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Delay in report of Rubis gas leak

A gas leak at the Rubis facility in St George’s last month was not promptly reported and will require more equipment and personnel to clean up, a ministry representative has confirmed.

In a statement released yesterday, a spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said notification of the leak “was late by approximately 24 hours according to the conditions of the Operating Licence under the Clean Air Act 1991”.

“The department will address this reporting non-compliance in due course.”

A spokesman for the company last night outlined the emergency response once the leak was detected, which started with safety measures for staff, neighbours and the facility.

In accordance with spill protocol, “our first action was to isolate the section of pipeline that was leaking to stop any further release” — followed by threat assessments and preventing ignition of leaked fuel.

An emergency shutdown went through the depot, with a thorough inspection to confirm that no potential sources of ignition were present.

The company notified government authorities and mobilised its environmental consultant “within the first 24 hours”, he said.

“As soon as Arcadis was on-site, they began the second phase of the emergency response plan. This included reviewing conditions near the leak, collection of groundwater gauging data from all existing wells at the depot, screening of vapours from all existing wells at the depot, evaluation of site drawings, aerial, topo, and geological maps, evaluation of groundwater production well locations near the site, evaluation of local tide fluctuations and a review of Bermudian karst geology.”

The statement emphasised the company’s commitment to environmental protection, plus the recovery of fuel that had seeped underground, adding: “We have deployed and will continue to deploy all necessary resources to remove hydrocarbons from the soil and groundwater wherever detected as per international environmental standards.”

The Government’s statement yesterday pegged the estimated size of the spill at 19,300 gallons (73,058 litres).

A well-placed source previously said the spill’s size was more than 22,000 gallons (83,279 litres). The source, who spoke with The Royal Gazette on the condition of anonymity, also said several hours passed from the time when the leak was first detected by the company until the Government was notified. More equipment and personnel will also be used as part of the cleanup.

“Additional specialists are en route to Bermuda to drill larger-diameter recovery wells in the centre of the spill that will provide a greater recovery rate of the gasoline once additional equipment (has) arrived,” the Government spokesperson said.

Efforts by Rubis to remove the underground gasoline using a vacuum truck had begun.

“Initial efforts by Rubis to delineate the spill and to start recovery of the liquid product were delayed due to this being a large spill of gasoline,” the spokesperson said.

Four additional wells have been drilled around the spill location within the last week. “During the initial period before the new wells to the south were drilled, the Department and then Rubis took samples from some private wells to the south to determine whether the spill had spread beyond the Rubis site boundary,” the spokesperson said.

“Neither liquid product nor volatile chemicals from the gasoline spill were detected at any well off the Rubis site.”

The latest data received by the Government on Monday revealed that a vapour plume — fumes above the water table — had been detected in all four of the new wells, near the southern boundary of the Rubis property located on Ferry Road.

A “slight sheen” of liquid gas was also detected in one of the new wells, the spokesperson said. Neither liquid nor vapour had been detected at two private wells south of Ferry Road.

“These private wells will continue to be monitored by Rubis at a rate of two to three times each day,” the ministry spokesperson said.

Jonathan Starling, executive director at Greenrock, described the delay in reporting of the spill as concerning.

“In an event like this, we should not have had to wait so long for a clear picture of what happened,” he said.

“We would like to see Government conduct a review of this incident to identify what went wrong and what can be learnt, including with the communication strategy. We would hope this is made public too.”

Stuart Hayward, president of the Bermuda Environmental and Sustainability Taskforce, said the mention of the delay in yesterday’s statement sends a signal to Rubis about the level of transparency expected.

“It’s apparent from the detail in the release that the Government intends to inform the public to the fullest possible extent of what happened — when and why — and what is going to be done, and how follow-up is going to occur,” he said.

“It also illustrates how quickly these things can get away from even the most careful of handlers.”

Rubis previously said the leak was caused by the failure of a gasket connecting a valve to a fuel pipeline at the facility on Monday, March 27.

This article was edited to remove an incorrect line that said Rubis had not responded to a request for comment yesterday