RCN Protecting the Environment
MICHAEL COMEAU
© 2012 FrontLine Defence (Vol 9, No 4)

We all know that Canada’s navy diligently protects our interests by safeguarding Canadian maritime approaches, exercising sovereignty over our waters, protecting our offshore natural resources, and contributing to global ­security – but can it accomplish this duty while exercising eco-responsibility? Read on.


The DC Div wetland transformed from heavily contaminated to the vibrant and diverse habitat, shown below, in the span of two years (2009-2011).

The Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN) first priority is to ensure Canada’s maritime approaches are effectively monitored and protected. On the global front, Canada needs its naval forces to have the ability to act internationally – whenever and wherever issues arise that threaten our national interests. The navy participates in joint Canada-U.S. and NATO exercises, and ships are deployed all over the world in support of Canadian interests and in conjunction with multinational deployments.

To fulfill this mission, over 13,000 RCN military personnel operate vessels balanced between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, comprised of 33 destroyers, frigates, replenishment ships submarines and coastal defence vessels, many auxiliary and support vessels.

The RCN is distributed over all ­Canadian provinces with the Naval Reserve, and has significant facilities in Halifax, Nova Scotia and in Victoria, British Columbia. These formations, known as Maritime Forces Atlantic and Pacific, manage all aspects of fleet maintenance, training and manning, while maintaining the fleet at optimal readiness for deployment, exercises and operations as required.

With such a significant presence in Canadian society, the RCN has long understood its responsibility for the environment in which it operates. Cooperation with international organizations, other government departments and agencies, non-government organizations, including First Nations, has allowed the organization to become an environmental leader.

In 1997, Canadian Federal Government departments were required to table a Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS) as a comprehensive framework for environmental protection. In addition to existing regulatory requirements, the SDS was a significant driver for the RCN’s environmental programs and lead to the establishment and continued implementation of a robust safety and environmental management system (SEMS).

In 2010, as the RCN celebrated its Centennial, the Canadian government mandated a new policy for addressing federal environmental concerns. The Federal Sustainable Development Strategy (FSDS) brings Canada’s environmental priorities to the forefront of day-to-day operations for all federal entities. The FSDS is the framework which provides national policies, priorities, and goals, as well as public transparency for reporting – offering Canadians greater access to information regarding government promotion of environmental sustainability.

In addition to the FSDS, the RCN is committed to complying with applicable international and domestic environmental regulations. As RCN units may operate in all global marine environments, staff must have awareness, flexibility and the equipment to comply with the different regulatory requirements.

The RCN regularly conducts management system audits to ensure the regulatory compliance and direction within the SEMS is implemented. The audit process and the annual SEMS management review collects feedback that is used to improve the system. A satisfactory audit is a requirement for the successful completion of each ships tiered readiness program. DND ­personnel work diligently to ensure RCN vessels are able to perform operationally while striving to comply with myriad environmental regulations.

The Damage Control Training Facility Kootenay was named for those who suffered and died during a major fire on the HMCS Kootenay in 1969. The former Fire Field and Mock-ups are visible in the background (left).
Photo: PTe Matthew McGregor Formation Imaging Services Halifax, NS

The RCN has aligned its environmental programs in keeping with the FSDS strategic guidance and performance themes. Over the years, a balanced approach to sustainability has allowed the RCN to attain significant environmental gains while maintaining a fiscal accountability. Initiatives described in this article demonstrate the RCN’s progress regarding FSDS performance and meeting regulatory compliance.


Photo: Cpl Gary Andrews, Formation Imaging Services, Halifax

Damage Control Division
The FSDS aims to reduce health risks to both Canadians and the environment by decreasing exposure to harmful materials. To do this, the RCN assesses, remediates, and risk manages numerous contaminated sites. At present, 95% of all the contaminated sites (485 of 511 sites) identified on RCN property have been addressed. Several of theses sites are located at the Canadian Forces Naval Engineering School Damage Control Division (DC Div) at the mouth of Halifax Harbour. The RCN’s commitment to all aspects of the FSDS is demonstrated by the work preformed at this facility.
 
