible for the environment testing, not the Ministry of the Environment.

“I can’t believe our government tells the fox to test the chickens,” Benson told a public meeting of over 100 people at the Gogama Community Centre, which ministry officials were invited to attend.

“Because that’s basically what they were doing. They were saying ‘OK, you got a mess. Tell us when it’s clean.'”​

Benson said Ministry of Environment officials are aware of the oil slicks in the water, but don’t seem concerned.

“We were going down the lake and we saw oil and he said ‘Well, just because there’s oil doesn’t mean it’s necessarily dangerous,” he said.

Ministry officials may not have been at the meeting on Tuesday night, but they were in Gogama the following day to take water samples on Lake Minisinakwa.

In a statement, the ministry said it “takes the concerns expressed by the citizens of Gogama and Mattagami First Nation very seriously and greatly appreciates direct reports from the citizens of their observations.  These reports enable our staff to respond in a timely manner to collect further information that can be used in guiding further action as appropriate.”

The ministry statement also said that further fish testing in the Gogama area is planned for the fall, but reiterated that the fish tested last fall showed no signs of contamination.

oil sheen in Makami River
Gogama residents regularly see oil floating in the Makami River and other waters downstream from the oil spill. (Erik White/CBC )

Band councillor suggests a protest to shut down the railroad

CN officials had planned to attend the meeting, but were called away at the last minute.

After expressing their frustrations for over an hour, the crowd erupted in applause, when Chad Boissoneau suggested that one way to get attention would be to “shut down” the railroad with a protest.

He is a band councillor in the nearby Mattagami First Nation and has headed up efforts to keep up in the pickerel population in area lakes.

“The clean-up shouldn’t be determined by what MOE feels is satisfactory, the clean-up should be determined by the community members and what’s satisfactory to them. Because we’re the ones that have to live here,” says Boissoneau, adding that oil has yet to be sighted in the waters by the first nation, which is downstream from the spill.

Several people from Timmins, which draws its drinking water from the Mattagami River downstream from the spill, also attended the meeting and there was mention of how these waters run all the way to the James Bay Coast.

public meeting
Over 100 people attended a public meeting at the Gogama Community Centre on Aug. 9 to express their frustrations with the oil clean-up. (Erik White/CBC )

Towards the end of the meeting there was talk of circulating a petition that Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas could table at Queen’s Park and including these downstream communities.

Gelinas said until now people in Gogama were always hesitant to draw too much attention to the oil spill, fearing it would hurt the local tourism industry. But many lodges are reporting a drop in business anyway.

“There was always this reluctance to talk about it too much outside of Gogama,” she says.

It’s hard to get Toronto politicians to care about a little town called Gogama

“If you’re ready to sound the alarm bells, I have no doubt that the people from Sudbury will support you, the people from Timmins will support you and the people from everywhere in Ontario will support you if you’re ready to reach out and speak loud.”

Gelinas said she too has had trouble getting government officials to give time to the concerns of a small town called Gogama.

“If this environmental disaster had happened closer to Toronto, things would have been handled very differently,” she said at the meeting.

Protest against crude oil on Grays Harbor draws hundreds

Repost from The Daily World

Protest against crude oil on Grays Harbor draws hundreds

By Bob Kirkpatrick, July 9, 2016 – 1:30am
Fawn Sharp, center, president of the Quinault Indian Nation, leads protest marchers to Hoquiam City Hall on Friday. (BOB KIRKPATRICK | The Daily World)

Supporters from around the region showed up in full force to protest a proposal to ship crude oil through Grays Harbor and support the Quinault Indian Nation’s Shared Waters, Shared Values Rally in Hoquiam Friday afternoon.

Hundreds gathered at the 9th Street Dock to welcome the tribe’s flotilla of traditional canoes, kayaks and boats and to band together to protest the proposed expansion of fuel storage facilities at the Port of Grays Harbor.

“No crude oil” was the chant as they embarked on a four-block march to city hall to make their stand.

“We area at a critical place here in Grays Harbor, a decision is going to be made soon,” Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Nation said. “The future of the harbor is going to go in one direction or the other. We need to go in the direction of no crude oil in Grays Harbor … forever!”

