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FortisBC apologizes for Ladner odour incident

City officials were frustrated that they only had a general information phone line to call to try to find out what had happened, said Mayor George Harvie
The Interconnect Station in Ladner is where FortisBC receives gas from a third-party producer. In this case, receiving renewable natural gas produced from landfill gas at the Village Farms greenhouse site. FortisBC image

Lessons have been learned and changes are being implemented following a breakdown in communications.

That was the message from representatives from FortisBC during a presentation to council on Monday (March 11), offering an apology for the lack of more timely information to residents and the city following a Jan. 16 incident when a strong gas-like odour permeated throughout Delta, prompting many emergency calls.

Doug Slater, Vice-President, Indigenous Relations and Regulatory, and Michelle Carman, Vice-President, of Customer Service and External Communications, described how things unfolded, saying the incident was unusual and could be compared to pieces of a puzzle that took time to come together.

The problem originated at FortisBC’s Interconnect Station in Ladner near Ladner Trunk Road and 80 Avenue, as crews were conducting planned work on new equipment.

When gas is initially received, it is unodourized but odourant is added to the gas before it is injected into the distribution system, said Slater in his comments to council.

During a controlled release of gas on site, there was an elevated amount of odourant within the released gas that was unexpected, they explained.

During the venting process, the vented gas rose into the atmosphere, with an east-west wind blowing the odour over Ladner and surrounding areas. The crews at the site were unaware of the issue.

At approximately 11:30 a.m., the first odour calls came into FortisBC’s contact centre. Due to the elevated levels, the smell was reported by hundreds of residents in the surrounding areas.

Carmen noted the FortisBC emergency response process is robust but triggering that response needed to be reviewed following the incident.

Asked by Coun. Rod Binder why local authorities weren’t notified the work was even taking place, Slater described it as routine and that FortisBC does  thousands of routine jobs across the province.

Fire Chief Guy McKintuck noted the many emergency calls to the fire department during put a strain on service.

McKintuck and Police Chief Neil Dubord said they worked with the utility’s officials on a plan to ensure better communications will be in place.

Mayor George Harvie said he would contact Fraser Health President and CEO Dr. Victoria Lee to find out if residents could have faced potential health impacts.