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Concerns raised over oil spill air testing

Government acknowledges gaps and deficiencies in spill response
The Kinder Morgan tank farm in Abbotsford.

After a 2012 oil spill at Kinder Morgan’s Sumas terminal in Abbotsford, the company initially did not conduct adequate monitoring and sampling to understand health and environmental impacts, according to B.C. Ministry of Environment representatives.

In late October, the NDP environment critic raised the concern about testing done following the spill, after an email from a Ministry of Environment director – released under the Freedom of Information Act – cited the Sumas incident as an example of gaps and deficiencies in the province’s spill response.

On Jan. 24, 2012, there was a 110,000-litre spill at the Sumas terminal of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Neighbouring residents reported feeling ill, and complained of headaches, nausea, breathing problems and even chest pain.

Kinder Morgan representatives said at a meeting with residents in February 2012 that air quality monitoring met and exceeded health standards and third-party independent monitoring confirmed there were no dangerous emissions.

MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, the NDP environment critic, said he is concerned by the lack of provincial testing in such incidents, saying residents should have verifiable information from the government, not just the company.

“I would trust the government more than the company that caused the problem in the first place...”

A Ministry of Environment representative told The News in an email that it is the ministry’s  responsibility to provide regulatory oversight of the spiller and ensure the response is adequate. Officials may augment the response or take over the management of the incident “as the situation warrants.”

In the Sumas incident, Kinder Morgan retained an independent consultant to assess potential impacts immediately following the spill and air quality was tested the same day, according to the ministry.

However, when ministry staff arrived to provide oversight, “it became evident there was a need for the company to expand their air monitoring procedure … that would further evaluate the risk to human health.” An air quality meteorologist with the ministry had found sampling deficiencies.

Further tests were done and found that there were no impacts to human health or the environment, according to the ministry.

The email, from the director of the ministry’s environmental emergency program outlines gaps and deficiencies in spill preparedness, stating “we could point to hundreds of spills on annual basis where gaps occurred or improvements are needed…”

The email states that “the Kinder Morgan Pipeline spill at their Sumas Tank farm ... shows the lack of preparedness. In the Kinder Morgan example no air monitoring or sampling was done to determine what the concentrations of chemicals in the air were to assure the public and provide scientific basis for the company’s claims that there were no health impacts and the surrounding community members and elementary school children were safe (even though they were reporting nausea, headaches, strong odours, etc.).”

A ministry representative said the email was indicating that Kinder Morgan had done no air monitoring in the adjoining neighbourhoods and public areas and was then directed to do so by the province.

Kinder Morgan committed as part of the incident review to improve protocols and response for monitoring and sampling in the future.

Kinder Morgan representatives told The News that the third-party monitor conducted 545 sampling events between Jan. 24 and Feb. 16 at various location around the facility and in the neighbourhood and the measurements were well below occupational health and safety limit measures.

The ministry indicates that the province is aware there is room for improvement in the spill response system and has released two spill intentions papers that include policy options to address the gaps.

Kinder Morgan representatives said that since 2012 they have implemented odour mitigation measures including a new fence line air monitoring station at the Sumas terminal enabling the company to track data as it is received, as well as replacements to storage tank seal systems.