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No answers yet on Kinder Morgan oil spill

Investigating agencies say they’re not sure what information will be released about the oil spill at the Kinder Morgan facility on Sumas Mountain on Jan. 24. - Vikki Hopes
Investigating agencies say they’re not sure what information will be released about the oil spill at the Kinder Morgan facility on Sumas Mountain on Jan. 24.
— image credit: Vikki Hopes

It could take several months for the investigation to be completed on the recent Kinder Morgan oil spill in Abbotsford, but resulting reports might not be released to the public.

Spokespersons for Kinder Morgan, the National Energy Board (NEB) and Environment Canada have all indicated that they are not sure what, if any, information will be released on the cause of the spill and related issues.

“I absolutely understand that the community expects transparency and it will be important to rebuilding confidence and trust. What can and can’t be released will be a decision made by our legal counsel,” said Lexa Hobenshield of Kinder Morgan, which is conducting its own investigation.

An independent government probe is being headed by the NEB with support from Environment Canada and the Conservation Officer Service of the provincial Ministry of Environment.

Rebecca Taylor of the NEB said that because the spill was deemed a “smaller incident,” the report might not be made public.

Mark Johnson of Environment Canada said if an investigation proves inconclusive or is resolved outside of the courts, the agency might choose to not release information.

He said this can be done “out of respect for privacy and Charter rights, or to avoid a risk of defamation, or to avoid a risk of prejudice to ongoing and future investigations.”

Johnson said information is released publicly “under exceptional circumstances,” such as when public health is at risk.

B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake previously said the 110,000-litre spill on Jan. 24 was contained to Kinder Morgan’s Sumas terminal – located in the 4100 block of Upper Sumas Mountain Road – and posed no health or environmental dangers.

Abbotsford Coun. Patricia Ross said that’s not good enough, and residents near the tank facility want more specific answers.

Residents mainly in the Auguston area reported a strong odor on the day of the spill, and were concerned about the source. Many said they experienced headaches and breathing problems.

“These people were worried ... They had to put up with this for days. They still don’t have any answers. All they’re getting is damage-control letters,” Ross said, referring to correspondence sent by Kinder Morgan to neighbours on the day of the spill and early this week.

A motion by Ross at Monday’s city council meeting was approved to have the city send a letter to Kinder Morgan requesting the company hold a town-hall meeting with local residents.

Meanwhile, residents have already organized their own session on Monday, Feb. 13, and Kinder Morgan representatives have confirmed they will attend. The meeting begins at 8 p.m. at Straiton Hall, 4698 Upper Sumas Mountain Rd.

John Vissers, one of the organizers, said residents want answers to questions such as the cause of the spill and the safety of the pipeline running through Abbotsford.

“I think the community deserves a dialogue where they can feel more comfortable with Kinder Morgan as a member of the community ... They have a right to know what happened and why, and what the company is doing to prevent it from happening again.”

Vissers said people are particularly concerned because this is the second spill in Abbotsford. In 2005, a rupture was detected in the pipeline on the north side of Ward Road, and several homes were evacuated.

A total of 210,000 litres of crude oil was released into the surrounding area and made its way into Kilgard Creek.

A folllow-up report released in 2007 by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada indicated that there had been a delay in response time because the two pipelines between the Sumas tank farm and the Sumas pump station were not part of a leak detection system.

Hobenshield said, since that time, a leak detection system has been implemented, and the pipelines are monitored 24 hours a day. However, she did not respond to a question about why the odour from the latest leak was reported at about 4:30 a.m. by local residents, but the source was not discovered until almost 7 a.m. when a technician was sent to the site.

“Our investigation will look at all aspects of the incident so it would be inappropriate to comment at this time,” she said.

She said the potential for further odours exists while the investigation is completed and any required repairs are done. Hobenshield encourages anyone who notices an odour to call 1-888-876-6711.

 

 

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