The Behavioural and Environmental Impacts of Crude Oil released in the Aqueous Environment 

This Royal Society of Canada expert panel report was released in November 2015. The panel conducted an extensive review on the state of current knowledge and consulted with numerous stakeholders across Canada.  

Below are exerpts from the Executive Summary.  Aspects which especially relate to oil transport through Northwestern Ontario (eg. freshwater ecosystmes, winter environment, areas of limited accessability) have been bolded. 

The Panel found that the dozens of crude oil types transported in Canada exist along a chemical continuum, from light oils to bitumen and heavy fuels, and the unique properties of each of these oil types (their chemical ‘fingerprints’) determine how readily spilled oil spreads, sinks, disperses, impacts aquatic organisms, including wildlife, and what proportion ultimately degrades in the environment. Despite the importance of oil type, the Panel concluded that the overall impact of an oil spill, including the effectiveness of an oil spill response, depends mainly on the environment and conditions (weather, waves, etc.) where the spill takes place and the time lost before remedial operations.

The Panel identified the seven High-Priority Research Needs.  Many research areas involove arctic environments, winter environments and fresh-water ecosystems.  

Two high-priority research areas are high-lighted below: 

#1. Research is needed to better understand the environmental impact of spilled crude oil in high-risk and poorly understood areas, such as Arctic waters, the deep ocean and shores or inland rivers and wetlands.

#7. Research is needed to update and refine risk assessment protocols for oil spills in Canada.

The Panel’s review of risk assessments of oil spills in Canada revealed a number of challenges, notably the lack of readily accessible data for use in the assessments and the need for increased sophistication of both exposure and effects analyses. In many cases, even if data were accessible, they were extremely limited, particularly for the Arctic and large portions of inland rivers, lakes and wetlands. The Panel found that the assumptions used in the risk assessments sometimes were overly optimistic given the experience gained from oil spill case studies. This was especially true for the spill response times assumed in the assessments.

Click here to go the Executive Summary or the full report.