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Kinder Morgan answers questions about Sumas Mountain oil spill

Kinder Morgan executives faced an often testy audience of Sumas Mountain and Auguston residents at a public meeting at Straiton Hall on Monday night.

Many in the audience expressed doubts that the 110,000-litre oil spill on Jan. 24 had no ill effects on the health of nearby residents.

Hugh Harden, Kinder Morgan vice-president of operations, and Lexa Hobenshield, manager of external relations, were among a panel that included Tim Sullivan of the National Energy Board (NEB), Abbotsford Fire Chief Don Beer and city councillor Patricia Ross. Beer also serves as the emergency coordinator for the city.

They answered questions about last month's spill at the Sumas Terminal located in the 4100 block of Upper Sumas Mountain Road.

Harden said repeatedly that the spill was completely contained in a system designed to hold 110 per cent of the capacity of the affected tank. Air quality monitoring met and exceeded health standards, he said. Third-party independent monitoring by Golder Associates confirmed there were no dangerous emissions.

However, residents did not accept that answer, saying they did get sick, with complaints of headaches, nausea, breathing problems and even chest pain. Numerous health-related questions were put to the panel.

Speakers also took exception to the term "nuisance odours" that Kinder Morgan used to describe the issue on the day of the spill.

"If I'm sick and my wife is sick and other residents are sick, then there are health concerns," said Martin Sunderland, an Auguston resident and inspector with Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service. "This is more than an inconvenience. An inconvenience in Auguston is when raccoons get in my garbage. This is more than that."

Sunderland was not speaking in an official capacity, but as an Auguston resident for 11 years. He received a loud ovation from a crowd of approximately 50 in attendance.

Harden was asked whether Kinder Morgan had systems to detect the spill, and how long oil had been leaking before it was noticed. He responded that there are systems and they will be looking at any new technology that is available, but that residents nearby would smell the oil before it reached dangerous levels. Many residents voiced disapproval of his comment.

"When I bought my house there, I didn't feel I was signing up as an early detection system for Kinder Morgan," said Sunderland. "I don't feel I should be chased out of my house by Kinder Morgan.

"You better make damn sure this doesn't happen again," he told Harden.

Auguston resident Tiffany Kafka said she is familiar with the effects of air pollution, having spent time in Mexico City and other places with bad air, but never experienced symptoms like she did on the day of the spill.

"I had a headache and I was nauseated," she said. "I've lived in polluted areas, and haven't had that before."

John Vissers, who chaired the meeting, acknowledged that members of the public can't tell the difference between a nuisance odour and a threat to life, so there was a lot of fear among mountain residents. He was disappointed that Fraser Health was not in attendance to answer the question of whether an oil spill could compromise health from fumes alone.

Harden pointed out the need for oil, and said the pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby is the safest way to move it. The line carries such a quantity of oil that to replace it would require 1,200 tanker trucks daily.

"It's a safe industry, and it's getting safer all the time," he said.

He said the cause of the spill is believed to be a mechanical malfunction in the system designed to drain rainfall from the roof of the tank. However, he said nothing will be confirmed until a visual inspection of the inside of the tank is complete.

A review of the incident is under way, and Kinder Morgan is required to report to the NEB.

Vissers, a Sumas Mountain resident and environmental advocate, said he will push to ensure the NEB releases that report to the public.

He thanked the Kinder Morgan executives for being at the meeting to "take the heat."

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