Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Storage rules don't apply

Biofuel plant needed no permit

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The St. Boniface biodiesel plant destroyed by a massive blaze is not subject to Manitoba's existing fuel-storage regulations, provincial officials confirmed Wednesday.

Speedway International was the first biodiesel manufacturer of its kind in the province, with the capacity to produce 20 million litres of biodiesel a year. Records show the province granted the company an environmental licence in 2006 to set up a manufacturing plant, storage warehouse and chemical tank farm.

The facility caught fire on Monday, and the risk of explosions from volatile chemicals such as methanol and biodiesel quickly prompted emergency officials to evacuate 100 homes and businesses. A tanker truck carrying 75,000 litres of methanol exploded and caused what's called a "bleve" -- boiling liquid expanding vapour explosion -- an explosion that's the result of boiling liquid chemicals that turn into vapour and ignite.

Witnesses described the burst of flames as a massive fireball.

Fire officials initially estimated there were 400,000 litres of flammable chemicals at the site, including methanol, biodiesel and racing fluid. The cause of the $15-million blaze has not been determined. Manitoba Conservation and the Office of the Fire Commissioner are investigating whether chemicals were stored properly.

In a statement Wednesday, Speedway International said it passed all safety inspections and met all safety codes and standards set by Natural Resources Canada and Environment Canada.

Manitoba Conservation deputy minister Fred Meier said the province did not issue a permit to Speedway International to store chemicals on-site since the company fell below regulatory requirements. Meier said Manitoba rules stipulate companies that store more than 5,000 litres of fuel in a single container must have a provincial permit and be subject to more frequent inspections.

Speedway stored its chemicals in 200-litre drums, he said, and did not need a fuel-storage permit.

"There wasn't anything around biodiesel that would specifically be a concern or a greater concern than other operations that work with material such as this," Meier said, noting fuel-storage regulations protect against environmental issues, such as leaks from underground tanks at gas stations.

Speedway said it does not store petroleum products in its buildings or storage tanks and that no rail cars containing biodiesel or methanol product were affected by Monday's fire.

Meier said provincial inspectors visited the facility in 2007 and 2010 to ensure it complied with its environmental licence. It's up to City of Winnipeg fire inspectors to ensure the company operated safely and enforce the provincial fire code, he said.

City of Winnipeg officials declined to comment Wednesday.

Conservative Ian Wishart said the province should review fuel-storage regulations to ensure biodiesel plants are subject to the same rules as petrochemical plants. He said the province should have kept track of the fuels on-site: "The fact that these were all in separate drums kind of gets around the rules rather than looking at whether there was a safety hazard."

Speedway International has received $778,626.65 in provincial subsidies since 2006.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

Speedway reacts to Monday's fire:

 

"THE October 1st fire at the Speedway International biodiesel plant in St. Boniface was a terrible incident that impacted hundreds of our neighbours who were forced to evacuate for safety reasons. In addition, our employees are going through a devastating time with us as we begin the process of rebuilding our family business. We are thankful that no one was hurt and thank everyone for listening to emergency services and staying clear of the area as firefighters fought the blaze.

We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks for the days of heroic work put in by the city's emergency service workers. We will be providing any assistance possible to the investigators who are working to determine the cause of the fire.

Speedway International would like to clarify misinformation that has been reported to the public.

Speedway International is committed to providing safe working conditions for our employees, has passed all safety inspection and has been operating in the industrial zone of St. Boniface without incident since 1998. Safety is paramount and we comply with all safety standards and codes. Further, Speedway International is registered and permitted to import and export fuel. We have all required permits and licences, and meet all codes set by Natural Resources Canada and Environment Canada.

Speedway International does not store petroleum products in its buildings or storage tanks as has been misreported. Speedway International does store biodiesel, which is produced from canola oil. However, no rail cars containing biodiesel or methanol product were affected by the fire.

Speedway International will be providing written updates to the media as material information becomes available."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 4, 2012 B2

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