Nova Scotia

Sydney evacuees return home after major gasoline spill at fuel depot

Authorities set up a barrier around the nearby residential neighbourhood, but CBRM's fire chief says the imminent danger has passed.

Firefighters sprayed foam over the fuel spill after a tank was punctured, spilling an estimated 600,000 litres

A green box-shaped fire truck sprays foam from a nozzle mounted on top in amongst large fuels storage tanks.
One of J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport's special fire trucks sprays foam onto Imperial Oil tanks and into earthern berms around them after a major gasoline spill. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

People evacuated from their neighbourhood after a major gasoline spill around noon on Friday in Sydney, N.S., were allowed back into their homes in the evening.

The Cape Breton regional fire department called in a special fire truck from J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport and sprayed foam on the roughly 600,000 litres of gas that leaked out of a storage tank earlier in the day.

"Right now, we're working hand in hand with Imperial Oil and the airport with their airport response truck," said fire chief Michael Seth.

"We were able to get that on site and provide foam to minimize the impacts of the vapours that are coming off of the gas."

The fire department held a suppertime press briefing across the street from Imperial's fuel storage facility.

Meanwhile, the airport fire truck sprayed foam all around the tanks and into the clay-lined earthen berm that surrounds them and contains the spill.

A resident talks with police as they direct traffic away from Sydney's north end neighbourhood due to a gas leak at the Imperial fuel tank enclosure. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Seth said one of those tanks had been punctured and leaked about 600,000 litres of gas before the spill was contained.

The fuel storage facility was evacuated along with about 60 homes nearby, between Des Barres and Ortona streets. No injuries were reported.

The fire department had said earlier it was fortunate that the wind was blowing any fumes out into Sydney harbour.

Seth said now that the fuel has been covered with foam, there is less danger of fumes escaping into the environment or igniting.

It will have to be reapplied as the foam breaks down through the night, he said. It will be up to Imperial Oil to finish the cleanup.

"The imminent danger has passed," Seth said.

Fire chief Michael Seth says CBRM's occupational health and safety officer determined that Imperial Oil's air monitoring revealed no health or safety concerns for responders or residents. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

"They still have some significant cleanup to do and throughout that cleanup, there's still going to be some issues that they have to mitigate, but they're going to be able to mitigate that directly on site with their cleanup crew."

Earlier in the day, Imperial's site supervisor Adam MacDonald said the company has called in personnel and equipment from its Dartmouth facility. He also said it was not yet clear exactly what caused the spill.

The chief said firefighters would remain on the scene through the night to ensure residents are safe.

"Thankfully, nothing significant came out of this and the impacts have been minimal," he said. "It's just a bit of displacement and some discomfort. With one spark it could have been catastrophic."

Emergency vehicles are seen on a road leading to the Imperial Oil terminal in Sydney, N.S.
Cape Breton police direct traffic away from three blocks in Sydney's north end neighbourhood due to a leak at the Imperial Esso fuel tank enclosure. (Thomas Ayers/CBC)

The facility includes large tanks containing bulk home heating oil, gas and diesel for Cape Breton Island.

Seth said the provincial environment department had inspectors on site.

Imperial spokeswoman Keri Scobie said the company is still working to determine what happened. In the meantime, she said, officials do not believe the spill will have an effect at the pumps in Cape Breton.

"We're looking at the supply situation," she said. "We don't anticipate any customer impacts."

Scobie said company officials would be meeting Saturday morning and an update would be available sometime in the afternoon.


Tom Ayers


Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 37 years. He has spent the last 19 covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at