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Ottawa urged to look beyond oil in emergency response plans

Crews work in the area of the derailed tanker cars in Lac-Mégantic, Que., on July 14, 2013.


Canada's fire chiefs and municipalities are pressing Ottawa to require detailed emergency response plans for flammable liquids, a move they say would better prepare local first responders to deal with dangerous accidents in their communities.

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt tasked an advisory group last year with developing new emergency planning recommendations after a deadly accident in Lac-Mégantic, Que., raised questions about the volatility of some types of crude oil. The group was given until the end of this month to produce its recommendations, and Ms. Raitt has said she expects a new system to be in place for dealing with crude oil accidents by the middle of this year.

But municipalities and first responders say they want the federal government to go beyond crude oil and require emergency response assistance plans (ERAPs) for other flammable liquids as well. ERAPs can place special obligations on shippers and importers, such as providing foam trucks or other equipment along a route and ensuring specialized response teams are available for accidents.

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Paul Boissonneault, first vice-president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, said there should be no reason to ignore other flammable liquids if ERAPs will be required for crude oil. "Besides crude oil, we're saying all flammable liquids throughout the transportation process" should be subject to the plans, he said.

The specialized safety protocols have long been required for dozens of other hazardous materials, but crude oil was not included because it was not previously believed to be explosive. After the accident in Lac-Mégantic, a Globe and Mail investigation documented how crude from the Bakken region, which covers North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, can be significantly more volatile than traditional crude.

Claude Dauphin, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said he thinks ERAPs should be required for any product that could burn or explode.

"FCM is calling for Emergency Response Assistance Plans to be required for all flammable liquids including crude and ethanol," Mr. Dauphin wrote in an e-mail. "Canada needs a comprehensive approach to dealing with emergency planning and response, and that means closing this gap in the ERAP system."

A spokesman for Ms. Raitt said on Monday that the advisory group is considering whether ERAPs are needed for crude and other flammable liquids, including ethanol, gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel. "As we have said, we are examining whether we need further measures to strengthen rail safety and the transportation of dangerous goods," Rémi Moreau wrote in an e-mail.

Requests for comment on extending ERAPs to cover other flammable liquids were not answered by Canada's two largest railways, Canadian National Railway Co. and Canadian Pacific, on Monday afternoon.

Chris Powers represents the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs on the Transport Canada advisory group that is considering the new ERAPs. He said flammable liquids are highly demanding for local first responders to deal with and require significant resources that some municipalities may not have.

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"It [the Lac-Mégantic derailment] kind of caught everybody off guard. But let's not get caught off-guard again. Let's do the whole thing. Let's make the people who are producing it, shipping this stuff, accountable and responsible," Mr. Powers said.

Representatives of the FCM, the fire chiefs' association and the rail industry met in Ottawa on Monday to discuss rail safety issues, including how to help municipalities respond to emergencies. Several railway presenters argued for an aggressive phasing-out of DOT-111 rail cars, which are commonly used to haul crude oil. Newer models of the cars are considered to be less prone to puncture in an accident, but retrofitting or replacing the older fleet would be costly.

The federal government announced on the weekend that it would formally adopt new standards for the construction of DOT-111 cars. However, it is unlikely that the new rules will have a practical impact on rail safety because the industry has been using these standards since 2011.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Kim Mackrael has been a reporter for The Globe and Mail since 2011. She joined the Ottawa bureau Sept. 2012. More


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