Home / Energy and Environment / Irving Oil to install gas detection system after butane leak in Saint John

Irving Oil to install gas detection system after butane leak in Saint John

Irving Oil will install a gas detection system at the Saint John East Terminal before the ruptured butane line that forced the evacuation of the area Monday resumes operations, company officials pledged during a media briefing Friday.

Mark Sherman, vice-president and chief operating officer, said the decision was reached following discussions with the New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board, which regulates public utilities, including pipelines.

The leak was discovered because workers were making checks in preparation for doing maintenance work on Monday around 10:30 a.m.

It’s unclear when the four-inch-diameter pipe broke or how much butane escaped in liquid or vapour form.

Butane is a colourless, highly flammable gas that can cause nausea, asphyxia and arrhythmia if inhaled.

Evacuee Kelsey Fillmore, who lives on River Avenue, told CBC News she noticed an odour for about three days prior to the leak being discovered.

There is still no word on what caused the break in the above-ground line that carries liquid butane from the Saint John East Terminal to the Irving Oil refinery.

Sherman suspects it was a “freeze split,” but said he can’t say with certainty until it’s removed and inspected.

40-year-old pipe

The pipe was installed around 1977 but was re-rated within “the last few years,” as required.

“So we’re very confident with the inspections that have been done that the pipe in general has been, you know, it’s certainly not a bad actor, it’s been in good shape,” he said.

“So that’s why the investigation is very important to find out what happened.”

‘Given the proximity to the homes there, we’re going to look at what we think is adequate to safeguard the public.’ – Mark Sherman, Irving Oil

Both the EUB and the Department of Environment are investigating.

Once repairs are complete “at some point,” a temporary gas detection system will be installed and approved by the EUB, said Sherman.

A permanent detection system will have to be designed and ordered, he said.

“Any time you have an incident, there’s lessons learned as points of reflection,” Sherman said. “And given the proximity to the homes there, we’re going to look at what we think is adequate to safeguard the public.” 

Will review communications plan

Saint John EMO director, Fire Chief Kevin Clifford

Saint John EMO director Kevin Clifford, who is also the fire chief, said communications during the butane leak response this week will be reviewed to look for ways to improve getting information to the public. (CBC)

Saint John Emergency Measures officials also pledged Friday to review their communications plans and possibly make changes after facing criticisms.

Kevin Clifford, the Saint John fire chief and director of EMO, acknowledged that communication with the public about the hazardous material fell short.

“I do appreciate that the media needed better updates at times and we’ll take some lessons from this, but at the same time I do appreciate your patience,” he said during the media briefing — only the second such public briefing held by EMO in the five days since the leak was detected.

Although officials have been providing regular updates to the approximately 65 area residents who were forced from their homes Monday, media representatives have not been allowed to attend.

Some evacuees may get to go home today

Butane leak, day 3, Saint John East Terminal

Saint John emergency crews have been dealing with the butane leak on the city’s east side since Monday at around 11 a.m. (CBC)

Some of the evacuees might be able to return to their homes today, if air quality tests over a 12-hour period detect zero butane readings, said EMO manager Mike Carr.

“The pipeline leak is over … it’s been cleaned up, it’s safe.

“The problem is that we’ve used a very extensive flushing effort to make sure that nothing is in the sewer systems, to make sure there is no residual that may have gone downstream because of weather,” he said.

“And until that’s complete and we have conclusive testing, we have to err on the side of caution and make sure it’s safe for the residents to go in.”

Clifford commended the evacuees for their resilience, patience and understanding.

“It’s not lost on us that this has been a significant impact for them,” he said.

“We’re moving to bring this thing to a conclusion.”

Bayside Drive, which has been blocked from the Courtenay Bay Causeway to Red Head Road, may also see one lane in each direction reopen today, they said.

Spruce Street, which had been evacuated from civic numbers 66 to 72, has already reopened.

Although blockades were removed from the evacuated First Street East and Second Street East early Friday morning, security was re-established over the lunch hour.

Irving Oil workers set up a new mobile building on the northbound lane of Bayside Drive. It will serve as a second command post for the EMO as crews continue to deal with the butane leak cleanup, as well as the large amount of rain and freezing rain in the forecast for Friday and Saturday.

​Environment Canada has issued a freezing rain warning and a rainfall warning across New Brunswick.

The Fundy Coast could get more than 100 millimetres of rain. The rest of southern New Brunswick could see between 50 mm and 80 mm. In the northern part of the province, rainfall amounts will be about 25 mm. 

The north and northwestern parts of the province are also under a flash freeze warning.

J.D. Irving operations resume

Irving Paper mill, Bayside Drive, Saint John

The Irving Paper mill on Bayside Drive resumed operations on Friday, following an evacuation and shutdown Wednesday night. (CBC)

Meanwhile, the Irving Paper mill, Irving Wallboard plant and J.D. Irving offices on Bayside Drive were resuming full operations Friday after overnight air quality tests in the buildings and water and sewer lines found no traces of butane, spokeswoman Mary Keith said in an emailed statement.

The operations were evacuated and shut down Wednesday around 8:30 p.m. after traces of butane gas were detected in the air at Irving Paper.

A mill employee, who was experiencing “headache symptoms” after her shift, went to the Saint John Regional Hospital at around 9:30 p.m., Keith confirmed.

The female employee underwent “tests” and was subsequently released,” said Keith, without elaborating.

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