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Environmental health expert raises critical questions about Energy East’s oil storage tank and export terminal in Red Head, Saint John

No Enery East March in Red Head

SAINT JOHN – An independent expert with over 20 years experience in health and environmental risk assessment has reviewed TransCanada’s Human Health Risk Assessment, part of its Energy East project application to the National Energy Board. Uncovering critical gaps in the company’s conclusions, the report found that the risks from benzene emissions may be understated, that worst-case scenarios were not accounted for, and that there was minimal discussion of the impact of odours from the proposed infrastructure. The report concludes with a number of important questions that can be raised with TransCanada, the National Energy Board (NEB) and the New Brunswick government.

“The human health assessments for the Energy East project are limited in scope,” says Dr. Ken Froese, the author of Environmental Health in Red Head: The Energy East Project. “TransCanada evaluates only a subset of compounds people may be exposed to and fails to adequately explain why certain reference guidelines were chosen from one jurisdiction over another.”

For example, the report reveals that TransCanada used the more lax Alberta Ambient Air Quality Objectives value for benzene (a known cancer-causing volatile organic compound, or VOC) rather than Ontario’s guidelines. (New Brunswick does not have its own guidelines.) Had TransCanada used the Ontario guidelines, its conclusion could have changed from not significant to significant health effects.

As Reuters reported, Irving recently came under fire when it was revealed that its equipment designed to minimize VOC emissions in its existing Canaport terminal was inoperative 37 per cent of the time between December 2012 and March 2015. Irving Oil is a joint venture partner with TransCanada in the proposed new Canaport Energy East Marine Terminal.

Dr. Froese was commissioned by the Council of Canadians to provide a credible examination of TransCanada’s assessment of the human health impacts of the proposed Energy East project in Red Head, Saint John. He has worked with industry, government, First Nations, and non-governmental organizations, providing senior project direction and management, writing technical reports, appearing as an expert witness, providing courtroom testimony and serving on international peer review panels.

“TransCanada justifies not evaluating worst-case scenarios by claiming that they are highly unlikely to happen. As we’ve seen with the massive tar sands crude spill into the Kalamazoo River, however, we are negligent if we don’t prepare,” says Andrea Harden-Donahue, Energy and Climate Campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “People deserve to understand the potential risks of living beside large-scale oil infrastructure.”

Scenarios not covered in TransCanada’s application include catastrophic pipeline ruptures in rural or urban areas and their effect on the health and wellbeing of the communities. Nor are catastrophic worst-case spill scenarios available for the Red Head tank farm, the marine terminal, or the pipeline connecting the two. Enbridge and Kinder Morgan were forced to evaluate worst-case scenarios during the review of their pipeline projects by the NEB.  

“TransCanada does not fully consider odours from the tank farm in Red Head and activities at the marine terminal,” says Dr. Froese. “There is a complex relationship between odours and health. Peace River, Alberta is an example of the challenges in identifying odours and their relationship with impacts on wellbeing. At least six families have abandoned their homes near heavy oil storage tanks in Peace River, experiencing symptoms such as headaches, nose bleeds and dizziness. Yet monitoring of criteria contaminants were found to be below or well below concentrations set in the Alberta Ambient Air Quality Objectives.”

“TransCanada should acknowledge that health and wellbeing impacts could occur even if regulatory guidelines are being met. And it must have plans in place to address this,” Dr. Froese adds.

The Council of Canadians has learned that TransCanada announced at a recent community liaison meeting in Saint John that they plan on doubling the capacity of the Red Head oil storage facility. This decision, in the wake of the cancelling of the Cacouna port, will see the capacity rise from 7.4 million barrels to 13.2 million barrels. The change includes larger tanks holding 600,000 barrels of oil standing six stories tall. The closest distance from a tank to a residence is allowed to be 260 metres, with the closest distance from the facility to a house being 100 metres.

Dr. Ken Froese is in Saint John presenting his findings with Red Head residents and is available for interviews on Monday, December 7.

For more information please contact:

Andrea Harden-Donahue, Energy and Climate Campaigner, The Council of Canadians
aharden@canadians.org Cell: (613) 793-5488 / Tel: (613) 233-4487 ext. 240

Questions raised in Environmental Health in Red Head: The Energy East Project:

  • Why was the Alberta guideline for benzene used rather than the more stringent Ontario guideline? 
  • An addendum to Volume 6 of the Application is referred to in the Health section. Has TransCanada completed this assessment? What is the scope of the assessment? Does it include reasonable worst-case scenarios for the Saint John oil storage tanks and marine terminal?  
  • In a June 30, 2015 letter to Gordon Dalzell, TransCanada states that a Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA) is planned for the terminal and tank farm facilities to evaluate the aerial contaminant emissions. Is this different than the current HHRA, dated September 2014?  If so, has TransCanada completed this risk assessment?
  • Currently, a monitoring program related to human health concerns is considered unnecessary because the effects assessment concludes there will be no risks of health effects. Will TransCanada commit to developing and implementing a monitoring program that is both chemical and health-based? Such a monitoring program would ideally begin well before construction of the tank and marine facilities begin to establish a baseline of selected parameters. The company should discuss their anticipated response to future community or individual concerns. As a starting point, CASA’s guide offers various tools for tracking odour character and health symptoms, prevention and mitigation, and ongoing odour assessment tools. 
  • Will TransCanada commit to meaningful and relevant community health monitoring, beginning prior to construction if the project goes ahead?