Photo 1: Clouds of Fire from Imperial Oil Sarnia Plant
This past week, it was announced that investigations were on-going towards a petroleum company in the area of Sarnia. The Ministry of Environment in Ontario is leading in the investigation after clouds of fire and flames vented out from the Imperial Oil industrial plant last year on February 24th. The large flames were caused, as stated by Imperial Oil representatives, equipment malfunctions (McIntosh, 2018).
The investigation was sparked by a resident of a nearby the Aamjiwnaang First Nations reserve, Vanessa Grey, filing an application alongside a scientist from Ecojustice Elaine MacDonald, to have the province investigate in Sarnia plant (Craig, 2017). Their application was based on their claims that Sarnia residence and the Aamjiwnaang were not properly warned of the potential toxins which were released. The Ontario Environmental Commissioner, Dianne Saxe also criticized the provincial government for ignoring the serious pollution issues in many of the Indigenous communities in Ontario, let alone Aamjiwnaag (McIntosh, 2018).
Photo 2: Vanessa Grey at Ontario Parliament
Representatives of Imperial Oil defended their actions, stating that “The sight of a small flame atop a flare, generally used to burn off materials from the plant, is common in the Chemical Valley. Though flares can result in emissions” (McIntosh, 2018). However Gray and MacDonald believed otherwise, alleging that Imperial Oil violated environmental and provincial policies through emitting the contaminants and causing hostile effects to those residents in the vicinity (McIntosh, 2018).
Moreover, a joint investigation by Global News, the Star, the National Observer, and researchers in Ryerson University was also launched. Their investigation disclosed patterns of leaks and lack of transparency with Imperial and in Sarnia. In fact, since January 2013 there have already been four instances of industries in Sarnia having already been received ministry charges (McIntosh, 2018). Also, Imperial Oil have already plead to similar offences and were fined for releasing contaminants for about $650,000 as well as a 2014 charge of 812,000 for a leak which was criticized for not enough warning to the public (Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, 2016)
It is clear from these investigations that there has already been precedent of Imperial Oil’s irresponsibility with their toxin discharges and lack of transparency towards their residents. However, this can also exhibit a pattern of the provincial government’s lack of awareness of the reckless practices their industries display as well. Though it may be impossible for the provincial government to be 100% aware of these industries actions, increased rigorous environmental inspections and public consultations with residence and First Nations may help minimize instances such as these.
The Environmental Bill of Rights investigation is set to be completed sometime in late February where the results of this case will be shared to Gary and MacDonald as well as the public (McIntosh, 2018).
Craig, S et al. (2017, October 16). ‘We expected cancer’: Are industrial spills in Canada’s ‘Chemical Valley’ making people sick? Retrieved January 14, 2018, from https://globalnews.ca/news/3796720/sarnia-oil-industry-spills-human-impact-investigation/
McIntosh, E. (2018, January 10). Province Launches Investigation into Flames at Sarnia Chemical Plant. Retrieved January 14th, 2018, from https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2018/01/10/province-launches-investigation-into-flames-at-sarnia-chemical-plant.html
Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (2016, September 21). Sarnia Refinery and Chemical Plant fined $650,000 for Environmental Protection Act Violations. Retrived January 14, 2018, from https://news.ontario.ca/ene/en/2016/09/sarnia-refinery-and-chemical-plant-fined-650000-for-environmental-protection-act-violations.html