More than 10,000 litres of oily material has leached into the ground in and around Chevron's north Burnaby refinery since spring, according to the company's estimates - that's roughly the equivalent of 68 barrels. The vast majority of that has been recovered, according to company spokesperson Sean Comey.
Chevron first discovered a mix of gas, diesel and crude migrating offsite on April 21 during a routine inspection. The oil is showing up in a ditch beside the railroad tracks and on the beach below. The company has not been able to pinpoint a source, but it appears the seep is the result of years of contaminants building up on the property, now being carried offsite through the groundwater. In all, about 10,816 litres have seeped into the ground, but most of that - 10,000 litres - was recovered through a series of extraction wells on the refinery property.
The wells are set up to catch the material before it migrates offsite. There are still 816 litres which have migrated offsite, but 800 litres of that have been recovered from the ditch, and most of the 16 litres that have shown up on the beach has also been cleaned up. The company's estimates cover the period from April 21 to the end of November for the ditch and the beach, and from April 21 to Dec. 8 in respect to the extraction wells. Comey said the amount of oil found in the ditch has decreased, from about 3.8 litres a day to half a litre, and that the decrease was noted towards the end of October.
On average, between five to seven tablespoons of oily material is showing up on the beach daily. The company posted the information online Jan. 5, shortly after four of Chevron's community advisory panel members walked out on the group in protest over the handling of the leak. The quantity of oil was something the residents felt they had been misled on. Judi Marshall, one of the disgruntled residents, pointed out that the figures are rough estimates. "I think that kind of says it all," she said. "Any time you are dealing with something that is a rough estimate, it can go either way."
Marshall also had concerns that the wells are spaced out, and oil could be getting through between them. And even if the amount of oil seems low on the beach (five to seven tablespoons daily), she added, there are areas on the foreshore where contamination exceeds provincial standards. "It doesn't matter how much Chevron says is there. It's too much because it's beyond the contaminated sites regulation. They are trying to downplay it, but it's over the provincial limit," she said.