Sharp told supporters at the rally they needed to consider what was at stake should Westway, an existing fuel storage facility on Port of Grays Harbor property in Hoquiam, be allowed to expand its site to accommodate crude oil shipments.

“We commissioned an economic study and concluded about 10,000 jobs are at risk … tribal and non-tribal fishermen and tourism related (jobs) are in jeopardy,” she said. “The general health and welfare of all citizens in Grays Harbor County will all be compromised by this decision.”

Sharp said the Quinault Nation has an obligation to defend the salmon and natural resources that would also be heavily affected if a large oil spill occurred in local waters.

“The great Billy Frank Jr. (a now-deceased leader of the Nisqually tribe and a fierce champion for tribal fishing rights and the environment) at one point said the salmon deserve to be in healthy waters,” she said. “They can’t get out of the water themselves, so it’s up to us to stand up for them and our precious resources.”

Sharp emphatically stated to the crowd that it is also the duty of the Quinault Nation to pass on the legacy of pure, unpolluted waters to future generations, and said that is why they are taking such a strong stance in this matter.

Hoquiam Mayor Jasmine Dickhoff was on hand to welcome the protesters to city hall.

“I appreciate all the time and effort put in for this demonstration,” Dickhoff said. “I got involved in government because I felt great pride in the possibilities ahead of us as a community … not just here in Hoquiam, but with all of our neighbors. This rally is a testament of shared values and I want to thank you all for coming and sharing your voices and concerns to implement change.”

Larry Thevik, vice president of the Washington Dungeness Crab Fishermen’s Association, was also on hand to express his concerns with the proposed expansion of crude oil storage.

“As everyone knows, Grays Harbor needs more jobs, but our members have determined the benefits from the proposed oil terminals simply do not measure up to the risks they bear,” he said. “Grays Harbor is the fourth largest estuary in the nation, a major nursery area for Dungeness crab, and an essential fish habitat for many species. It is also an area particularly sensitive to the adverse effect of an oil spill.”

Thevik said an oil spill in the harbor would lead to a catastrophic loss of habitat and could potentially impact an area much larger than Grays Harbor.

“The Nestucca oil barge that was hauled off of Grays Harbor spilled about 231,000 gallons, killed 56,000 sea birds, and left a sheen that was seen from Oregon to the tip of Vancouver Island,” he said. “Tankers that would move through Grays Harbor County would be hauling up to 15 million gallons.”

Thevik said the state Department of Ecology claims Washington State has the best spill response in the nation. But he fears the response plan in Grays Harbor wouldn’t measure up.

“No matter how high the paperwork is stacked, the oil spill response plan and spill response assets are simply not going to take care of the problem,” he said. “Booming, which is the first response when a spill occurs, loses its effectiveness in strong current and rough waters. … Currents in Grays Harbor routinely exceed 3.5 knots. Fall and winter gales blow strong and often and unless a spill occurs during daylight hours, with a slack tide in calm seas, booming will offer little defense against a spill.”

He reiterated the potential for damages from an oil spill would far exceed the benefits the terminal would provide and that the profits would go elsewhere and the risks would remain.

Thevik acknowledged tribal and non-tribal fishermen often disagree on how to allocate shared waters and shared marine sources, but said both are united in their resolve to preserve those resources.

“Our survival and future depend on that,” he said. “Working together, we the citizens of Grays Harbor and others across the state must stand up against sacrifice and reclaim our destiny. We must speak with one voice, take our fate back from the hands of poorly informed decision makers and from big oil and just say no!”

Earlier announcement from KPLU 88.5 Jazz, Blues and NPR News

Opponents Of Crude Oil Terminals Rally In Grays Harbor County


Opponents of plans to ship crude oil by rail and barge through Grays Harbor in Southwest Washington will rally in Hoquiam on Friday. They say the risks far outweigh the benefits of the proposal.

The rally was organized by the Quinault Indian Nation and will begin on the water with a flotilla of traditional tribal canoes as well as kayaks and fishing vessels.

The tribe’s president, Fawn Sharp, says they’ll also march to Hoquiam’s City Hall and host an open mic to voice their opposition for bringing oil trains to the area.

“The trains run through our ancestral territory to Grays Harbor and a good portion of the rail tracks are right along the Chehalis River,” she said.

