Fuel plant company insists facility was safe

The company behind a massive Winnipeg fuel plant that exploded in flames this week insists that its facility was safe, while provincial authorities are investigating the plant to see if it followed proper fuel storage procedures.

Winnipeg racing fuel company under investigation following inferno

Concerns being raised about what the Manitoba government knew about the Speedway International fuel plant before it went up in flames in St. Boniface. 1:57

The company that owns the Winnipeg fuel plant that exploded in flames this week insists that its facility was safe, while provincial authorities are investigating whether proper fuel storage procedures were followed.

Speedway International Inc. issued a statement late Wednesday saying its plant has passed all safety inspections and "has been operating in the industrial zone of St. Boniface without incident since 1998."

On Monday night, the plant — which produced Pro Comp Racing Methanol, a brand of fuel for race cars — went up in a spectacular blaze that sent fireballs and smoke hundreds of metres into the air.

The fire, which ignited at about 5:30 p.m. Monday, forced the evacuation of about 100 nearby homes west of the plant. Damage from the fire is estimated at $15 million.

It was the largest fire Winnipeg has seen for almost 25 years. Another chemical fire erupted in the same St. Boniface industrial park in 1990, according to fire officials.

One particularly large explosion that erupted in Monday's fire was due to one tank that contained more than 100,000 litres of methanol, fire officials said.

Company says it has permits

All companies that store high volumes of fuel products must be licensed by the province and are subject to inspections.

But according to the province's registry for petroleum permits, the Speedway International plant is not a registered company. The company issued a public statement saying it "does not store petroleum products in its buildings or storage tanks."

"Speedway International does store biodiesel which is produced from canola oil. However, no rail cars containing biodiesel or methanol product were affected by the fire," the statement read in part.

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A spokesperson for the provincial government said officials are looking into whether the company was in compliance with Manitoba's Storage and Handling of Petroleum Products regulations.

The company also said in its statement that it is "registered and permitted to import and export fuel."

"We have all required permits and licences, and meet all codes set by Natural Resources Canada and Environment Canada," the company's statement reads in part.

Speedway International has received up to $800,000 in funding from the province over the last few years to help support biodiesel production incentives in Manitoba.

Company officials were not available for an interview on Wednesday.

Residents concerned

Residents living near the Speedway International plant were surprised to learn what kind of business it was, with some wondering how a potentially dangerous industrial plant could be so close to homes.

City Coun. Dan Vandal, who represents the St. Boniface area, has been getting lots of calls from concerned people.

He said the facility was in a designated industrial zone that's been in place for 30 years and he's not sure the city could even prevent Speedway International from rebuilding on the same spot.

However, Vandal said he is willing to review the city's zoning bylaw to see if changes can be made, not just for St. Boniface residents but for the safety of all Winnipeggers who live close to industrial zones.

"At very minimum what I can do as a city councillor for the area is review the bylaw to ensure that everything, that these setbacks are appropriate, regulations are appropriate for this sort of use," he said.