Energy companies Enbridge and Kinder Morgan are among those seeking to build pipelines to get oil from Alberta province to Asian markets.
Sheila Malcolmson, head of British Columbia's land-use planning agency Islands Trust, told The Victoria (B.C.) Times Colonist that the federal government claims success if 10 to 15 percent of oil is recovered from a spill.
"Then, the other area of concern is, when there's a spill, what is the capacity for cleaning it up? The more we learn about that, the more worried we are," she said.
Crude oil from Alberta, dubbed tar sands, sinks in water because it's heavier than conventional oil. This makes spills into major bodies of water particularly difficult to address.
A federal report in 2010, meanwhile, found the Canadian Coast Guard might not be ready for a major maritime oil disaster. Dan Bate, a Coast Guard spokesman, said the report focused on administrative issues, however, and not response capability.
British Columbia's provincial Environment Minister Terry Lake was quoted as saying that authorities were specifically investigating Enbridge's plans for the Northern Gateway pipeline.
"With increased traffic, and especially with tankers, obviously, the level of response capability has to increase," he said.