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NDP candidate calls for release of safety report on B.C.’s Trans Mountain tank farm

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There are calls to release a study about fire suppression safety concerns at Trans Mountain terminals in Burnaby and Edmonton. In Burnaby, a federal candidate says the study is being intentionally buried. Paul Johnson reports.

The NDP candidate in Burnaby is accusing Canada’s energy regulator of burying a safety study that raises concerns for fire safety on Burnaby Mountain, where the Trans Mountain pipeline terminates.

The mountain is home to 12 oil tanks that are fed by the existing pipeline. Another 14 tanks are due to be installed there for the pipeline’s planned expansion.

In May, a National Energy Board report on fire preparedness planning at the Burnaby, Westridge and Edmonton terminals mentioned a study on the issue conducted by PLC Fire Safety Solutions that was delivered in December 2016.

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Pipeline politics in Burnaby election riding

Svend Robinson, who is running to represent the riding of Burnaby North—Seymour where the tank farm sits, says that study was never released to the public — and he wants to know why.

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“I want to see that document,” he said. “The people of this community have a right to see that document. It was paid for by taxpayers.

“It’s a safety study. Why shouldn’t they have access to it?”

Robinson says repeated requests to the National Energy Board — now the Canadian Energy Regulator (CER) — to see the study or release it publicly have been denied.

READ MORE: Burnaby mayor says city’s pipeline concerns have been ignored, talked over

“It’s been incredibly frustrating,” he said. “I have sent many emails, I have had phone calls. This is a pretty straightforward matter: it’s a report that talks about the safety of tanks which affects directly the people in the community I want to represent.”

The regulator’s report notes it declined to adopt the entirety of the PLC study in its analysis of fire preparedness at the terminals, arguing the study incorrectly interpreted various regulations and requirements.

Trans Mountain itself requested the regulator ignore the study entirely, according to the report, claiming PLC failed “to adhere to the principles of procedural fairness.”

However, the regulator noted the PLC study “identified a number of potential deficiencies that could be considered to relate to hazards and associated risk” at the terminals, which could be used in future audits of the expansion project.

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READ MORE: Pipeline politics loom large in Burnaby riding at ground zero of Trans Mountain

That’s enough for Robinson to argue the study is of national interest, and should be released before the federal election on Oct. 21.

“[The CER] have thrown up every possible barrier,” he said. “They say, ‘Oh, it’s this law and that law.’ What they’ve also said, which I find very troubling, is ‘Oh, we’d love to release this, but [PLC] is objecting.'”

CER spokesperson Sarah Kyley told Global News that Canada’s access to information laws give third parties a chance to review documents before they’re publicly released.

“This is their right under the law to review this before it’s released,” she said. “If the process completes, we will wrap it up as soon as possible.”

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The mayor of Burnaby says he’s taken his concerns about pipeline safety to the prime minister

PLC would not comment on the record about the study.

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But Robinson doubts PLC is the one holding up the study’s release, accusing the CER of “stonewalling.”

“Which begs the question: what’s in that report?” Robinson asked. “There’s obviously some serious concerns.”

Trans Mountain did not return requests for comment Sunday.

National Energy Board report on Trans Mountain terminal fire preparedness by Sean Boynton on Scribd

Safety concerns increasing

Safety concerns on Burnaby Mountain have been increasing along with the local population.

The UniverCity development near Simon Fraser University now houses more than 6,000 residents and is expected to continue growing, prompting calls for a dedicated fire hall on the mountain.

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The community has expanded to the point where Forest Grove Elementary sits 250 metres from one of the existing Trans Mountain oil tanks.

That’s the same distance between the tank farm and a fire that broke out at a storage facility in January.

READ MORE: Burnaby Mountain residents call for their own fire hall, emergency plan at community meeting

An emergency meeting with city staff and fire officials in May was followed by another town hall on Wednesday, where those same officials detailed their disaster plan in the event of a spill or explosion at the tank farm.

Burnaby Fire Chief Chris Bowcock assured the more than 100 residents in attendance that a safety plan is in place.

The city is continuing to evaluate a potential location for a dedicated fire hall and how to adequately staff it.

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Burnaby Mountain residents concerned about emergency response

The need for a local fire hall has increased as response times continue to lag behind the national standard of six minutes, which the UniverCity Community Association said isn’t being met 98 per cent of the time.

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Trans Mountain is also required to present an emergency plan to the city six months before the new tanks are constructed, the city said in May.

Further issues raised

Despite not adopting the PLC study during its audit of Trans Mountain’s fire preparedness, the regulator’s report still found deficiencies in the company’s plan.

Most crucially, Trans Mountain indicated its target response time to assemble people and resources in the event of a tank fire is six hours.

However, the company admitted that under certain conditions, a tank could boil over in just over five hours.

The CER has asked Trans Mountain to establish a four-hour response time.

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Critics raise concerns about Burnaby “tank farm”

Further, the report noted Trans Mountain was not conducting unannounced exercises to test that response time, which is considered a key requirement. Those exercises have also been ordered.

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Despite those issues, the regulator deemed Trans Mountain has “demonstrated it has developed site-specific plans and procedures” to address fire safety and preparedness at all three terminals.

READ MORE: Burnaby mayor presses Trudeau on safety measures if Trans Mountain expansion approved

Robinson isn’t convinced, saying he remains concerned about the people living on Burnaby Mountain.

“It’s their lives and safety, and the lives and safety of their kids — including at the school right by this tank farm — that’s at stake,” he said.

RIDING PROFILE: Burnaby North—Seymour

Amita Kuttner, the Green Party candidate for Burnaby North-Seymour, says they also want the PLC study to be released.

“It definitely seems like something that the public should have access to,” Kuttner said. “I’m questioning that they are giving reasons of the [Access to Information Act] to not have it out.”
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Incumbent Liberal candidate Terry Beech declined to provide comment.

People’s Party candidate Rocky Dong and Heather Leung, who is still running in the riding despite being dropped by the Conservative Party, could not be reached.

— With files from Paul Johnson and Robyn Crawford