By Julie Gordon
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - British Columbian officials on Friday criticized the Canadian government's response to an oil spill in the waters around Vancouver, calling into question plans for new crude oil export pipelines in the Pacific Coast province.
Nearly 3,000 liters of oil spilled after an anchored bulk carrier began leaking bunker fuel in English Bay, just west of Vancouver's downtown core, on Wednesday.
Officials in the province said the coast guard responded but was slow to contain the slick, which spread towards beaches. They said the federal agency failed to notify the cities of Vancouver and West Vancouver until early Thursday, delaying public safety warnings by more than 12 hours.
"It took them six hours to get booms in place ... in the busiest port in Canada where they have all the resources," British Columbia's Premier Christy Clark told reporters.
"There will not be any expansion of heavy oil movement out of this port or any other port in British Columbia until we get world-class spill response, period."
Federal Industry Minister James Moore said it was "highly inappropriate" to criticize the response while the clean-up was unfinished.
Canadian regulators are weighing Kinder Morgan's plan to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to Vancouver, which would dramatically increase the number of oil tankers traveling through the Burrard Inlet each month.
The project is opposed by environmental groups and some residents, who worry about the impact of a major spill.
A separate pipeline to carry crude from the Alberta oil sands to a port in northern British Columbia has been conditionally approved by federal regulators, though the province says the project has not yet met their standards.
The perception that the federal government bungled the spill response could prove politically damaging for the ruling Conservatives, who had hoped to make inroads in British Columbia in a federal election later this year.
A senior Canadian Coast Guard official said the agency did not initially realize how serious the spill was. Once it saw the magnitude, via aerial views, it took 3 -1/2 hours to place the booms.
"You don't contain 80 percent of a spill inside 36 hours and call that inadequate. I will not accept that definition," Roger Girouard said at a news conference.
The owners of the MV Marathassa, which was in Vancouver to pick up grain, will be on the hook for clean-up costs, the province said.
(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Grant McCool)