Shell gas leak: finding contaminated sites is a challenge | Vancouver Sun
September 13, 2011. 2:18 pm

Shell gas station at Granville St. and W. 41st Ave.
The news that at least 78 properties on the eastern edge of Vancouver’s Kerrisdale neighborhood are affected by a historic gasoline leak from a nearby Shell gas station came as a bit of a surprise. I don’t think anyone should really be surprised that old gas stations with underground tanks could contain contaminated soil. What is very surprising is that Shell Canada, the city and even the provincial Ministry of Environment seemed reluctant to make public the fact that the leak at the 80-year-old gas station at Granville St. and 41st Ave. was so extensive.

When Shell’s communications department agreed to talk to the media, they acknowledged that the company knew about the leak back in 2006 and has been quietly testing in the area to determine the size and scope of the underground plume of hydrocarbons.

Shell held a meeting for affected property owners on Oct. 28, 2010, but never publicized it. Only when a disgruntled owner contacted the media Monday about a new information meeting set for Monday evening did the public find out just how far afield the gas has leaked. It turns out that a tank or tanks at the station had been leaking for years, putting gas so deep into the ground it entered the water table 60 feet down where it spread south to 43rd Avenue, and west towards Angus Drive. Similarly, the ministry and the city didn’t publicize the leak or list it in any documents I could find.

Shell’s spokesman Jeff Gabert readily disclosed the problem when I called the company for information. He pointed out that Shell does testing whenever it encounters contaminated soils on its lands and it notifies residents whose adjacent properties are affected. It also helps property owners navigate through all the questions that might come up, such as “does this affect my property value” and “can I build or renovate.” But the company doesn’t feel it needs to broadcast its problem to the rest of the world.
“It’s a private type thing. It’s not something that we would be going out and talking about on a regular basis. We talk to people all the time about issues that are associated with our sites, and that’s one of these.” – Jeff Gabert, Shell spokesman.
Given the size of this leak and the fact that it got into the city’s groundwater table, I’d tend to disagree that it is a private matter. In a handout Shell representatives gave to residents at the meeting Monday night, the company noted that it has to comply with new Minstry of Environment standards because the aquifer under the area “is deemed to contain a sufficient water resource that is classified as a potential potable water source in the future.” I’ve posted the entire 4-page handout below, including a full page dissertation by Shell as to why they had to comply with more stringent Ministry of Environment standards.

Old gas station, Cambie St. & 16th Ave. Photo credit: Ken Oakes

There are plenty of gas station sites in the city that have contaminated soils. You can find fenced corner lots in a number of places with monitoring and gassing-off equipment. It’s part of the soil remediation process. There’s no suggestion that these pose any danger to the public.

I can name at least two – one literally across 12th Avenue from City Hall, next to the White Spot Restaurant, and the other on West 41st Avenue at Larch St., across from Elm Park.

Municipalities all over the Lower Mainland have these kinds of brownfields, diused commercial or industrial sites that have contamination issues. The real stunning thing, however, is that it’s VERY hard to know where they are.

The federal government has a searchable list of 20,823 sites in Canada, ranging from small unassessed sites to large ones. B.C. has the largest proportion of those sites, a total of 4,319. Of those, 790 are in the Lower Mainland/Southwest region, and 1,681 are on Vancouver Island and coast. Most of these appear to be relatively small sites related to historic federal works.

But getting a similar line on provincial contaminated sites is much harder. The Ministry of Environment, which is responsible for contaminated sites policies, has a “contaminated site registry” that you can access through BC Online. It has information sheets on the registry here. The catch is that you have to know the address or general geographic location. A search will run you between $50 and $500 (for manual searches), depending on what you want. The registry is tied to the land title system. I can find no free list of places you can search in case you think the gas station, oil refinery or railroad next to you is a toxic dump.

I found one internal audit report from 2000 that puts the number of contaminated sites in B.C. at 5,100. But in its “Contaminated Sites 101” page, the ministry now says there are over 9,000 sites in the province. There’s also information that there are at least 11 significantly polluted sites in B.C. that pose a health hazard. See the .pdf document here.

The ministry has a detailed land remediation site. The government also has a B.C. Brownfield Renewal site designed to promote the remediation and development of disused or underused industrial and commercial sites. You can also check out the Contaminated Sites Approved Professionals Society of B.C.

If you know of other sites worth noting, let me know. - Blog by Civic Lee Speaking

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