Climate

In The Midst Of Toxic Oil Spill, Vancouver Announces It Will Go 100 Percent Renewable

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Vancouver, B.C., a land of confused environmental news.

There’s some mixed news coming out of Vancouver, Canada this week. On the one hand, the city announced at an international sustainability summit that it would commit to using 100 percent renewable energy to power its electricity, transportation, heating and air conditioning within 20 years. On the other hand, Vancouver is also dealing with a fuel spill in the waters of English Bay that is washing up on beaches and threatening wildlife.

On March 26, Vancouver’s city council voted unanimously to approve Mayor Gregor Robertson motion calling for a long-term commitment to deriving all of the city’s energy from renewable sources. At the ICLEI World Congress 2015 this week in Seoul, South Korea, the city went a step further, committing to reaching that goal of 100 percent renewable electricity, transportation, heating and air conditioning by 2030 or 2035.

Right now, Vancouver gets 32 percent of its energy — that includes electricity, transportation, heating, and cooling — from renewable sources, so the goal is ambitious, but not impossible. According to the Guardian, Vancouver could get all of its electricity from renewables within a few years, but transportation, heating, and cooling may prove more difficult.

The city’s cars, buses, and trucks are still largely powered by gas and diesel fuel — apart from a fleet of electric trolleys — but the city is already taking measures to reduce the amount of fossil fuels used for transportation by encouraging residents to take more trips via bike, public transportation, or on foot, and reducing the average distance driven by residents 20 percent from 2007 levels.

“Cities around the world must show continued leadership to meet the urgent challenge of climate change, and the most impactful change we can make is a shift toward 100% of our energy being derived from renewable sources,” Robertson said in a statement after his motion passed. Vancouver joins cities like San Francisco, Copenhagen, and Sydney, which have also pledged to work toward 100 percent renewable energy.

Win some, lose some: while the city was making its announcement in South Korea, toxic fuel was spreading across Vancouver’s English Bay, washing up on many of the city’s beaches.

According to CBC News, the Canadian Coast Guard was notified about the spill at 5 p.m. PT on Wednesday, but underestimated its size. On Thursday morning, when it became apparent that the spill was larger than initially thought, cleanup crews were deployed. But the oil — thought to be fuel from an unidentified freighter — had already reached several beaches, and Vancouver residents were warned to stay away from the shore on both sides of the bay.

The spill prompted concern for wildlife, especially species like the killer whale, which occasionally appear in the area.

“First and foremost, we’re going to be looking for marine mammals on the water,” Peter Ross, who runs the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Center’s program on ocean pollution research, told CBC News. According to Ross, some 25 species, including fish and seabirds, could be at risk due to the spill.

As of late Thursday, officials had not identified the composition of the oily, black material, though cleanup crews are treating the spill as a worst-case scenario and assuming the material is either bunker fuel or raw crude until test results come back. The Coast Guard estimates that around 3,000 liters — about 792 gallons — of the material spilled into the bay, an amount that it deems “not massive by spill standards” but enough to get the city’s attention, according to the HuffPost British Columbia.

The spill also sparked concern over the Northern Gateway Pipeline, which would stretch from the Alberta tar sands to British Columbia and whose oil would be shipped to overseas refineries via tankers. Opponents of the project worry that the pipeline would require large oil tankers to increasingly traffic British Columbia’s inland waters, increasing the chance of an oil spill along the area’s ecologically sensitive coastline.