Gas Plus fuel leak dispute goes to hearing

Calgary's mayor says the city and the province have failed the needs of residents living near a Bowness gas station that leaked thousands of litres of fuel last year.
Alberta's Environmental Appeals Board began a hearing Tuesday concerning a leak at this Bowness Gas Plus station. ((Brooks DeCillia/CBC))
Calgary's mayor says the city and the province have failed the needs of residents living near a Bowness gas station that leaked thousands of litres of fuel last year.   

"If I had the power and the authority to do it, I would love to just have the City of Calgary clean it up, but I don't have that ability. And so we've got to figure out a way to get it cleaned up," Naheed Nenshi told CBC News. 

An estimated 9,000 litres leaked into the ground more than a year-and-a-half ago in the northwest Calgary neighbourhood along the Bow River. 

But a clean-up has yet to start, despite an almost year-old Environmental Protection Order issued by Alberta Environment.  Alberta's Environmental Appeals Board began a hearing concerning the Gas Plus fuel leak on Tuesday.   

The mayor said the contamination has "just got to get fixed." 

"This is one of those areas where the authority of the city and the authority of the province intersect in ways that don't always serve citizens well... because at the end of the day, the bureaucracy, the red tape, the obfuscation only helps folks who don't want to fix the problem and the system sometimes seems tilted towards that," said Nenshi. 

The owner of a Bowness gas station appealed the province's Environmental Protection Order (EPO) requiring it clean up the site, claiming Alberta Environment's order is biased and based on faulty science.

Clean up plan debated   

Hundreds of pages of documents submitted to the Alberta Environmental Appeals Board detail a debate between Gas Plus Inc. and Alberta Environment about the best way to clean up the contaminated site.   

Gas Plus' lawyer, Richard John, declined a CBC News' interview request. 

But in a May 20 letter to the Appeals Board, John contends digging up the site and removing soil contaminated with hydrocarbons is an overreaction.   

"The metaphor of using a hammer to squash a fly is applicable here," he wrote. "The insitu excavation subject of the Amended EPO is a hammer to the release which is a fly." 

Environmental engineer Patrick Hettiartachi, with the University of Calgary's Schulich School of Engineering, said there are potential short-term and long-term human health and environmental impacts. 

"The longer you wait, the higher the probability of... spreading [contamination]," he told CBC News.

"The longer you wait, the higher the probability of exposure," Hettiartachi added. 

Alberta Environment and Water blames the delays on Gas Plus.

"We've been very clear in our expectations and deadlines around the clean-up of the site," said spokeswoman Carrie Sancartier. "So, the delay in the clean-up is really the result of Gas Plus continually challenging Alberta Environment and Water's decisions," she added. 

Dream on hold 

The lengthy clean-up process frustrates Andy Ross, who bought a river-front property near Gas Plus in March 2010. 

He wants to build his dream home in Bowness. But the City of Calgary won't grant a development permit. 

"We have a great deal of anger and resentment towards Gas Plus," said Ross.   

"They seem to do everything they can to delay cleaning up their mess. They'd rather spend money on lawyers and hold up the process in the system, rather than actually spend money on actually remediating the spill," he added. 

Ross is also upset with Alberta Environment, saying they've had "ample opportunity to force" Gas Plus to clean up the contamination. 

"What we need out of the government is leadership. Instead, what I sense is that we are getting a certain amount of laziness and cowardice and hiding behind the books and the regulations," Ross said. 

Alberta's Environmental Appeals Board's hearing is expected to last three days. 

Once the hearing closes, the Board provides the Minister of Environment a report and recommendations, reversing or varying Alberta Environment's EPO. 

Gas Plus can also ask the Court of Queen's Bench for a judicial review, resulting in a potential further delay.