Members walk, saying Chevron misled them

Jennifer Moreau
Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Members of Chevron's community advisory panel are walking out with criticism over how the company has handled the ongoing oil seep at its North Burnaby refinery. "We're not participating anymore because we feel they are misleading us about the seep," said Judi Marshall, a longtime panel member and one of the original founders of BRACE - Burnaby Residents Against Chevron Expansion.

The seep Marshall's referring to is the mix of gas, diesel and crude oil that's been leeching from the refinery since April 2010. While no independent measuring has been done, Marshall suspects there's more oil than the three to seven tablespoons per day that Chevron has estimated. Besides that, Marshall was critical over how long Chevron took to notify the panel members of the problem.

The seep was first discovered on April 21, and although relevant authorities were told, the panel didn't hear about it till May 18. According to Marshall, it's not clear if Chevron has any intentions of notifying the panel if something similar happens in the future. As a result, Marshall and three other BRACE members are leaving the panel. "We just feel we can be more effective working outside, because we're just enabling them being there," she said. Marshall said the meetings are "controlled and restrictive" and that the minutes don't really reflect what's being said. BRACE started back in 1996 with about a dozen members campaigning against Chevron's proposal to expand operations in the neighbourhood. The company started the community advisory panel the same year to address issues of mutual concerns with neighbours.

Over the years, BRACE representatives have been active on Chevron's panel, and the four departing members represent one-third of the group. "Were going to keep an eye on the seep ourselves," Marshall said. Another member, Dianne Alsop, is also leaving after 12 years on the community advisory panel. She echoed Marshall's concerns saying that while Chevron has made some inroads, smells in the neighbourhood and the ongoing oil seep are problems. "If that's their best, it's not good enough," Alsop said.

Chevron has yet to pinpoint the source of the leak, which appears to be a case of contaminants building up in the soil over the years that are now being carried offsite through the groundwater and showing up downhill from the refinery and on the beach below. Marshall would like to see more action from the provincial and federal government and fines or legal action against Chevron. "They've been leaking into the inlet. It's been eight months that they know of, and it doesn't seem like anybody is making them stop," she said. "Why is Chevron allowed to pollute into the inlet? How come they can keep operating? They seem to say it's a seep and it's historical, but they don't know where the source is. Perhaps, they should have to curtail their operations until they find that source. They could be adding to that every day."

Jill Donnelly is the refinery's health, environment and safety manager, and she attends the community advisory panel meetings. Donnelly was surprised by the members' resignations because the company has made some recent changes to improve communication. "I thought that things were going alright because we had made all these changes, many of them at their suggestion," she said. "We're committed to making continual improvement, it's a Chevron principle." Donnelly said nothing has changed as far as Chevron's estimates on how much oil is percolating through the ground, but corporate spokesperson Sean Comey pointed out that the company has been working with the pertinent regulatory agencies.

As for improving notification in the case of future emergencies or leaks, Comey said communicating with the community is part of our regular process with the panel. "We have regular meetings and keep them informed," he said. Comey was also surprised by news of the resignation. "But we would like to thank these people for their service to the community, because they helped identify ways to improve the (community advisory panel) process," he said.

For more on this story, see Jennifer Moreau's blog, Community Conversations, at

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