Some of the approximately 65 residents who were forced from their homes after Monday’s butane leak in east Saint John are being allowed back home.
Saint John Emergency Measures Organization (EMO) says residents on Spruce Avenue, First Street East and Second Street East will be able to go back on Friday afternoon.
Multiple air quality tests have indicated that these areas are safe and clear, with 12 consecutive hours of a zero LEL level recorded. First responders will accompany residents to their homes and confirm the air quality in each home is safe.
Meanwhile, air quality testing continues in the areas of River Avenue and Pleasant City Street, where residents remain on evacuation.
Bayside Drive also continues to be closed to traffic.
The leak of liquid butane was discovered in a four-inch pipe that runs to the Irving Oil Refinery from the Canaport in east Saint John.
“The pipeline leak is over. It’s been mitigated, it’s been capped and it’s safe. The leak has been mitigated, it’s been cleaned up, it’s safe,” Mike Carr, the manager of the Saint John EMO, said during a media briefing on Friday.
“The problem is that we have used a very extensive flushing effort to make sure that nothing is in the sewer systems, to make sure that there is no residual that may have gone downstream because of weather.”
Carr says that until they have conclusive testing, they have to “err on the side of caution.”
He adds that EMO has contingency plans to get residents back, to re-open critical infrastructure and for turning the power back on.
“Our main goals is that once we have clear testing, then all of those plans in parallel will be executed,” he said.
Irving Oil says they will be installing a gas detection system at their terminal, as instructed by the New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board.
It’s still unclear when the leak began and how much liquid butane spilled.
“Part of the evidence is the discussions we’ve had with the residents here and some of those would indicate they picked up an odour the day prior, so we need to go back and have those interviews and gather all the evidence to see if we can determine (that),” said Mark Sherman, the COO of Irving Oil.
Sherman told reporters the company is “anxious to get residents back and get back to normal operations.”
The Board has been on site to inspect the incident, collect evidence for an investigation and to approve a formal repair on the pipe.
In a news release, the Board said preliminary results suggest the leak was caused by the extreme cold weather. The release notes that pipelines are designed to allow for expansion and contraction with temperature changes, but ice buildup in one area constrained the pipe’s movement, which caused a 5 cm-long crack.
The Board has asked to company to show that the pipeline can be operated safely before it will grant permission to resume operation. They’ve also asked Irving Oil to raise a section of the pipeline so that it will not be susceptible to icy conditions in the future.
Meanwhile, Saint John Fire Chief Kevin Clifford thanked residents for their patience and admitted that communication with media during the incident could have been better.
“This is an incident that is an accident. What we have to be mindful of is getting things back to where they need to be,” Clifford said.
“I do appreciate that media needed better updates at times and we’ll take some lessons from this.”