People living near Sydney's fuel storage depot want it relocated

·4 min read
People living in a residential neighbourhood in downtown Sydney, N.S., want Imperial Oil's bulk fuel storage facility to move elsewhere after a major gasoline spill earlier this month. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)
People living in a residential neighbourhood in downtown Sydney, N.S., want Imperial Oil's bulk fuel storage facility to move elsewhere after a major gasoline spill earlier this month. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)

People who live in the North End neighbourhood of downtown Sydney, N.S., say they want a bulk fuel facility to be relocated.

Nova Scotia's Environment Department is investigating after about 600,000 litres of gasoline spilled out of one of Imperial Oil's tanks on July 8 when it was punctured by a front-end loader working at the facility.

People in the nearby residential neighbourhood were told the area was being evacuated, but officials later said it was a voluntary evacuation.

Grace Arsenault, a longtime resident who organized a community meeting on Monday evening, said residents still have questions about their safety and the environment, but the majority were still upset by the ordeal of the spill.

"Most of the concerns that were raised were about the evacuation process," Arsenault told Information Morning Cape Breton on Tuesday. "People were told it was imperative that they get out right away and yet it was called a voluntary evacuation."

It was a stressful time, she said, because some residents had nowhere else to stay.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

Some booked hotel rooms not knowing how long they'd have to stay away and others could not afford that, Arsenault said.

Firefighters from J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport sprayed foam onto the exposed gas later on the day of the spill and the company says it was all cleaned up within five days.

But people at the community meeting also had concerns about the petrochemical odour the day after the spill and about the possible lingering environmental effects.

"There's certainly a fight to have the tanks removed from our neighbourhood, but it's also about holding the company accountable for what's taken place so far," Arsenault said.

Residents suggested the environment should be a priority over industry and the cleanup of Sydney's former steel plant and coke ovens proved that is possible, she said.

"We can look at our Open Hearth Park and that used to be a toxic site from the steel plant. That wasn't so many years ago, so it's not impossible."

Arsenault said the next step is to compile the concerns of residents and send them to Imperial Oil and then invite the company to a community meeting to address those concerns.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

Meanwhile, the Environment Department said in an email the spill is under investigation.

No one was injured and people were advised they could return home about seven hours after the incident was reported.

But 48 million litres of untreated sewage wastewater went into Sydney harbour after power was shut off to the nearby Battery Point sewage treatment plant over fears that a spark could ignite gas vapours.

Electricity to the North End was cut for part of the day of the spill, but it remained shut off to the treatment plant for nearly two days.

Nova Scotia Environment has said it is not investigating the wastewater release, though, because it was "an unfortunate circumstance."

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

The province also said the tank that leaked about 600,000 litres of gas has a capacity of 2,685,000 litres.

The tank is one of five that is surrounded by an earthen berm with a clay lining that is supposed to keep spilled fuel from leaching into the ground.

The front-end loader had been doing work on the containment berm when it punctured the tank, the company has said.

The Environment Department said the capacity of the berm is regulated and it is one of the aspects of the spill that is under investigation, along with the company's environmental management plan that details how it deals with emergencies on site.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

Cape Breton regional fire Chief Michael Seth said his department had an expert on standby to measure the levels of gas in the air.

However, the expert was not called in because the municipality's occupational health and safety officer determined that Imperial Oil's measurements had not detected any unsafe levels in the neighbourhood, he said.

Seth also said the fire department's drone sent back overhead images that showed the containment berm was doing its job during the spill.

"There was still plenty of room in the berm," he said.

Meanwhile, the foam used to cover the spilled fuel is biodegradable and safe for humans, the fire chief said.

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