Years after 9,000 litre fuel spill, province unveils decontamination plan for Bowness Gas Plus site

Seven years after 9,000 litres of fuel spilled at the Bowness Gas Plus station, local residents have learned the details of the plan to decontaminate the ground.

Residents like Maureen Whitlock see no joy in province's ongoing remediation efforts

The site of the old Gas Plus station in Bowness has been empty and surrounded by a fence for years after a major fuel spill was discovered at the site. (Google Maps)

Seven years after 9,000 litres of fuel spilled at the Bowness Gas Plus station, local residents have learned the details of the plan to decontaminate the ground. 

The long process around the cleanup is little comfort to Maureen Whitlock, whose home is located behind the site. 

"We can't even put it on the market to sell it," she told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday, after the community meeting on Tuesday night. 

"We have holes in the ground," she added, saying her husband refers to as their "nine-holer in the back."

Once the site is cleaned up, the Whitlocks must still declare the contamination to potential buyers.

"We can't ever see anything at the end of the rainbow here," she said.   

The slow process for remediating the site has angered others in the community, with location on the main drag surrounded by chain link fences and at time bulldozers and mounds of dirt.

Though the Gas Plus located at 6336 Bowness Rd. N.W. was privately owned at the time of the spill in 2010, the province took over the cleanup and remediation process in 2014.

The cost is estimated to be upwards of $4.3 million, said Craig Knaus, compliance manager with Alberta Parks and Environment.

'Still the responsibility of the polluter'

The takeover of the site, a first for the province, was precipitated by a change to the Environmental Protection Enhancement Act in 2014 that stated if a recipient of an environmental protection order does not take the proper steps for cleanup, the province can take over the remediation process. 

"Not that we're assuming the liability or the risk … it's still the responsibility of the polluter, but to get the environment made whole again, we have the ability to take that over," Knaus said.

There's still a chance the polluter will have to pay.

"Every effort will be made to recoup an expenses," he said, adding the province "tried to get the party responsible to do the right thing for a long time."

Meanwhile, the station has been fenced off and the province has been monitoring and studying the soil and groundwater around the site for the past three years.

Since 2015, the province has implemented parts of the remediation plan, but now the priority is to decontaminate the off-site areas.

Knaus says the size of the contaminated area, called a "plume," has decreased in size, partly due to remediation efforts.

Final cleanup several years away

The next steps for removing the gasoline particles absorbed into the soil are technical, time-consuming and costly.

Methods include releasing contaminated soil into the groundwater and then removing it in several ways, including "sucking it directly off the water," Knaus explained.

The water can also be "volatilized," which involves removing vapours by injecting hydrogen peroxide.

"One of the things at the forefront of our minds is that we are not putting anybody at risk when we are doing this activity," Knaus said.

The project will take at least two to three years to complete including the cleanup and the one-year waiting period to verify the cleanup efforts were successful.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener