Wednesday, February 5, 2014


Last night I attended Woolwich Council Committee of The Whole. Dr. Sebastian Seibel-Achenbach was a Delegate on behalf of the Chemtura Public Advisory Committee (CPAC). He respectfully requested a Motion of Reconsideration from Woolwich Council regarding their recent decision to exempt the car wash on Earl Martin Drive from the Woolwich by-law prohibiting underground fuel tanks near the former south wellfield. Council unfortunately but as expected did not agree to a Motion of Reconsideration. The proponent for the underground fuel tanks also attended and yet once again explained the latest technology of double lined tanks including sensors to alert the owner/operators of any leak or breech of either hull.

Afterwards Ron Campbell, Sebastian and myself left Council Chambers. The proponent Hassan M. stopped outside the room and wished to engage in a friendly discussion. Ron was a few feet ahead of us and had to get home but Sebastian and I had a very informative discussion with Hassan plus two employees of MTE Consultants who were there on behalf of Hassan. Of course discussion centred around both the technology of fuel tanks as well as the vulnerability of the aquifers to contamination. I agreed with some of their points but had serious reservations on others.

It wasn't until I got home that I had an ephinany. The technology including sensors based on a vacuum between the two liners (hulls) is held to be almost foolproof. We were advised that leaks can not possibly go undetected and hence will be discovered early enough to prevent any serious damage. We were also advised that an organization known as the TSSA has the authority to step in and demand initial construction standards as well as insist upon proper maintenance and replacement when necessary. This being Canada where neither railway cars carrying hazardous cargo nor their tracks are properly maintained and upgraded leaves me less than confident in our authoritys oversight. Don't even get me started on our Ministry of Environment. None of this however was my ephinany.

In the past including when I was a kid working at a gas station in Kitchener for the summer, the technology was much simpler. We "dipped" the tanks on a regular basis. We and all garages had a long wooden rod with clearly marked lines on it. It was inserted through the steel cover over the tank and pushed to the bottom. The rod was raised and the liquid level and hence volume of liquid was right at eye level on the rod and was very easy and accurate to measure. From there simple mathematics as to how many gallons were sold since the last measure of the tank compared to the present measure would immediately inform you if there had been theft or leakage. Therefore the ephinany is this. High tech leakage "sensors" are a red herring. They are nothing but a high tech solution to a non existent problem. If your gas tank has a leak it will be constant, measurable and over time increasing with or without sensors to tell you.

There are remediated and unremediated former service stations throughout Kitchener-Waterloo. Here in Woolwich Township we have a horrible one in Heidelberg and several in Elmira that required major remediation. Those owners all knew they had a leakage problem for a very long time. It was strictly a business decision as to how much leakage of fuel they could tolerate before it was more profitable to excavate and replace the tank. If you are only losing between a gallon or two per week (10-15 gallons per month) are you going to spend many thousands of dollars taking the pump out of service and ripping up the old tank? Very unlikely. Now compare this to above ground tanks. They will immediately be both visible and odourous. Gasoline and diesel both smell and it's unpleasant. Immediately your neighbours and customers will know if your above ground tank is leaking. Hence it will be repaired or replaced much more quickly. Underground is out of sight and out of mind. This is the red herring of underground sensors and underground tanks. They replace environmental decison making with business decison making.

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