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Churchill to host oil-spill research

Observatory to cost $31.7 million

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/7/2015 (1658 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — A multimillion-dollar research facility to study the impact of oil spills in sea ice will be built on the shores of Hudson Bay in Churchill, the federal and provincial governments announced Monday.

Regional minister Shelly Glover and Premier Greg Selinger spent the day touring Manitoba's northern port, watching beluga whales in Hudson Bay and stopping in at polar bear jail as well as delivering a joint announcement of $22 million toward the $31.7-million Churchill Marine Observatory.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation is providing $12.4 million of the funding, and the province is kicking in $9.7 million over four years. Additional dollars and in-kind funding is coming from the private sector and other public-sector sources.

The University of Manitoba is a major partner in the project, and its researchers will lead the program. Scientists from the universities of Calgary, Victoria, Laval, Dalhousie and Washington will also be involved, as will federal government researchers.

Much like the Experimental Lakes Area, which Ottawa walked away from in 2013 saying it no longer fit with its mandate, the Churchill Marine Observatory, or CMO for short, will be unique in the world, with research conducted in an aquatic environment rather than in a lab.

Feiyue Wang, a professor of environmental chemistry at the University of Manitoba who will be the lead scientist of the ocean component of the CMO, said there is research on oil spills in the Arctic, but it takes place indoors in small tank experiments.

The ability to do the research on-site in the Arctic is one of the huge advantages of the new program and makes it unique in the world. It will study and develop technology to detect the presence of oil and other contaminants beneath the sea ice, research the impact, and look at technologies to help clean up spills when they happen.

One of the main components will be two saltwater sub-pools where various oil-spill scenarios can be mimicked and studied, and compared to the situation in a control tank.

An environmental observatory will be established on the Churchill estuary that will measure various conditions in the air, water and ice. Wang said because the Arctic environment is not uniform, the technologies developed that work in Churchill may have to be adapted to work in other Arctic locations.

C.J. Mundy, associate professor of biological oceanography at the University of Manitoba, will serve as the lead scientist of the environmental observatory part of the program. Mundy said he isn't aware of any large-scale oil spills in the Arctic to date, but "we have the responsibility to do this type of research so it prepares us for the future."

As many as 100 researchers will converge on Churchill over the course of a year to work at the new facility, bringing some new economic life to a region that needs it.

The Churchill facility is just one of several announcements the federal government is making in Manitoba this week, as the summer of endless campaigning continues. Elmwood-Transcona MP Lawrence Toet, who is facing one of the toughest battles of any Winnipeg incumbent in the Oct. 19 election, was on hand at The Forks with Minister of State for Finance Kevin Sorenson to announce $1.8 million in upgrades and repairs, including new lighting along the riverwalk and flood repairs to the amphitheatre, riverwalk and boat dock.

Government House leader Peter Van Loan was in the RM of Rosser to stage an announcement on defibrillators in community arenas, an announcement that mirrored one made nationally by Health Minister Rona Ambrose in Calgary.

Today, Toet will be on tap again to announce a partnership between Red River College and local businesses, and Minister of State for Social Development Candice Bergen will be announcing national projects on accessibility for people with disabilities.

NDP MP Pat Martin said the government is working overtime to buy votes with taxpayers' dollars as the election draws closer and Conservative poll numbers slip.



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