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Tanks farms, pipelines, and the safety of the SFU community

SFU faculty, students, and UniverCity residents push back against Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion plan

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Image Credits: Carolyn Yip

Hidden in plain sight

Upon starting your post-secondary studies at Simon Fraser University’s Burnaby campus, you might not notice at first that it is located above a tank farm. It is tucked away just below the Gaglardi Way and Hastings Street exits, where 13 barrels hold approximately 1.685 million barrels of crude oil and other refinements for Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline system.

What you might be aware of is that Kinder Morgan wishes to expand their pipeline. This expansion includes an additional 13 tanks, to double the Burnaby tank farm if the federal government rules to approve the expansion on December 19. The proposal produced by Kinder Morgan intends on building a $6.8 billion pipeline that will carry diluted bitumen — a kind of crude oil which has been diluted for transport — from Alberta to British Columbia.

Recently, The Peak reported that the Burnaby tank farm poses a potential safety risk to students and the Burnaby Mountain community if the controversial expansion is built. Grayson Barke, council representative for the Environmental Resource Student Union, explained “the risk of something terrible happening will go from one in one million to one in 2,000 after this expansion is done.”

Indeed, many residents, faculty, and students have been opposed to the pipeline expansion plan. Many individuals are asserting that the SFU community should be made more of aware of the potential hazards if the pipeline is expanded.

Stephen Collis, SFU English professor, protester, and a recipient of the Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy award, explained that initially “at the global end of things I was deeply concerned about climate change, I take very seriously what scientists are saying. We literally cannot build a pipeline right now and still say you are doing something about climate change.”

Collis was previously threatened with legal action by Kinder Morgan during the 2014 protests on Burnaby Mountain.

Collis didn’t initially oppose the pipeline due to safety concerns at SFU; rather, they shifted towards that. “Once you start hearing reports from the Burnaby Fire Department and then [SFU] that there is no real escape plan if there is a serious fire, and there is a real chance there could be a fire, that’s all super alarming.” He added that the safety issue “is a bit under the radar.”

As a member of the Burnaby Mountain community and activist for opposing the Kinder Morgan pipeline, Ann Jarrell expressed her concerns about the lack of public consultation regarding safety. “The problem is, we don’t want to scare people,” she said. “But they need to know that this is happening so we can prevent it because it’s so scary.”

Looking at potential risks for students and Burnaby Mountain residents

The most recent report from the Burnaby Fire Department in the Trans Mountain Tank Farm Tactical Risk Analysis in 2015 outlined that the “Burnaby Mountain terminal is not the appropriate location for the expansion.” The report broke down the risks which further endanger the SFU community and Burnaby Mountain residents.

In expanding the pipeline, the possibility of exposure to sulphur-based gases will increase, exposing many residential areas where “Smoke outfalls from fire event may contain sulphur dioxide (SO2), in which KMC [Kinder Morgan Canada] analysis shows a potential health concern could be felt up to 5.2 km downwind.”

The chemicals which students and residents may be exposed to could increase the likelihood of asthma and cardiovascular illness for those living in the area. In the longer term, the potential effects are as yet undetermined, but could include an increased likelihood of developing cancer, the report explained.

In an interview with The Peak, Barke explained that he heard complaints during hearings in regards to the air quality surrounding the tank farm. “I heard about a dozen people say that just when they have been walking around, just being in that area, they are smelling strong gasoline fumes, to the point where it’s suffocating and they have to move out of the area.”

Jarrell, a resident of the UniverCity condo complex, has submitted a 10-page document to the National Energy Board as a commentator. She expressed that the tank farm was of particular concern because she wasn’t even aware that the tank farm was located on Burnaby Mountain until she had some breathing problems. She explained to The Peak, “I was driving up Burnaby Mountain one evening in October and I suddenly started coughing violently and  momentarily lost control of my car”.

Not only is the SFU community likely to experience an increase in health-related concerns if the pipeline is approved, but the Burnaby Fire Department has also reported increased possibility of tank farm “boilover” leading to forest fire and toxic smoke plumes.

A major concern for students is the contents of the new oil mixture that will be stored at the tank farm. In the November 1 report from the Ministerial Panel for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, “presenters reported that the mixture is much more explosive than crude oil and more difficult to clean up when it spills.” There is also increased likelihood of boilover and fire due to the explosive nature of the the mixture that will be in the tanks on Burnaby Mountain.

Jarrell also pointed to an ongoing issue of the land on which Simon Fraser University is located: “the possibility of an earthquake.” She cited that “the fire department describes it as located on an unstable mountain slope susceptible in an earthquake area.” She added that she has researched and tracked that “there are 400 earthquakes or so in BC, so far, this year.”

Jarrell also stressed that the risk assessment previously conducted by McCutcheon and Associates for Kinder Morgan describing the Burnaby Mountain area is thoroughly inaccurate.

She mentioned a specific part of the Risk Assessment Final Report that states  “[. . .] the probability of an incident happening is low enough when compared to the acceptable level of risk identified by the MIACC [Major Industrial Accidents Council of Canada]. This probability equates to [. . .] up to about 86–224 metres from the dike wall for a fully involved dike fire, which is acceptable for an industrial area.”

However, Jarrell said “this is not an industrial area. There are residents in this area on a regular basis. I’m not sure if the Forest Grove Elementary School is within the 86–224 metre area.” Not to mention the tens of thousands of students who are on the Burnaby campus each day.

What SFU plans to do about it

Collis shared his thoughts on SFU’s stance over safety for the SFU community and the pipeline: “I don’t think they have talked about it nearly enough, frankly, and as far as I understand there has been a kind of lack of transparency.”

The latest statement from SFU’s chief safety officer Mark LaLonde stated in an email to The Peak that “SFU’s position consistently remains that we view as unacceptable, any expansion that would result in an increased risk to the health and safety of the SFU community.”

The report from the Ministerial Panel for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project outlined that the location of the tank farm and the limited access to SFU by only two roads “creates a scenario in which thousands of students and residents would have to ‘shelter in place.’” The report cited that “officials from SFU suggested that the tank farm expansion should only be considered with the provision of an alternative public access to — and egress from — the mountaintop.”

According to LaLonde, “SFU has a comprehensive emergency plan that is updated annually and provides for a range of emergency situations that could occur. We also conduct a series of regular training events to practice and test various emergency plans, which include the involvement of emergency first responders such as fire and police at our campus locations in Burnaby, Surrey, and Vancouver.”

Recently, LaLonde told the Burnaby Now, “If it’s a large event, we’re probably going to have to shelter in place, so where do we put people? What HVAC [heating, ventilation, and air conditioning] systems can we turn on quickly to stop the fumes from coming inside?” In the article, the Burnaby Now expressed that the pipeline expansions remain top priority and that LaLonde is developing a plan, hopefully by September 2017 when construction on the project would begin, if it is approved.

What the next few months hold

“In terms of what the SFSS [Simon Fraser Student Society] is doing, we are very close to having a survey come out [. . .] This seems like the best way to inform students and engage their level of concern, in a time-sensitive way, so that should be happening pretty soon,” Barke said to The Peak.

There “is one thing that we definitely need to do, is get some people out here in the next month to look at the area and see how just unsuitable it is for the expansion,” Jarrell said. On why she moved to Burnaby Mountain, she said, “it’s beautiful up here and I think that what my husband and I are trying to do is ensure that it stays beautiful for everybody.”

Most recently, an organized rally and march which started at Vancouver City Hall through to Library Square, invited people to walk in solidarity in opposition to the potential approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Roughly 3,000 protesters marched from City Hall along the Cambie Street Bridge. Speakers including Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Tsleil-Waututh elder Amy George talked about their opposition to the pipeline. Other attendees included Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.

The overall message of this march called for Trudeau to keep his commitments as prime minister, even though many feel that this pipeline project will be approved. At the protest, Phillip said to Global News, “from what we’ve been hearing through the grapevine, we’re anticipating Prime Minister Trudeau to approve the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline project.” Both Collis and Barke expressed that they feel this project will be approved.

Collis said that in the activist world, “there is a lot of opposition out there, but a lot of work to do to get people organized. I expect that if the pipeline does get approved, I expect it will, that we are into a phase with a lot of protests [. . .] because people really do not want this.”

Barke said that he intends to focus on “prevention, mitigation, and adaptation” following the approval of the pipeline. While safety risks are posed to SFU students and the Burnaby Mountain community, both Barke and Collis mentioned there will be increased engagement from faculty members and students at SFU; some wish to organize a town hall meeting at SFU in the near future, to educate students and the Burnaby Mountain community to have greater awareness and concern for safety if the project is approved.

It is clear that both residents, faculty, and students of SFU and Burnaby Mountain are increasingly concerned over the upcoming decision that is to be made by the federal government.

Collis described the ongoing speculation over the pipeline approval as a “shell game”: “Why are we even in this game if we recognize climate change as a real thing, if we recognize indigenous rights, and if we have these local dangers to these projects? Why are we even trying to play the shell game of trying to sneak one past the public?”

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