Spill Response Boat
JAN 12, 2024

Safeguarding the “K-Shian” Skeena in British Columbia

CN's Resourceful Emergency Response Exercise Strengthens Partnerships and Environmental Preparedness



The Skeena, “river of mists”, makes a major cleft through the Coast Mountains.

To Coastal Tsimshian Indigenous Peoples and Interior bands it was vital to trade and travel.

In later years, Port Essington, near the river’s mouth, became the main port on this swift, treacherous waterway – a route serving pioneers from the 1860s to 1914 when the railway was built.

Source: Department of Recreation & Conservation of British Columbia

Skeena River Project

In August 2023, members of multiple CN departments, along with local First Nations, Transport Canada, the B.C. Government, local municipalities, and CN emergency response partners converged on Prince Rupert, B.C. to participate in a 2-day Emergency Response Spill Exercise.

The objective of the event was to discuss the response to a mock derailment in which petroleum is released into a river and the methods by which the oil would be contained and recovered.

The “K-Shian” Skeena River is the second-longest river in British Columbia. Since ancient times, the Skeena has been an important transportation artery, particularly for the Tsimshian and the Gitxsan. The river and its basin sustain a wide variety of fish, wildlife, and vegetation, and communities native to the area depend on the health of the river.

“This was the largest spill exercise we’ve completed to date, with more than 75 participants, and 8 specialized response vessels and watercrafts working on one of the most remote, sensitive, and extremely challenging waterways in Canada. It also offered an opportunity to demonstrate CN’s commitment and readiness to safety and the effectiveness of proactive collaboration and communication,” says Mike Linder, Regional Manager, Environment, who organized the event.

"I think the region is really well suited to be able to respond. I like very much that CN has brought in all of the local contractors, all of the local fire departments, and the communities together in the same room so that we understand what part we play in incidents such as these", says Diane Collins, MBA, MPM from the Kitsumkalum Economic Development Group.

"We appreciate CN reaching out to us to involve us with this. Even more appreciative to see the Metlakatla Guardians and other organizations a part of this exercise.", says Xaga - Randy Cobb who is a member of the Metlakatla Community.

After a tabletop exercise on Day 1, a deployment exercise took place on the Skeena River on Day 2. “By collaborating and sharing information on B.C.’s spill contingency plan, and gaining critical local knowledge from our partners, we are now in a much stronger position to respond collectively to incidents in the future,” says Mike.

The exercise stands as a testament to the proactive measures taken by CN, showcasing the Company's commitment to environmental stewardship and its dedication to fostering strong, collaborative relationships with Indigenous communities and other stakeholders. As a result of this extensive initiative, the region is better prepared to address potential environmental challenges and uphold the health of the Skeena River for generations to come.

The team practiced enhanced skimming of the contamination from the water and pulling the containment boom back onto the boat following the exercise.

Tabletop Exercise at the North Pacific Cannery.