SFU preps for Burnaby inferno

Administrators hold a “forest fire” drill. Students say the real threat is giant tanks of crude oil.

Officials at Simon Fraser University held a mock forest fire drill on Tuesday, testing the University’s capacity to react to an out-of-control blaze on the forested slopes of Burnaby Mountain.

“Everybody knows what this is about,” said SFU masters student Maddie Hague, pointing to the planned expansion of the Trans Mountain crude oil storage facility just 100 metres from the only roads on or off the Burnaby campus.

Hague, currently working as a summer student with Dogwood, is helping to organize “Fire On Burnaby Mountain,” an information open house for students and other concerned residents at Blusson Hall on Thursday, June 28 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Shelter in place

Previous comments by SFU officials suggest they are worried about loss of life and health impacts from toxic smoke, should a fire ever break out at the Trans Mountain tank farm.

Buncefield fire, possible scenario for Trans Mountain near Simon Fraser University Burnaby

Aerial image of the 2005 Buncefield fire

Dr. Ivan Vince was an investigator after the 2005 Buncefield tank farm fire in England. In a report written for the City of Burnaby, Vince says Trans Mountain failed to properly consider the risks of a fire or explosion, like the one that ignited 20 oil storage tanks at Buncefield.

“Radiant heat from the fireball as well as the rainout of burning oil would be capable of igniting litter in the surrounding forest and a variety of exposed combustible materials on and around houses,” Vince wrote after examining the Trans Mountain proposal.

“The application for expanding the Burnaby terminal would, in my opinion, have failed in the U.K. and, in all probability, throughout the EU,” the consultant concluded.

Inextinguishable, toxic blaze

Burnaby’s deputy fire chief, Chris Bowcock, said in his report to the National Energy Board that a crude oil fire could quickly overwhelm the city’s ability to respond.

“Many of the potential tank fire scenarios within the Trans Mountain Tank Farm would be inextinguishable,” Bowcock wrote. It could take four days for oil tanks to burn down to the point that firefighters could approach.

Burnaby Mountain fire department highlighting Trans Mountain Simon Fraser University plan

Diagram from Burnaby Fire Department report

That’s a problem for tens of thousands of people who live, work and study on Burnaby Mountain every day.

“Escape ceases to be a viable emergency response option,” wrote PGL Environmental Consultants in a safety report for the university. “Because of the decreased distance between the new storage tank locations and the junction of Burnaby Mountain Parkway and Gaglardi Way, SFU becomes vulnerable to isolation.”

SFU was declared the best comprehensive university in Canada by Maclean’s magazine in October. The school has topped the annual ranking nine times in the last 10 years.

Last month cabinet ministers announced the Trudeau’s government’s intention to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline and associated facilities from Texas company Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion.

The public would also be on the hook for the costs of building the expansion. Economist Robyn Allan estimates the eventual cost to taxpayers could approach $15 or even $20 billion. That doesn’t include the costs of an accident, such as a tank farm fire engulfing SFU.

Students, faculty concerned

Maddie Hague questions the timing of the university’s forest fire drill. “If they really want to keep us safe how come they’re doing the drills in the middle of summer,” asked Hague, “when so many of us are not in school?”

“Are students going to receive any training themselves on what to do if there’s a tank farm disaster?’

SFU associate dean of Health Sciences Dr. Tim Takaro isn’t waiting to find out. Takaro says there are compelling reasons to scrap the Trans Mountain project entirely.

“Climate change presents the greatest threat to public health in our times,” says Takaro. “We must draw the line on large new fossil fuel infrastructure to meet our commitments to future generations.”

Takaro has risked arrest blockading the Burnaby tank farm, where contractors are preparing to build 14 new crude oil storage tanks. “If not now, when? If not us, who?”

Takaro and Hague are among the speakers at “Fire On Burnaby Mountain”. The event will run at Blusson Hall, room 9011, on Thursday, June 28 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Dogwood summer student at Watch House

Maddie Hague speaks at the Kwekwecnewtxw Watch House on Burnaby Mountain

4 Responses to “SFU preps for Burnaby inferno”

  1. …..might an underground escape tunnel be feasible?…..it would be expensive….but hey! the KM pipeline is costing us 4.5+ Billion!

  2. Ann Jarrell says:

    Thanks, Maddie. A very good event with excellent speakers!

