Environment & Economy By Connell Smith · 136 Views

Request for public input on refinery pollution levels gets one response

When New Brunswick environment officials asked for public submissions on air pollution from the largest oil refinery in Canada, just one person stepped forward.

But that one hand–written response from refinery neighbour Gordon Dalzell's to Irving Oil's application for a new five-year air quality operating permit was 200 pages long.

He asked that sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emission limits be stricter. And, he got it.

The new limits, 4,500 tonnes annually in the case of each, are down 13 and 18 per cent respectively.

The past five years have seen some serious problems at the refinery. They include a massive, October 2018 explosion and a butane leak earlier the same year that saw city streets blocked for days and 84 residents forced from their homes.

Dalzell asked environment officials why there had been no warning letters, orders or penalties issued by the department in connection with those failures.

The response: No enforcement actions or investigations were required. The refinery was meeting the requirements of its approval conditions at the time of the incidents and regulators are "satisfied with the manner in which occurrences were managed."

In all, the department responded to 33 separate issues raised by Dalzell, a longtime clean air advocate, whose home is less than a block from the refinery fence.

They include the lack of access to the refinery's annual report, and to minutes of the local Community Liaison Committee.

He's disappointed to learn he was the only one to respond to the call for comment, which opened December 20 and carried through May 15.

"Just think if they'd had 50 submissions," said Dalzell. "We might actually see more stringent rules, more tougher conditions. We might actually have seen the place cleaned up even more than it has been over the years. Because they have made improvements.  We have to make sure that's on the record."

While there have been improvements the refinery is the province's biggest single contributor of greenhouse gases at approximately three million tonnes annually

Dalzell said by not responding, New Brunswickers signal provincial regulators there's little interest in pushing the company for tighter air quality rules. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Local Government said public comments and questions about air quality operating approvals are welcome anytime, and can be submitted through the department's website.

Irving Oil did not respond to a request for an interview on the new air quality regulations.


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