Written by: Cecile Favron, Peak Associate
Dozens of concerned citizens gathered to discuss links between the potential for a devastating fire on Burnaby Mountain and the Kinder Morgan tank farm expansion at Simon Fraser University on June 28.
“The pipeline is proposed to be expanded and that increases the risk of fire on the mountain,” Tim Takaro, event organizer and associate dean in the faculty of health sciences, told The Peak.
Earlier, Takaro mentioned that the consequences of the expansion would also involve “increased catastrophic risk to the university and community.”
The Fire on Burnaby Mountain teach-in followed a university wildfire drill held earlier in the week. The drill among responders was the first time the university assessed its new emergency plans for evacuating and/or sheltering on campus.
“They have this drill about forest fires but are not connecting the dots to climate change, the pipeline, and the tank farm risk,” Takaro said of the impetus to hold the event.
Many speakers at the forum voiced fears that climate change increases the risk of forest fires while the expanded tank farm also raises the possibility that fire or toxic emissions could threaten the university campus and nearby communities.
SFU chief safety officer Mark Lalonde was in attendance to discuss the wildfire drill and concerns about safety issues stemming from the tank farm.
“This [drill] was an opportunity to test the new mass evacuation and shelter-in-place plan,” Lalonde told the audience. “We’re really happy with it; we know that there are some adjustments to make and that is in progress.”
Lalonde responded to a number of questions about steps taken by the university to address safety issues around the tank farm and how the institution would respond if a fire blocked the roads to campus.
“We’ve been repeating [our concerns] with government, all three levels of government, and the National Energy Board, and with Kinder Morgan,” he responded. “SFU remains opposed to anything that challenges the safety and security of our campus community.”
Lalonde noted that the university is only responsible for the campus and that the municipality oversees the roads and surrounding area. In the event that the roads became impassable, the recreational trails down the mountain would not be a viable route for evacuation, he added.
“[This] is why our plan is shelter-in-place and mass evacuation,” Lalonde said. “That would be the reality is that we’re going to have to stay here, absolute worst-case scenario.”
“This is one of a myriad of concerns I have about the campus here. This is certainly one of the more significant, it has the most catastrophic potential impact,” he concluded.
In 2016, a report commissioned by the university found that a fire at the facility “could envelop the university, and block access to and from SFU, thus making an evacuation difficult or impossible.”
Jaclyn Parks, a master’s student in health sciences who helped organize the event, noted that a lot of students are unaware of the risk and how to respond.
“[SFU should be] very concerned about the risk of a fire on Burnaby Mountain,” Parks said.
“I don’t think the students have any idea that all of this is happening,” she added. “I don’t even have an idea of what happens if there is an alarm.”
“If there is a giant explosion and a fire, how do we get out?” – Jaclyn Parks, SFU student
In response to audience questions, Lalonde explained that the university has communicated safety issues through its website and other media, but described educating the public as an “ongoing struggle.”
He advised that students, faculty, and staff download the SFU Snap app, which will enable emergency notifications to be sent to mobile devices.
The organizers hope that the event will spark conversation about a lesser known side of the controversy surrounding the Kinder Morgan tank farm and pipeline expansion.
“We know this forest burns, there are a lot of people on the trails, there is a lot of opportunity for accidental fires to start and we also have this enormous risk of the tank farm” Takaro said.
He hopes that people came away from the event with an understanding of the need to stop the pipeline expansion.
The Trans Mountain expansion project, intended to double the capacity of the tank farm and triple the capacity of the oil pipeline, was purchased by the federal government last month from Texas-based Kinder Morgan for the price of $4.5 billion.