In the early 1950s, DC Div became a primary location to instruct RCN staff in life-saving skills of shipboard Damage Control, including fire fighting and flood training. The facility consisted of an open area that included several ship mock-ups designed to simulate vessel fire and flood control. Diesel was used to sustain fires for the students to attack and extinguish. The training was a significant source of air pollution in the immediate vicinity and the primary subject of complaints by the general public. Over several decades of activity, the DC Div property was contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbon. Ground water, surface water and pockets of soil were heavily impacted and required in excess of 2 million dollars to cleanup.
 
As fire fighting training was essential to RCN staff, an enclosed computer controlled propane fuelled trainer, the DCTF Kootenay, with all the capability of the original facility and significantly less environmental impact was constructed. The first full year of training at the new facility occurred in 2006. Since propane burns much cleaner than diesel fuel, the enclosed trainer significantly improved air emissions from the property. The change in fuel resulted in a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by 31%.
 
The former fire fighting training area contributed to contamination at a down-gradient wetland area. In 2010, the wetland was remediated by excavation and off-site treatment of petroleum-impacted soil. To promote the ecological habitat, several small ponds were constructed and more than 33,000, trees, shrubs, and submerged, emergent and floating flora were planted. Future work at the site includes monitoring the health and viability of the wetland and confirming successful establishment of the vegetation.
 
All the remedial activity, including the design and construction of the new facility, was completed with the cooperation of a community liaison group. The group was regularly consulted regarding many project details including facility placement and landscaping.
 
DC Div is an example of meeting operational requirements while improving environmental performance. The training is delivered to keep RCN sailors ready to control potential damage on the vessels while reducing air emissions and exposure to hazardous materials. The remedial activity completed at the site improved valuable surface water and ground water resources. Finally, reinstating the wetland improves natural biodiversity on the property thereby protecting the natural environment.
 

Royal Canadian Navy Hull Technicians on a firefighting course at the Damage Control School respond on a crashed helo exercise. This was the last night fire to be lit in the training area prior to the establishment of DCTF Kootenay. (Photo: Pte Halina Folfas, Formation Imaging Services, Halifax)

The RCN maintains and operates a fleet valued at billions of dollars. To ensure Canadians get the best possible value from these assets, each vessel continues to operate to the full extent of its serviceable life. Basic functions on vessels with older systems, such as refrigerating food and cooling complex command and control, navigational and weapons guidance systems, can present challenges. This has become increasingly evident in recent years as our ships, most of which were designed to operate in the cooler Northern Atlantic or Pacific Oceans, are now often operating in much warmer bodies of water, such as the Indian Ocean.
 
The refrigeration and cooling systems on the Protecteur and Iroquois Class vessels were designed and installed before halocarbon usage restrictions and computer systems that generate a significant amount of heat. In 2008, it was determined these R12 systems would be replaced to meet new vessel cooling requirements and to use refrigerants that comply with halocarbon phase-out requirements. By the end of 2010, the refrigerant was replaced with acceptable materials (R507 and R134A) – reinforcing the Navy’s compliance with environmental regulations and reduced its halocarbon inventory. Over the past 10 years, the RCN was able to dispose of over 16 tonnes of halocarbons, which included more than six tonnes of R12.

The navy recognizes that improving vessel fuel economy and material management will improve ship and crew endurance. There are many waste streams on a vessel: hazardous waste, glass, food waste, paper, cardboard, dunnage, metal, plastic, medical solids, aerosol cans, oily rags and filters, black water, sanitary sludge, grey water and oily liquid sludge. Handling, storing, processing and disposing of waste requires significant human resources. All of these activities negatively impact the number of days a vessel is on station at sea. Improvements will allow the RCN to meet new stringent regulatory requirements while limiting the impact on vessel operations.
 
Waste management must be treated as an entire process rather than using individual treatment approaches for each waste stream. The RCN is pursuing the development of several technologies to interact with each other and reduce the volume of material retained onboard, time required to handle/process waste, thereby incurring cost savings while ensuring adequate equipment redundancy. The integrated approach to waste management includes addressing material diversion (packaging) during resupply. The overall goal is to ensure regulatory compliance while minimizing the impact on vessel activities or operations.
 

Crewmembers from HMCS Montreal practice a fire drill on board the ship during the Great Lakes Deployment 2011. (PHOTO: Cpl Martin Roy, Formation Imaging Services, Halifax, Nova Scotia.)

