A B.C. First Nation says it was not notified about a chemical spill at a nearby Suncor Energy Inc. facility until days after it happened, and the community is now demanding that the federal and provincial governments place a moratorium on any new pipelines until changes are made to emergency-response protocol.
The spill happened at a time of heightened public interest in and sensitivity around pipelines and energy safety in British Columbia.
Roughly 225 barrels of a blending agent for biofuel, called R-100, spilled out of a leaky tank at Suncor’s Port Moody facility on Saturday night. A small amount – approximately two litres, according to the company – made its way into the Burrard Inlet. The soybean-based product is not classified as environmentally hazardous, the company says.
Carleen Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, located along the inlet, says the B.C. Ministry of Environment did not notify her community about the spill until Wednesday. She said Suncor did not contact the community at all.
“It’s their spill – they [Suncor] should be getting in touch with us,” she said. “That lack of communication is unacceptable. The point is something has spilled and will have an impact or an effect on the lands and the water.”
She also expressed frustration with the provincial government.
“It took them four days to communicate with us. … It’s important that those communities that are affected are involved in finding out what’s happening because we’re answerable and accountable to our own communities.”
Ms. Thomas says community stakeholders need to be consulted about the emergency-response protocols of both companies and governments for chemical spills, adding that the expansion of pipeline projects should be halted until something more transparent is in place. She said Saturday’s spill again shows how the government is unprepared to deal with these kinds of incidents.
“This makes me wonder how many of these small spills happen on a daily basis that British Columbians aren’t aware of,” she said.
The B.C. Ministry of Environment said in a statement that it “it notifies the public when there is an imminent risk to health or safety,” but for most spills this isn’t necessary, and instead it directly notifies, or requires the company to notify, local governments, First Nations and any other stakeholders who may be affected.
The ministry didn’t say exactly when the community was notified. But it did acknowledge the concerns of the First Nation, adding: “At this point, it appears it was reported quickly. However, we understand the community’s concern and we will carefully review the timeline to see if any improvements can be made.”
The ministry added that “at no time was there a public safety or health risk stemming from this incident.” Environment Canada declined to comment because the cleanup is being handled by provincial authorities.
Sneh Seetal, a Suncor spokesperson, could not confirm whether Tsleil-Waututh First Nation was or wasn’t notified by the company. She said the company did notify both provincial and federal regulators immediately upon learning about the spill.
“My understanding is that we did follow the regulatory process, and we will review our response plans, including notification protocol, and will make any changes as appropriate,” she said.
Ms. Seetal added that Suncor responded immediately to the leak, isolating it and draining the affected tank, blocking storm sewers and deploying booms and absorbent pads to clean up any product on the ground.
“We are taking this very seriously, and the release of a product not intended to be discharged is unacceptable to us,” she said.
Michael Lowery, a spokesman for Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, the company dealing with the cleanup, said the two areas where the product entered the inlet will be monitored for the next two weeks. He said that containment booms have been placed in the water to prevent a spread.