Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mayor wants answers on Speedway biodiesel plant

Province says firm not listed on petroleum registry

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Mayor Sam Katz said he wants to know why the province has no record of chemical storage tanks at Speedway International's biodiesel plant.

Firefighters continued to put out hotspots at the site of the Speedway International fire in St. Boniface midday on Tuesday.

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Firefighters continued to put out hotspots at the site of the Speedway International fire in St. Boniface midday on Tuesday. (MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) Photo Store

Earlier this week, 100 residences and businesses were forced to evacuate due to the risk of explosions from a massive fire at the St. Boniface plant.

Biodiesel 101

SPEEDWAY International makes biodiesel and is one of only three such facilities in Manitoba. Biodiesel is considered an environmentally friendlier fuel, and at Speedway, was a mixture of diesel fuel and canola oil. Environmental records detail how Speedway produced biodiesel:

  • Speedway International used canola oil to manufacture biodiesel. The process converts canola into a chemical. To produce 10 litres of biodiesel, 10 litres of canola oil and two litres of methanol are required, as well as 35 grams of sodium hydroxide.
  • Canola oil is received by truck.
  • The oil reacts with the methanol and sodium hydroxide.
  • Methanol contained in the glycerine and biodiesel is separated through a methanol-recovery system and recycled.
  • The biodiesel is cleaned using a non-water washing process prior to storage and testing.

-- Manitoba Conservation, environmental act licence, 2006

Speedway International is the only business in Winnipeg with a provincial licence to manufacture biodiesel, and fire officials initially estimated there were 400,000 litres of flammable chemicals at the site, including methanol, biodiesel and racing fluid.

This morning, Katz said he plans to follow up and find out why the province has no record of a facility that was provincially licensed. He said he hopes there is proper communication between different levels of government.

"It's an answer we need to get right away," Katz said, following council's executive policy committee meeting.

Katz said he's thankful no citizens or firefighters were hurt in the blaze.

On Tuesday, City Coun. Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) said the incident raises questions about what the city is doing to ensure chemicals are safely stored.

Vandal said then he did not know what caused the blaze, but he wanted proper followup to prevent any similar fires in the future.

He called the industrial blaze "horrible" and said it had a big effect on area residents.

"It raises questions on what we are doing to ensure that these chemicals are safely stored," Vandal said.

"We have to make sure we have the authority in place -- the fire department, the emergency services, and the people licensing these facilities are doing so with public safety as the first interest they have to protect."

Province says firm not listed on petroleum registry

Speedway International is locatated in an area zoned for heavy industry, and environmental records show the province granted the company a licence in 2006 to set up a biodiesel manufacturing plant, storage warehouse and chemical tank farm.

Records show the company planned to store large drums of biodiesel, one drum of glycerine and two drums of canola at the site.

The documents also reveal the business planned to keep a methanol/sodium hydroxide mix tank and sodium hydroxide storage was kept behind a firewall. The company planned to store methanol in rail cars on a rail line adjacent to the building.

Provincial officials have confirmed they have no record of Speedway International on their provincial petroleum products storage and handling registry. Manitoba rules stipulate companies that store a certain amount of petroleum products must register with the province and be subject to inspections.

Officials said Manitoba Conservation and the Office of the Fire Commissioner are now investigating whether Speedway International complied with provincial fuel-storage regulations.

Diagram of Speedway International's building from the company's Manitoba Conservation environment act licence, 2006.

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Diagram of Speedway International's building from the company's Manitoba Conservation environment act licence, 2006. (MANITOBA CONSERVATION LICENCE)

Provincial cabinet spokesman Jean-Marc Prevost confirmed late Tuesday Manitoba Conservation and the Office of the Fire Commissioner are investigating whether Speedway International complied with provincial fuel-storage regulations.

To date, the province said Speedway International has never voluntarily registered.

"We have no record of them on petroleum products storage and handling registry," Prevost said.

The province said Winnipeg fire officials are responsible for enforcing the fire code.

As part of this enforcement, Prevost said fire inspectors would alert any company that stores and handles a certain amount of fuel to register with the province.

Speedway International owner Royce Rostecki could not be reached on Tuesday and his relatives said he would not comment.

Half of fire department battled blaze

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service deputy chief Bill Clark said fire crews were aware there were flammable chemicals when they arrived at the scene.

He said the initial call came into the fire department at 5:37 p.m. Monday when an alarm went off inside the building. No one was inside at the time, Clark said, because the office was closed.

He said some firefighters, including himself, were only 30 metres away when a tanker truck carrying 75,000 litres of methanol exploded a short time later.

Clark said the fireball that many Winnipeggers witnessed is called a "BLEVE" -- for "boiling liquid expanding vapour explosion" -- an extremely dangerous explosion that's the result of boiling liquid chemicals that turn into vapour and ignite.

An explosion erupts at Speedway International, a methanol fuel plant in Winnipeg on Monday, October 1, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christine Morin

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An explosion erupts at Speedway International, a methanol fuel plant in Winnipeg on Monday, October 1, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christine Morin (CP)

At the time, Clark said fire crews were setting up to attack the rapidly growing blaze. Following the BLEVE, Clark said firefighters backed away, set up a 1,000-metre safety perimeter and called for the evacuation of nearby residences.

Drums of fuel inside the burning building also exploded, and officials were worried two rail cars adjacent to the burning building each contained 100,000 litres of fuel -- one with biodiesel and one with methanol -- could ignite.

Clark said there was a potential for a disaster.

"If the rail cars had exploded they can rocket up to 1,000 metres and a whole rail car weighs several tonnes," he said, standing near the charred remains of the business on Tuesday.

Clark said close to 50 per cent of the department's resources were on site Monday night. The fire department co-ordinated with officials from 17 Wing, Winnipeg police, Manitoba Hydro and an airport foam truck to help quell the flames and safely evacuate the area.

The cause of the fire has not been determined. Damage estimates peg the total cost of the blaze at $15 million.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 3, 2012 A4

History

Updated on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 9:51 AM CDT: updates with mayor's reaction and comments

10:47 AM: removes duplicate sentences

11:44 AM: Corrects reference to BLEVE.

1:22 PM: Updates with write-through.

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