She says the river and the harbor are areas where the Quinault exercise their treaty fishing rights and adding oil cars onto the trains and barges there is too risky.

“If there were either an explosion or an oil spill, that could wipe out not only our fishing industry, but the non-Indian, non-treaty fishing industry,” Sharp said, adding “any damage to that resource would not only be for this generation, but we believe it could take a good 70-100 years to restore what could potentially be lost.”

That’s why their protest will include non-tribal commercial fishermen as well as activists from all over the state. They’re calling on the city of Hoquiam to deny permits for two potential oil terminals.

Among the speakers at the rally will be Larry Thevik, the vice president of the Washington Dungeness Crab Fishermen’s Association. He says Grays Harbor is a delicate ecosystem that would be devastated by a spill.

“All of the activities that depend on that healthy estuary would be in jeopardy. But I’m also concerned, as is evidenced by the recent train derailment in Mosier, for the public safety of our citizens and the communities through which these trains would roll,” Thevik said.  “If we didn’t have the terminals, we wouldn’t have the trains.”

He says he lost a season to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and was also here in 1988 when the Nestucca barge spilled bunker oil near Grays Harbor – and the effects were devastating.

Backers of the proposals say they’re cooperating with the Washington State Department of Ecology and the city of Hoquiam and would build them with the highest commitment to safety. And they argue expansions for crude oil transport would provide new jobs and tax revenue for Grays Harbor.

“We’re confident that we can build this project in a way that protects our neighbors and the environment we all value,” said David Richey, a spokesman for Westway Grays Harbor, in an emailed statement.

The final environmental impact statement for two terminals combined (one from Westway and one from Renewable Energy Group, which was formerly “Imperium”) is expected to be released in August or September. After that, a permit decision by the city of Hoquiam could come within 7 days.

A looming disaster – Crude oil running on Butte County’s railways poses a threat to local, state watersheds

Repost from the Chico News & Review

A looming disaster – Crude oil running on Butte County’s railways poses a threat to local, state watersheds

By Dave Garcia, 03.10.16
DAVE GARCIA. The author, a longtime Oroville resident, is the spokesman for Frack-Free Butte County.

Scientists have found unprecedented levels of fish deformities in Canada’s Chaudière River following the Lac-Mégantic Bakken crude oil spill in 2013. This catastrophic train derailment, which killed 47 people and ravaged parts of the small town in Quebec, underscores the danger of spilled toxic crude oil getting into our waterways and affecting living organisms.

I find the Canadian government’s report very distressing—even for Butte County. That’s because, just last week, I observed a train of 97 railcars loaded with crude oil traveling through the Feather River Canyon and downtown Oroville.

The California Public Utilities Commission has designated this rail route as high risk because of its sharp curves and steep grade; it travels next to the Feather River, which feeds into Lake Oroville, an integral part of California’s domestic water supply.

If you think that railway shipping is safe, think back to 2014. That’s the year 14 railcars derailed, falling down into the canyon and spilling their loads of grain into the Feather River. The last thing we need, especially in a time of drought, is crude oil poisoning the water of our second-largest reservoir.

In 2010, it took over $1 billion to clean up the Kalamazoo River crude oil spill. But you can never really clean up a crude oil spill in pristine freshwater, as the deformed fish from the Chaudière River reveal.

Keeping crude-oil-carrying railcars on the state’s tracks is simply not worth it. Less than 1 percent of California’s imported oil is transported by railway. Californians receive little benefit, but bear the risks to their communities and watersheds from this practice.

Since Lac-Mégantic, there have been nine more crude oil derailments, explosions and spills into waterways. We need to learn a lesson from those catastrophes. We must convey to our politicians—local, state and federal—our priority of protecting our communities, fisheries and waterways. Let’s not let what happened in Quebec happen in Butte County.