Technology being considered to reduce the footprint of the waste on board each vessel, while simultaneously recovering heat, is a solid waste gasification system. The system heats waste to produces a synthetic gas and a much smaller volume of char, which can be easily stored and disposed. Once running, the synthetic gas generated from the waste sustains the process. The air emissions from the system are monitored and treated. Any waste heat is available for use in another area of the vessel. The system is being considered as an option to dispose of oily waste and sewage sludge.
 
An integrated waste management approach will benefit the Navy operationally, and improve environmental compliance and performance. Limiting crew interaction with waste allows them to focus on their primary roles and contributes to overall mission success. Consolidating and reducing the volume of waste also allows vessels to remain at sea longer and improves their ability to comply with discharge or disposal requirements. These are the key reasons why integrated waste management is being considered for existing vessel platforms and the future fleet (the Joint Support Ships, Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships and Canadian Surface Combatants).
 
Geopolitical conditions and environmental requirements have been known to limit the availability and flexibility of fuel, therefore, the navy must consider ways to extend the range and endurance of its vessels. Unlike several of our allied partners, Canada does not have the resources to assess and trial alternative energy sources to propel its vessels. However, the navy is taking proactive steps resulting in incremental improvements in the economics of propelling the fleet.


Cpl Eric Chafe, a firefighter on HMCS Charlottetown, stands ready in case of an emergency while off the coast of Libya during Op Mobile. (Photo: Cpl Chris Ringius, Formation Imaging Services)
 
Vessel energy efficiency is a broad topic, ranging from fuel-efficient engines to LED lighting. The RCN is looking at several areas to improve energy efficiency from hull bio-fouling management to utilizing waste heat to power cooling/refrigeration systems. The main challenge regarding this issue is devising a strategy to save energy without incurring costly engineering changes or significantly increasing labour requirements.
 
Bio-fouling is the growth of marine life on submerged surfaces of a vessel. The growth presents two significant issues. Similar to other vessels navigating the globe, RCN vessels can inadvertently carry or transport (in ballast tanks, sea water intakes, and other areas of the hull) small aquatic sea life from one a body of water to another. The transplanted organisms may flourish in these areas and successfully compete with native species for habitat. In addition to these environmental impacts, there are operational/economic impacts on vessel performance. Hull bio-fouling can increase fuel consumption, green house gas emissions, reduce speed and increase hull noise – negatively impacting the ability of a vessel to effectively perform its mission.
 
In response, allied nations have developed methods of in situ cleaning, monitoring and reducing hull fouling. The RCN is continuing to work with our allied partners and developing a hull fouling plan to address this significant issue.
 
Incremental changes in other areas have also improved energy efficiency, such as the installation of stern flaps on the HALIFAX Class vessels and improvements to diesel engines to meet air emission requirements.
 
 
Cpl Trevor Evans responds to a crash on deck alarm during a exercise simulating a Sea King crashing on the flight deck of on board HMCS Iroquois. (Photo: MCpl Robin Mugridge, Formation Imaging Services Halifax, Nova Scotia)

As an organization focused on its mission, the Navy is willing to support energy efficiency initiatives. Unfortunately, our reach is not deep enough to develop our own research programs to investigate alternatives, however, the RCN continues to integrate environmental considerations into daily operations wherever possible. While this is a challenging obligation, it is one that stands at the forefront of Naval planning and operations.
 
At the heart of our success are the men and women of the Canadian Forces and Public Service who take leadership roles integrating sustainable practices across all levels of the organization; these high environmental standards continue to drive programs and initiatives aimed at protecting the natural environment in which the RCN operates and trains. It is recognized that our environmental achievements are tempered by the necessity to fulfill its primary and very present Government mandate and operational requirements.
 
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Michael Comeau, B.Sc. B. Eng. (Chem), P. Eng. is the Special Engineering Projects Officer with the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), Maritime Forces Atlantic. For the past 17 years, he has worked at monitoring compliance and promoting shore based and shipboard pollution prevention initiatives for MARLANTs Hazardous Materials, Climate Change, Storage Tank, Contaminated Sites, Halocarbon, Solid Waste and Effluent Quality management programs.
© FrontLine Defence 2012

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