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Burnaby wants Parkland Refinery to foot $30K emergency response bill

'This is not how good neighbours behave,' Mayor Mike Hurley said.
Parkland Refinery with an elevated flare in 2023.

Burnaby council wants Parkland Refinery to pay for the emergency response called on Sunday, Jan. 21, when a heating unit at the refinery malfunctioned and caused “burnt sulphur” to waft into the air across North Burnaby and East Vancouver.

Burnaby Fire Department was called to the refinery just after 8 a.m. that Sunday due to an “industrial incident.”

The city deployed 34 firefighters and eight fire trucks to the scene, forcing the fire department to backfill the positions to maintain a regular level of service.

The incident cost almost $30,000 in staff and equipment, according to fire Chief Chris Bowcock.

Two city councillors now want Parkland to foot the bill.

At a meeting on Monday, Jan. 29, councillors Daniel Tetrault and Alison Gu asked staff to report back on “recovering the cost incurred by Burnaby taxpayers from Parkland Refinery” due to the incident.

“While that sum may not be that large in the grand scheme of things, I still think Burnaby taxpayers should not be on the hook for this,” Tetrault said.

“And it also sends a message that polluting companies will be held accountable for damages they cause in our communities.”

Gu added there is a “disproportionate burden” placed on Burnaby taxpayers due to operators like Parkland, the Trans Mountain pipeline tank farm and Westridge Marine Terminal.

She said, while the benefits of those companies are distributed evenly across the Lower Mainland, “the risks are primarily borne by Burnaby residents,” noting the negative downsides are both safety risks and costs.

Council unanimously agreed to have staff study the issue and bring recommendations back to council for further consideration.

Parkland Refinery said it is aware of Burnaby council’s vote.

“We value our longstanding relationship with the City of Burnaby, and we will continue to directly engage with them as we keep the lines of communication open,” the refinery said in an emailed statement to the Burnaby NOW, adding the company remains “in constant contact with all relevant regulators” and publishes daily community updates through its website and social media.

Could Burnaby see compensation from Parkland?

Bowcock said Burnaby hasn’t historically recovered costs from incidents, but he added the city hasn’t before experienced “incidents of this nature,” which he described as “unique.”

Bowcock said there is an opportunity in the fire bylaw relating to standby time for responses to incidents involving broken or damaged utilities, which he said is connected to electrical, natural gas and fuel needs.

“If the fire department is required to stay on scene to protect the public interest in caring for the damage of these utilities, that it’s able to recover costs.”

Mayor demands investigation

Meanwhile, Mayor Mike Hurley wants to know exactly what happened at the refinery Jan. 21.

Hurley is asking the BC Energy Regulator to conduct an independent investigation of the incident, after he made a motion which unanimously passed at the Jan. 29 council meeting.

The mayor was critical of Parkland’s communications to the public during the incident, when residents were experiencing the terrible smell which reportedly gave some headaches.

“I thought that they would be out there letting us know what had happened and what particulates were being put into the air and how that could be mitigated as best as possible,” Hurley said at the meeting.

“That never happened.”

Hurley said he had to find out through the media that nine Parkland workers asked for first aid.

“Parkland always talks about being good neighbours. This is not how good neighbours behave,” he said.

He said the fire department provided the city with information, but it was “based on what our chief figured out himself; it wasn’t through information that was volunteered from the refinery itself.”

“If people are not upfront and telling you what’s going on, then what else is going on?” the mayor asked.

Hurley sent a message to the community Thursday, Jan. 25, which he said would give residents “a fuller explanation” of what happened.

The refinery’s “fluid catalytic cracker” unit, a piece of equipment that heats materials to create a reaction, “malfunctioned,” according to the mayor.

The malfunction meant “burnt sulphur (primarily sulphur dioxide) and other air contaminants were released into the air, resulting in odour that smelled awful,” Hurley wrote.

“I think it’s so important to get to the bottom of this,” Hurley added at the meeting.

“What really happened? What was going on in that refinery on that day? I think the residents affected deserve all the answers, and that includes North Burnaby and East Vancouver.”

Parkland incident goes to WorkSafe

Parkland contravened the Workers Compensation Act, as the refinery did not immediately notify WorkSafe about the “occurrence of any accident that involved the major release of a hazardous substance,” according to a WorkSafeBC inspection report.

Parkland notified WorkSafe at 7 p.m. on Jan. 21 when the incident happened 11 hours earlier, at 8 a.m.

The incident “resulted in injuries to several workers that required first aid,” which qualified the incident as a “major release of a hazardous substance,” according to the report.

Parkland told WorkSafe 14 workers reported to first aid, the report said.

Parkland told the Burnaby NOW “reporting into first aid” is a precautionary measure which doesn’t mean treatment but determines whether medical attention is needed.

Parkland must submit a full incident investigation to WorkSafe by Feb. 20.