Studying oil spill preparedness

UCalgary researchers look at the legal and regulatory frameworks that govern responses to oil spills in Canada's Arctic. 

Anna-Maria Hubert and Sam Bogetti, Faculty of Law
November  2016


Alberta is one of only two Canadian provinces not adjacent to one of Canada’s three vast coastlines. Despite being landlocked, the University of Calgary is a key player in cutting-edge interdisciplinary research focusing on improving knowledge of oil pollution preparedness and response. Collaborative research in Calgary is being funded by the Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response (MEOPAR) Network — a national network of academic researchers and students, government scientists, and private and community partners working together to reduce vulnerability and strengthen opportunity in Canada's marine environment.

This past summer, second-year law student Sam Bogetti worked as a legal research assistant with professor Anna-Maria Hubert at the Faculty of Law. Their contribution within the UCalgary-led MEOPAR research project, “Observing and Responding to Pressures on Arctic Marine Ecosystem Services,” looks at the legal and regulatory frameworks that govern oil pollution response measures both internationally and across jurisdictions domestically. In particular, the team is investigating legal principles that govern the use of marine oil spill response strategies involving risk-risk trade-offs and the policy innovations needed to improve such measures.

Study seeks to integrate scientific findings in oil spill regulations

A key consideration in the study is how well the results of scientific research are integrated into the regulation and governance of spill response in Canada, including in the changing Arctic. Hubert points out that “as shipping and other marine activities increase in Arctic waters, scientific knowledge will play an essential guiding role for filling gaps in the existing legal regime, and in determining best practices for marine oil spill response.”

Against this backdrop, in addition to hours logged in the law library over the summer, Bogetti participated in an oceanographic research cruise in the Arctic. “I was given the very unique opportunity to join our science collaborators aboard the R/V Martin Bergmann, a 65-foot former fishing trawler that has been refitted to accommodate the needs of marine scientists working in Canada’s Arctic.” 

Researchers from the University of Calgary, University of Manitoba, Université Laval, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), and the Arctic Research Foundation (ARF) participated in a seven-day interdisciplinary cruise, embarking from the community of Cambridge Bay on Aug. 1, and covering the regions of Dease Strait, Wellington Bay, and Queen Maude Gulf. Scientists targeted these regions as a focal point for studying how local ecosystems can prepare and respond to emerging marine risks, including marine oil pollution.

Law student joins ocean-going scientific research vessel

Hubert remarked that having a law student work on board a scientific research vessel was not “an obvious choice,” but one which is likely to pay future dividends in terms of enhancing capacity to solve real-world problems related to marine risk.

“The other students joked that Sam was our ‘legal oceanographer.’ I give a lot of credit to our collaborators including principal investigator Brent Else (Department of Geography), and MEOPAR for their vision to advance research in this area and giving Sam with this wonderful training and exposure. The federal government’s new Oceans Protection Plan underscores that oil pollution response remains as a significant knowledge gap. Crafting sustainable governance and management solutions for Canada’s oceans will require input from different disciplines working together with local partners in the coming years.”

Ocean’s Protection Plan revealed 

On Nov. 7, 2016, the federal government revealed its new Oceans Protection Plan. A central pillar of Canada’s new plan is to improve capacity for oil spill response along Canada’s coasts and waterways. The plan balances the objective to keep coasts safe and clean whilst recognizing the economic importance of oceans, including in the shipping and offshore oil and gas sectors.



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