Fish deformities spiked after Lac-Mégantic oil spill, report says

Repost from The Star, Toronto, ONT

Fish deformities spiked after Lac-Mégantic oil spill, report says

Scientists have recorded an “unprecedented” spike in the fish deformations in the wake of the deadly 2013 train derailment and oil spill in Lac-Mégantic, Que
Workers tend to an absorbent boom on the Chaudiere River near Lac-Megantic, Que. About 100,000 litres of crude oil is estimated to have washed into the river after the 2013 train derailment and settled as contaminated sediment on the riverbed.
Workers tend to an absorbent boom on the Chaudiere River near Lac-Megantic, Que. About 100,000 litres of crude oil is estimated to have washed into the river after the 2013 train derailment and settled as contaminated sediment on the riverbed. MICHEL HUNEAULT

By Allan Woods, Wed Feb 10 2016

MONTREAL—Scientists have recorded an “unprecedented” spike in the fish deformities in the wake of the deadly 2013 train derailment and oil spill in Lac-Mégantic, Que., according to a provincial government report.

The report into the effects of the disaster on the 185-km-long Chaudière River, which begins in Lac Mégantic, found that in some parts of the river as many as 47 per cent of the fish they collected had an external deformation.

The rate of deformations greatly surpassed that recorded in a similar fish population study in 1994. The study also found a “marked drop” in the river’s fish biomass, or total weight.

“There is no hypothesis other than the oil spill of July 6, 2013 that can explain these results,” says the report, which got little attention when it was released last November. It was brought to wider attention Wednesday when resurrected by Montreal’s Le Devoir newspaper.

The derailment and ensuing explosion, in which 47 people were killed, decimated the picturesque small town in eastern Quebec and turned its downtown strip and waterfront into an oil-soaked wasteland.

Workers drag an oil boom on Lac-Mégantic Tuesday afternoon following the massive derailment.
Workers drag an oil boom on Lac-Mégantic Tuesday afternoon following the massive derailment. LUCAS OLENIUK

The 72-car train was carrying nearly 8-million litres of highly combustible crude oil that was bound for a refinery in New Brunswick. An engine fire that occurred when the train was left unattended on the main tracks about 11 km from Lac-Mégantic resulted in the air brakes failing and the unattended train hurtling into town. It derailed near a popular bar, the site where most of the dead were found.

About 100,000 litres of crude oil is estimated to have washed into the Chaudière River and settled as contaminated sediment on the riverbed. The expert committee’s report said there are some encouraging signs that the worst contamination is limited to the first 10 km of the river, whereas traces were found some 80 km away in testing conducted right after the incident.

About 100,000 litres of crude oil is estimated to have washed into the Chaudière River.
About 100,000 litres of crude oil is estimated to have washed into the Chaudière River. STEEVE DUGUAY

But a whole ecosystem has been affected. The insects, worms and other organisms that live on the sediment and upon which fish feed were affected by the oil spill but are showing signs of recovery after testing conducted in 2014.

Crude oil coming to rest on the riverbed can prevent fish from accessing food and can result in the death of fish eggs or embryos. The population drop could also be attributable to other factors such as more active predators or lower reproduction rates, the report noted.

But the contaminated sediment is the most likely explanation for the alarmingly high rate of external deformities recorded among the sample of 900 fish collected for study. The most common problems were lesions and infection-induced breakdown of the fins, which can occur when a fish comes into direct contact with the sediment, leaving it vulnerable to bacteria, fungus and parasites that eat away at the tissue.

Among the more common deformities found in fish taken from the Chaudière River was the erosion of the fins, which can occur after a fish comes into direct contact with contaminated sediment.
Among the more common deformities found in fish taken from the Chaudière River was the erosion of the fins, which can occur after a fish comes into direct contact with contaminated sediment.

The widely held standard is that if more than five per cent of fish in the sample show signs of external deformities, the habitat is considered to be contaminated by toxic substances.

Perhaps as a result, fish populations are estimated to be 66 per cent smaller and the biomass — the total weight of the fish stock — is down 48 per cent.

“The weak biomass observed in 2014 is difficult to attribute to anything other than the oil spill,” the report concluded.

Scientists have now set their sights on a longer-term monitoring plan and a fish-population survey they hope to carry out in 2016. One of the things they will be looking for are skeletal malformations — a widely recognized consequence of exposure to petroleum hydrocarbons.

Their interest in this stems from a laboratory study in which the eggs of two types of fish — the fathead minnow and the brown trout — were exposed to contaminated sediment from the oil spill.

The exposure had no effect on mortality rates or the time it took for the eggs to hatch. But the eggs of the brown trout that were exposed to the most contaminated sediment showed a higher rate of scoliosis, an abnormal lateral curvature of the spinal column.