Assessing Sensitivity of Coastal Areas to Oil Spills

Executive Summary


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Clear Seas Centre for Responsible Marine Shipping (Clear Seas) commissioned Dillon Consulting Limited (Dillon) to identify sensitive coastal areas along most of Canada’s Pacific Coast. The identification of sensitive coastal areas is one part of a multi-layered geo-spatial analysis undertaken by Clear Seas to support marine spatial planning by describing risks related to marine shipping activities on Canada’s Pacific Coast. This report details the approach to and outcomes of the sensitive coastal areas assessment, displayed in an interactive Geographic Information System (GIS) web-map.


Map of sensitivity of coastal areas

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This coastal sensitivity analysis is part of a broader Marine Transportation Corridors initiative that Clear Seas is undertaking. The first phase of this initiative is focused on Canada’s Pacific Region. Within each phase there are a number of geo-spatial components.

This report is intended to support marine spatial planning discussions and is expected to evolve over time as additional data becomes available. Further work by the federal, provincial, and Indigenous governments leading marine spatial planning processes is required to engage in broad consultation with the public, other First Nations, and knowledgeable stakeholders to identify and select additional relevant datasets and also validate this model’s approach and the resulting sensitivity scores.

For this analysis, four categories – Biological, Physical, Socio-Economic and Indigenous – were identified to better define the attributes of an area along the coast that could be affected by commercial marine shipping. Publicly available data were collected and analyzed to identify areas and regions within the study area that are relatively more vulnerable if an oil spill were to occur near them and a score was assigned based on these data. The assessment was limited to publicly available datasets that could be easily obtained and used without licensing so the results of the assessment could be shared without restriction.  

The method used to determine and score sensitive coastal areas is based on an ArcGIS workflow that is easily updated when additional datasets become available, if the scoring methodology is revised, or if a weighting is added to any of the sensitivity categories. 

The coastal sensitivity analysis contained within this report is limited to a specific study area determined for the overall Marine Transportation Corridors initiative. The study area was defined to include geographical areas where risks from disabled and drifting ships could be modeled, which excluded the east side of Vancouver Island and the Strait of Juan de Fuca from the scope of this analysis.


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