Another Teck-nichal Error

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
April 2nd, 2009

Already facing impending legal action for the spill of 900 kilograms of lead into the Columbia River last spring, Teck reported on Monday March 30th that a leak, this time of fuel oil, occurred in late December.

The leaked fuel oil was stored in a large tank on site; oil is piped to a number of the operating plants that make up the company’s lead smelting operations. In this particular case, the leaked fuel oil came from the line to the number two slag fuming furnace which uses the oil when the furnace starts up in cold weather. The pipeline leading to the furnace is largely above ground with a short section of less than 10% of its length located underground. Late in December, technicians at the plant detected a disparity in the amount of oil being drawn from the fuel oil storage tanks when compared to estimates of regular plant usage. This disparity triggered an investigation to determine the nature of the fuel oil use disparity that looked at a number of potential causes, including the suspect pipeline.

“When we started to focus more on the pipeline, we first did a visual inspection on the above-ground section and then we focused on this short underground section,” explained Teck communications manager Carole Vannelli Worosz. “We tested that underground section using air pressure tests and by running a camera through it and that’s when we determined it had a crack running through the underground section. It was quite a diligent investigation in trying to determine what the issue was in figuring out the apparent fuel oil loss.”

While not completely sure how much fuel oil was leaked (the company is still in the process of determining the extent of the spill) Teck has estimated that between 160,000 and 370,000 litres of fuel oil were leaked.

When questioned about the wide-ranging estimate, Worosz explained. “I can appreciate that that is a big range, and the range is our best estimate based on a number of calculations on usual plant function based on a number of different factors. There is a range we’ve put out to the public but that is just a best estimate. We are continuing our monitoring and drilling campaign that we have now underway, then we’ll be able to better quantify the amount of oil that was spilled.”

Once Teck became aware of the leak, they hired consultants SNC Lavelin to attempt to determine the best method to further investigate the situation and develop a remediation plan. In an effort to determine how much oil was leaked and where the oil went, SNC drilled nine monitoring wells around the site to a depth of 60 metres. While a “small amount of oil” was discovered in the well immediately beneath the leak site, from the data acquired through the other monitoring wells it was determined that there was no indication that the oil had migrated beyond any of the other monitoring wells apart from the one immediately below the leak site. The closest of the other drilled wells was within seven metres of the leak site, apparently indicating that the oil had not leached more than seven metres from the leak site. What may or may not have happened prior to the monitoring wells being drilled remains unknown.

SNC Lavelin were unavailable to comment on the process when contacted by the Rossland Telegraph and at press time had yet to respond to messages left for them in an effort to learn more about the cleanup and monitoring efforts.

Teck issued a brief informational press release on the spill on March 30th. This was the first information on the spill made available to the public. When questioned as to why information on a leak that occurred in late December was not made public until three months later, Worosz replied, “This was discovered in December and we did notify the BC Ministry of the Environment and the BC Provincial Emergency Program as soon as we were aware of the leak and we’ve been working very diligently on this with the help of consultants who are experts in oil spill remediation to get a better understanding of the situation. As the leak was contained on site and has not impacted the external environment we wanted to have a clearer picture of the situation before making any public announcements and that’s what we did on Monday.”

As of yet, no dollar figures have been tallied for the cost of the investigation and remediation efforts, and no specific plans have been set for how to clean up the spill. Investigations and monitoring of the spill are still underway and any oil discovered in the monitoring wells is being removed.

As to whether or not Teck may face any penalties for the spill, Kate Thompson of the BC Ministry of the Environment explained, “All of their spills have to be reported as part of their permitting and licensing. When you’re not compliant (with your permits and/or licenses) an investigation will certainly be undertaken. There could be a file opened if negligence was involved, but not if it was accidental, however.”

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