Oil spill response in Abbotsford triggers concerns

Two moms says Kinder Morgan should have provided information to residents sooner, following spill at its Sumas terminal.

Christina Bergstresser and Mary-Jane Dahl

Christina Bergstresser and Mary-Jane Dahl

Two Abbotsford moms are concerned with what they say was a delayed response in receiving information about the Kinder Morgan oil spill on Tuesday.

Christina Bergstresser and Mary-Jane Dahl – both parents of Auguston Traditional Elementary students – said residents in the area were not informed about the 110,000-litre spill until several hours after it occurred.

“We didn’t know if our houses were going to blow up or if we were breathing toxic fumes … For us, it was terrifying and it was freaky,” Bergstresser said.

Dahl said she recognized the smell right away because she was living in Auguston during Kinder Morgan’s previous spill in 2005 at the same site, and the odour was the same.

At that time, 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.

Bergstresser and Dahl were among the parents dropping their kids off at school Tuesday morning who were seeking answers about the source of the smell and whether they were at any risk.

They said the school principal, who declined comment for this story, did not have confirmation of the spill until school began for the day.

Bergstresser said given the timing of the incident, he should have been notified earlier and the school should have been shut down for the day, until air quality monitoring could be conducted.

The Abbotsford Police began receiving complaints about the smell at about 4:30 a.m., according to Const. Ian MacDonald.

Kinder Morgan spokesperson Lexa Hobenshield said the company was not made aware of the odour until about 6 a.m. and immediately dispatched someone to the Sumas terminal, located in the 4100 block of Upper Sumas Mountain Road.

The spill was discovered in a tank containment area just before 7 a.m.

Hobenshield said the company then contacted the Abbotsford school district, Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service, and the City of Abbotsford. She said she was unable to get through to the police department.

Letters were delivered to Auguston residents later in the day.

“We used the best means we had to try to be effective in communicating with neighbours on Tuesday morning, through informing other agencies who could help with our communications as our first priority,” Hobenshield said.

Bergstresser and Dahl said neighbours should have been informed first thing in the morning. They said they are concerned about the potential for further incidents, particularly with Kinder Morgan’s proposal to double the capacity of its Trans Mountain pipeline.

“I’m super-worried – so worried it’s made me question living here,” Bergstresser said.

The Sumas terminal is part of the pipeline system which brings crude oil from Alberta to terminals in Burnaby and Washington State.

Products can be temporarily stored along the pipeline in 22 tanks in Abbotsford, Kamloops and Burnaby.

Environment minister Terry Lake told The News on Wednesday that the spill was confined to company property and poses no environmental or health issues.

Hobenfield said Kinder Morgan is continuing to investigate the incident.

“Our investigation will look at all aspects … to ensure we are being as efficient and timely as we are able to be.”

Hobenfield said if residents smell odours in the future, they are asked to report them at 1-888-876-6711.