  3. “Lie: The Ocean Protection Plan will protect against oil spills on the coast; The Feds say that ‘their’ science says diluted bitumen floats (so no need to worry). It didn’t in the 2010 Michigan spill. Eight years later, bitumen is still being scraped off the bottom of the Kalamazoo River. And, even if it did float, at best 10-20% of the spill will be recovered. The rest of it will end up on the riverbed or ocean floor or wash up as tar-balls on our beaches. The bottom line is that all of the $1.5 Billion of vaguely defined Oceans Protection Plan won’t make dilbit float.” https://commonground.ca/tell-me-lies-lies-crude-little-lies/ AND https://www.peacearchnews.com/opinion/letters-very-much-an-issue-for-white-rock/ AND https://commonground.ca/how-trudeaus-lies-differ-from-trumps-lies/ ….
    VARIOUS environmental groups have been vocal in stating that when released into gritty B.C. coastal waters, diluted bitumen (dilbit) sinks to the bottom within a few hours.
    Ironically, their concern about dilbit’s apparent irretrievability from life and ecosystem sustaining waters may (as ludicrous as this may sound) inadvertently reactively become its appeal to some readers typically apathetic towards our natural environment: The dilbit spill will not be an eyesore after it sinks—i.e. out of sight, out of mind.
    Why worry about such things immediately unseen, regardless of their most immense importance, especially when there are various social issues and contemptable politicians over which to dispute?
    I see it as analogous to a cafeteria lineup consisting of diversely societally represented people, all adamantly arguing over which identifiable traditionally marginalized person should be at the front and, conversely, at the back of the line; and, furthermore, to whom amongst them should go the last piece of quality pie—all the while the interstellar spaceship on which they’re all permanently confined is burning and toxifying at locations rarely investigated.
    Could it be somewhat similar to the ostrich syndrome seemingly prevalent in human nature that allows the immense amount of plastic waste, such as disposable straws, getting dumped out of sight thus out of mind before eventually finding its way into our life-filled oceans?
    In his May 15 essay published Canada-wide, Black Press chairman David Black wrote that, “There is no way to prevent [its sinking] and no way to retrieve the dilbit, so the ocean and fishery would be ruined for generations”; but then the same apathetic nature may elicit further lame shortsightedness—e.g. ‘I don’t eat fish, nor desire to visit the beach, let alone swim in the open wild waters’.

    “Lie: The [Kinder Morgan tarsands pipeline tripling] project will generate 15,000 good, middle-class jobs: Wish that it were so! Unfortunately, Kinder Morgan’s own figures show only 52 long-term jobs in BC associated with the TMX project- running the expanded Burnaby tank farm, the terminal and maintaining the pipeline. There are more employees in an average tourist hotel. All others—digging and laying the pipeline, feeding and housing the workers—would be temporary workers during the 2-year construction period. And there are dozens of hungry pipe-laying crews in Texas and Oklahoma all geared to fill those construction jobs.” https://commonground.ca/tell-me-lies-lies-crude-little-lies/ AND https://commonground.ca/how-trudeaus-lies-differ-from-trumps-lies/ ….
    WHAT really bewilders and angers me about the Rachael Notley and Justin Trudeau governments’ aggressive insistence on the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline is the obfuscation of the real, serious threat to B.C.’s natural environment for the sake of jobs and the economy when almost all of the jobs are temporary and the economy would do better by we processing a great deal more of our own oil.
    Also frightening are the voices in the mainstream press and Alberta’s United Conservative opposition loudly declaring that—good God!—Premier Notley is not being tough enough with B.C.
    At the very least, we should process enough of our own crude to supply the entirety of Canadians’ expensive gas-consumption requirements (and in particular those of the especially hard hit Greater Vancouver region)—even if it means paying a little more for Canadian wages—instead of exporting the bulk raw resource then importing the finished product. A similar question could be asked in regards to our raw-log softwood exports abroad.
    After thirty years of consuming mainstream news media, I’ve yet to come across a seriously thorough debate on why Canada’s various governments consistently refuse to alter this practice, which undoubtedly is/was the most profitable for the huge Texas-based corporation, Kinder Morgan. And I’m not talking about open and closed on the same sole day, with the topic discussion parameters constrained to the point the outcome seemed predetermined.
    If the Americans can extract and process their own oil—as well as our crude and logs—then we should be equally as patriotic thus Canada First, even if it means paying slightly higher for Canadian wages than those in the U.S.

  4. John Prentice says:

    The Buncefield fire was caused by gasoline. Try and get your facts straight before scaring the bejeezus out of everyone.

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