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Letter: Trans Mountain must convince us the Burnaby tank farm is safe from a quake

Editor: Recently, we participated in a press conference adjacent to the Trans Mountain tank farm together with Karl Perrin, spokesperson for BROKE (Burnaby Residents Opposed to Kinder Morgan Expansion) and Svend Robinson, federal NDP candidate in Bur
tank farm
A neighbour of the Trans Mountain tank farm says workers are too noisy.


Recently, we participated in a press conference adjacent to the Trans Mountain tank farm together with Karl Perrin, spokesperson for BROKE (Burnaby Residents Opposed to Kinder Morgan Expansion) and Svend Robinson, federal NDP candidate in Burnaby North – Seymour. 

We raised serious seismic and safety concerns about six existing Exterior Floating Roof (EFR) tanks. These tanks were built in a forest clearing on Burnaby Mountain in 1953, over 65 years ago, at a time that there was no residential community or schools nearby. At that time, the EFR tanks were designed like water tanks and not subject to lateral loads.  

Today, over 30,000 people live, work, learn and play adjacent to the Tank Farm, and on the mountain at SFU and in the UniverCitycommunity. Any failure of the old tanks might cause a serious fire with potentially catastrophic impacts on residents and students, as the Burnaby Fire Department confirmed in the 2015 report authored by Chris Bowcock. 

If the fire were to spread into the forest above the tank farm, SFU and UniverCitywould have to be evacuated. Yet the only two roads leaving SFU intersect right above the Tank Farm, precluding any evacuation by road.  

Sowhat is the concern with the existing 1953 EFR tanks? The early 1950s’ structural design code requirements for EFR and covered roof (IFR) tanks were the same, but the failure modes of the two types of tanks are now known to be very different. EFR tanks of similar (1960s) design as the 1953 Burnaby Mountain tanks failed during a 1999 magnitude 7.4 earthquake in Turkey, which led to an understanding in the engineering community that all EFR Tanks built before the 1970s in high seismic zones could fail prematurely at or below the 1999 seismic design code earthquake.  

The Turkish tank farm burned intensely for five days, with 98 fire trucks on site, airplanes dropping foam on the fire, toxic smoke, and flames visible on satellite photos. Everyone except emergency responders were evacuated within 3 km of the fire. Thirty oil tanks were destroyed. Imagine the impact of a similar failure on Burnaby Mountain.  

Trans Mountain’s Expansion Project (TMEP) proposes to add 14 new tanks to the existing 12 tanks, tripling their capacity. It is now the taxpayers of Canada who own the existing Tank Farm, pipeline, and marine terminal, since the Liberals bought out Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion. Trans Mountain Corporation (TMC), the Federal Crown Corporation in charge of TMEP, has to ensure that Kinder Morgan’s structural engineers correctly assessed the structural design of the six existing EFR tanks and considered the possibility that they might fail during an earthquake. But despite our repeated efforts, Kinder Morgan and now TMC have blocked every request (from us) to verify that they have investigated the seismic capability of the six existing EFR tanks.   

Kinder Morgan’s own 2013 and 2017 NEB documents ignore the EFR tanks. Kinder Morgan also ignored engineering reports on the vulnerability of EFR tanks published after the 1999 Turkey earthquake. In the documents, Kinder Morgan claims that their Tank Farm seismic risk assessment included the existing tanks. But those documents do not have the required horizontal displacement failure analysis for the EFR tanks.   
Finally, we have raised concerns about the integrity of the welds on all 1953 tanks, and now add concerns around the 1953 site preparation for the tank foundations. Again TMC has, to date, (hasn’t provided to us) any information on important welding safety concerns.   

Like the citizens of Turkey, we live in a seismic zone. Seismologists tell us that a large earthquake can happen close enough to Metro Vancouver to cause the same catastrophic damage to the Burnaby Tank Farm, as happened in Turkey in 1999. 

The evidence is clear - neither Kinder Morgan nor TMC have addressed the warnings and seismic risk posed to the Burnaby Mountain and SFU community by the six existing 1953 EFR tanks. We strongly support SvendRobinson’s call for the federal government to urgently order a fully independent seismic and safety audit of all 1953 tanks. The health and safety of Burnaby residents demand nothing less.  

Gordon Dunnet is a retired structural engineer and former principal, Burnaby Consulting Engineers Firm and Dr. John Clague is an emeritus professor with the Department of Earth Sciences at Simon Fraser University

Editor’s note: In an emailed statement for the NOW’s previous story on these concerns, a Trans Mountain spokesperson touted the company’s safety record. “In 65 years of operation, we’ve never had a storage tank fire or structural incident with one of our tanks. Although tank fires and seismic tank incidents worldwide are extremely rare, our prevention and emergency management programs are an integral part of keeping our terminals operating safely,” the spokesperson wrote.