Oil product leaked into Burrard Inlet from Suncor terminal

By Sarah Payne

Black Press

Clean-up is underway at the Suncor Energy terminal on Barnet Highway after about 225 barrels of a biodegradable oil leaked from one of its storage tanks over the weekend.

Suncor spokesperson Sneh Seetal said the leak was discovered last Saturday from one of the approximately 70 above-ground storage tanks at its Burrard Products Terminal off Barnet Highway.

"The product that was leaked is a soybean-based biodegradable product that's used as a blending agent for bio-fuels," Seetal said, noting the oil is used to make renewable diesel.

Most of the product leaked onto the terminal property, she said, but about two litres may have reached Burrard Inlet.

The leak occurred on the portion of Suncor's property located in Burnaby, just west of the PoMo border.

"This product is not classified as environmentally hazardous but for Suncor, any [leak] of product is not acceptable and that's why we took a number of immediate steps when we noticed the leak," Seetal said.

A team was mobilized to drain the tank and dig a trench around it to collect any leaked material, then dispose of it. Any residual product in the leaking tank is then transferred to another storage tank. Stormwater sewers have also been blocked.

Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) was also contacted on Saturday, and remains on site, to inspect the spill and assist with clean-up efforts.

Michael Lowry, spokesperson for WCMRC, said a crew responded Saturday with the skimming vessel Burrard Cleaner #3 and the Burrard Cleaner #4, which brings containment booms to the site.

"[Suncor] has boomed already as part of their plans and we lay down a secondary containment boom, and we put sorbents in to recover some of the products," Lowry said, adding Suncor is responsible for measuring how much product was leaked and how much of it is recovered.

Burnaby-Douglas NDP MP Kennedy Stewart was troubled that he only learned of the spill from constituents who left him messages on Wednesday. Speaking by phone from Ottawa airport while awaiting a flight, he said the 225 barrels is equivalent to about 26,000 litres.

"I just think that the public should be alerted of these things early on. If there's nothing to worry about then people should be told this rather than let rumours and innuendos kind of circulate around the community."

Stewart, who has been outspoken in his opposition to the proposed expansion of  Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline which terminates in Burnaby, said incidents like this are a concern.

"We do have a lot of industry in Burnaby that is either processing fuel or moving them around or shipping them and I think this doesn't help the public trust in this whole process."

As he's been away on MP's business—as the Opposition science and technology critic he was meeting with President Barack Obama's scientific advisors in Washington, DC earlier this week—staff at his constituency office have been monitoring the spill situation.

He's hopeful to get a report soon with more details of what happened.

"The process so far hasn't been fantastic … When they have booms out on the water it's always disconcerting."

Port Moody Mayor Mike Clay is also raising concerns about the delay in notifying the city and public about the leak. City staff didn't learn about the leak until Wednesday morning.

"It sounds like on Saturday at about 8 p.m., workers there noticed an oil sheen on the water in the inlet," which triggered the spill response efforts and notifications to the Ministry of Environment, Provincial Emergency Program and WCMRC — but not the city.

"Everybody followed all the correct protocols and... they did everything they should do, but they didn't notify anybody," Clay said.

He attended a meeting with Suncor officials Thursday and said they suspect the tank may have been leaking from as far back as March 24 but the slow leak wasn't picked up by Suncor's daily tank measurements, which recorded the relatively small amount of lost product from the massive tanks as a "statistical anomaly," Clay said.

Seetal said of the two litres that leaked into the inlet, about 250 millilitres of the floating oil has been recovered.

"The volume is so thin that that's why they deployed the booms to capture it, and we'll also be using other equipment to skim it," Seetal said. "So you will see the booms there until we're confident that we've captured it all."

Seetal said investigators will be looking into what caused the leak.

"We are always deeply concerned about the natural marine ecology in Burrard Inlet and we don't want any product going in there," Clay said.

Late last month, a leak at a Suncor site in Alberta resulted in some 350,000 litres of waste water going into the Athabasca River.

~ with files from Wanda Chow

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