Digging deeper for beach toxins

Jennifer Moreau
Saturday, January 29, 2011

While they already know parts of the beach are contaminated from the ongoing oil seep, Chevron is conducting a detailed site investigation to figure out just how deep and wide that contamination has spread.

A mix of oil, gas and diesel has been leaching offsite from the North Burnaby refinery since last spring, but the company has yet to pinpoint a source. The oil is showing up in a trench next to the railroad tracks and on the beach below the refinery. To date, the seep appears to be the result of contaminants leaching into the ground over time and migrating offsite through the groundwater. Chevron hired a crew from URS to conduct the detailed site investigation, which should wrap up by mid-Februray.

On Wednesday, workers were digging on the beach with a drill, taking samples for analysis. Mike Gill is one of the URS project managers. He said the investigation is to determine the extent of the contamination.

When asked if there was any threat to human health, the environment or wildlife, Gill replied: "That's what we're trying to determine - if there's a risk."

Once the fieldwork of the detailed site investigation is done, Chevron will install absorption mats underground on the beach to soak up the material. There's also a smaller seep, about 50 metres west of the larger seep, where oil is also showing up in the sand. Chevron has put soaker pads on the spot, but company spokesperson Ray Lord said there isn't enough material there to put another boom on the beach, like they've done to cordon off the larger seep. "That area is something we've been tracking closely," Lord said, referring to the smaller seep. "We will be dealing with it. We're aware of it, we will be keeping an eye on it."

Chevron also plans to install an underground absorption mat for the smaller seep. URS has done sampling all along the beach to see if there are more oil seeps. "At this point in time, these are the two areas we know about and intend to deal with," Lord said. Longtime Chevron critic Judi Marshall lives close to the tank farm.

On Dec. 2, Marshall was walking on the beach when she spotted the second, smaller seep and alerted Chevron, but she said they already knew about it. On Wednesday, Marshall visited the smaller seep and said there was more material on the beach than there was in December. "That leads me to believe it's getting worse," she said.

Since spring, roughly 16 litres of oil have made it to the beach below the refinery. Chevron has also recovered 10,000 litres of oily material onsite, through a series of extraction wells, and about 800 litres have been recovered from the railroad trench. The material represents about 68 barrels' worth, but the vast majority has been captured in the cleanup, according to the company.

While Chevron hasn't found a source, Lord said they've got a new specific "area of focus" around the effluent sewer system. Chevron is isolating the spot for further investigation. Lord said they will be excavating there and any oily material found will be recovered, and treated.

The subsequent report will be available on Chevron's community advisory panel website in the coming weeks. For updates, visit www.chevroncap.com, click on Resources and select "Burnaby Refinery Area 2 Seepage" under Current Issues.

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