A June 25 letter sent to environment minister, Mary Polak from the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako’s board of directors expressed concerns about the plan for a land based spill and preparedness plan in regard to shipping bitumen west from Alberta to the pacific coast.
The letter cites that local government and First Nations communities don’t have the capacity to provide adequate services when it comes to land base spills.
The regional district takes it further noting that the local governments don’t have the resources to prepare for a respond to a hazardous material spill and that to expect communities to respond to these situations without compensation and funding for training and response is unreasonable.
The proposed shipping of oil west of Alberta by rail is expected to take centre stage if the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline doesn’t come to fruition.
Last month the federal government agreed to allow Enbridge to go ahead with proposed bitumen pipeline as long as they met the approximately 200 conditions set forth by the joint review panel and the five conditions set by the B.C. Provincial Government.
Burns Lake fire chief Jim McBride, whose firefighters would be part of the first responders in Burns Lake should there be a spill expressed his thoughts on the issue at the Village of Burns Lake council meeting last Tuesday.
“I’m of a firm belief that the Pan-Pacific Asian countries are looking to get our oil one way or another. I can assure you we aren’t going to fly it over to them. It’s going to go one of two ways, by pipeline or rail,” McBride said, “I can’t think of a community along CN rail that is in such close proximity to the railroad.”
The material aboard these rail cars would be consider hazardous should they spill, and first responders would have to have training and experience in hazardous materials and items (HAZMAT).
McBride said that he would expect his volunteers to respond to the situation, but added that he wouldn’t be sure of what they would be capable of doing since none of the firefighters in his department have training to that extent.
Many of the fire departments in Northwest B.C. are in the same predicament as the Burns Lake Fire Department in that they are volunteer departments and have only been trained in HAZMAT awareness.
“We’re not going to touch it [hazardous material], we’re going to keep the general public and populous away from it and do whatever is necessary to protect our fellow community members,” McBride said.
Concerns over the possibility of a car derailment and the subsequent response has become prevalent in the past year.
There have been four serious train derailments in North America over the past year, including the derailment of an oil filled train last July 6 in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.
That derailment in the town of 6000, destroyed much of the town’s downtown business centre and claimed the lives of 47 people.
If oil is shipped via rail it would see another 100 car train per hour travelling through Burns Lake.
According to numbers provided by McBride, each car has the capacity of carrying 25,071 Imperial gallons of bitumen, and a 100 car train would therefore carry approximately 2.5 million Imperial gallons of volatile liquid through town every hour.
The Village of Telkwa has written a letter to federal transportation minister, Lisa Raitt addressing gaps that exist in CN Rails Emergency Response Plan (ERP).
The letter reiterates the RBDN’s concerns that there isn’t the capacity in Northern communities to handle such an emergency.
In the village council meeting last Tuesday, mayor and council agreed to write a letter of support to Telkwa.
A major concern stated in the Telkwa letter and by McBride is the closest material and equipment depot to deal with a spill incident is located in Calgary over 1000 km away.
Third party personnel would have to be flown in from Texas over 4000 km away.
“It’s this community and the resources of it’s first responders that will have to hold down the fort until these other agencies can arrive,” McBride said, “I feel confident this department can hold the line, but unfortunately going back to the incident in Quebec the fire department couldn’t do anything, it took five days for the consumption of the product before they could get in there.”
As far as responsibility for cost of the cleanup the onus isn’t on CN Rail, but rather the shippers of the product.
The regional district was quick to point out in their letter to Polak that they feel cost of the emergency response should be fully borne by the industry, and that the cost should entail additional planning, training, exercises and debriefings that are required.