Chevron won't remove contaminated soil

Jennifer Moreau
Wednesday, January 12, 2011

While Chevron is legally obliged to stop the oil that's been seeping downhill from the North Burnaby refinery since last spring, the company has no plans to remediate the onsite soil, and the provincial Environment Ministry isn't going to force them as long as they are still operating.

Chevron discovered a mix of gas, diesel and crude leaching from the refinery on April 21. The company has not been able to pinpoint a source, and it appears that the seepage is the result of contaminants built up in the ground over time, now being carried offsite through the groundwater. The oily mixture is showing up in a ditch next to the railroad tracks and on the beach below the refinery.

Although the refinery property is contaminated, Chevron's Ray Lord said it's not a realistic option to remove soil from the site. "This is private property, and that is why the issue is being dealt with the way it is, which is to monitor the perimeter of our property.

This is a functional refinery with (a) roadway, with pipes, various operating production units, and excavation is not an option," he said. "But we can do our best to prevent material from getting where it shouldn't be in the first place."

Part of that prevention includes the extraction wells Chevron has installed to try and capture the material before it percolates offsite and a monitoring program in place since 2004 to keep an eye on the perimeter of the property.

If they notice areas along the perimeter with "active" levels of hydrocarbons, then they install more extraction wells, Lord explained. "It is not an impermeable wall of protection," he added. "We're frustrated as well that we can't snap our fingers and (the oil seep) will go away." Part of the reason the company has not been able to locate a source is because the underground flow of water is so slow, Lord said. "We certainly want to make it clear to people that we're trying," he said. "A great deal of effort is going into this. ... We're committed to resolving the situation."

Chevron estimates that roughly 10,000 litres of oily material have been captured through the extraction well system - that reflects about 62 barrels of material soaked into the ground onsite. Another 816 litres have migrated offsite, but the vast majority of that has been cleaned up, according to the company.

When questioned if the provincial Environment Ministry had any plans to make Chevron clean up its contaminated site, the response was negative. However, ministry spokesperson Colin Grewar pointed out that Chevron is required by law to stop the oil from seeping off their property and to remediate the foreshore area. (Some areas on the beach were found to have contaminant levels above provincial standards.)

"Chevron is currently conducting independent remediation of the foreshore area with Ministry of Environment oversight. They are remediating the foreshore according to the requirements set out in the Contaminated Sites Regulation," Grewar wrote in an e-mail to the NOW. "Ministry of Environment staff continue to monitor the company's progress in confining and remediating the contamination.

To date, Chevron has been responsive and has acted quickly on direction from the Ministry of Environment." But, he added, the company is not required to remediate the refinery itself while it continues to operate as an industrial site. "If and when the refinery was to shut down, Chevron would be responsible for remediating the site," Grewar continued. "Chevron has voluntarily conducted specific on-site remediation projects in past to remove contamination from the site's 75 year operating history." For more, see Jennifer Moreau's blog, Community Conversations, at

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