CANEX Fuel Leak Cleanup Begins
The remediation process to clean up the fuel spill from the CANEX gas station has begun.
This past winter CFHA, WCE, Real Property Ops, Wing Environment and HAZMAT personnel investigated reports of fuel smells in houses near the station. After analyzing fuel samples and confirming the fumes were coming from the sanitary sewer line, the team confirmed the source of the leak to be the gas station’s fuel distribution system.
“We suspect approximately 80,000 litres of fuel have been released over the last two years,” said Maj Lydia Evequoz, Officer Commanding the Cold Lake detachment of the Real Property Operations Unit (West).
The remediation will take place over three phases. The first phase is to determine where the leaked fuel has gone. The best-case scenario, according to Maj Evequoz, is that it has simply pooled in the vicinity of the gas station.
The second-best finding would be that the fuel has seeped into the underground corridors where utility lines are buried.
“Then it’s a fairly easy channel to focus on,” Maj Evequoz said. “We know where the fuel is trying to make its way in, so we can actually control that fairly easily.”
If the fuel has seeped into the soil and spread, the cleanup will be more complicated.
“Here in Cold Lake you get a mix of sand and clay and it’s not consistent. In one place you can have a groundwater table one metre below ground, and some other place 10 meters deep. So depending where it is and the way the layers are built underground, the fuel is going to make its way through the path of least resistance,” Maj Evequoz said.
Spilled fuel could make its way through corridors of sand or loose soil, become blocked by silt or clay and change direction.
To determine the extent of the leak, the Environmental Sciences Group (ESG) from Royal Military College of Canada is conducting tests on the soil.
The ESG is using a technique called Laser-Induced Fluorescence testing, or LIF. This involves pushing a special probe into the soil. The probe is equipped with a device that emits light into the soil and collects data from the fluorescence. The data can be read immediately on a computer, indicating the presence of gasoline or diesel fuel in the soil.
This offers a huge advantage over more traditional methods such as collecting soil samples and waiting for them to be analyzed by a laboratory, Maj Evequoz said. The ESG is taking approximately 50 LIF readings to determine if the spill has a defined area. They will supplement the LIF with soil sample analysis.
Wing Environment and RP Ops are supporting this first phase of the remediation effort.
In the second phase, Defence Construction Canada with the support of RP Ops will purge the storage tank system of remaining fuel.
They will designate a contractor to investigate the gas station system, “to understand how the system was installed or modified over the years, how it failed, and how the leak was not detected sooner,” Maj Evequoz said.
The station will be decommissioned – lines, pumps and tanks taken out – during this phase.
Phase three, the actual remediation measures, will depend on the extent of the contamination.
“Once we have the report from ESG, they’ll make recommendations on how we need to solve the problem,” Maj Evequoz said. If the fuel is standing as “free product,” it may be possible to pump most of it out.
“Another option can be in situ,” she said, “basically sending microorganisms into the ground that eat all the fuel, take it out like that.”
Alternatively, it may be necessary to remove all the contaminated soil.
“The results from the survey are going to tell us what the next step is going to be, and the extent of it. Maybe all we need to do is work around the gas station because the majority of the fuel is there. But maybe it’s spread out. So there might be some digging around the RHUs or there might be some digging around the utility corridor. We don’t know just yet,” Maj Evequoz said.
Through the process, CFHA and Wing Environment will focus on health and safety assessments of nearby homes. This will include air quality assessments of interior and exterior areas of homes in the Beaver and Athabasca neighbourhoods.
“This is a highly collaborative effort between all of those groups, and significant coordination and support from the Wing Environment office, the RP Ops Unit and CFHA is happening to ensure that the findings from each of those fronts are shared with one another and efforts are coordinated,” Maj Evequoz said.