ESSO, MOE (Ministry of the Environment), and OSH (Ole’Smokey Hole).

Zak Nicholls

The below picture is what Ole’Smokey Hole (OSH) looks like on a bad day.  This stack is attached to the coker unit at ESSO.  It is one of the 350 foot concrete stacks that most remarkably make up the ESSO skyline.  OSH is the most southerly of the six stacks, located closest to ESSO gate 216.

The day the picture was taken was the day of a coker unit fire.  This is the result of a coker unit fire.  There were no charges/fines affixed by the MOE to this release.  ESSO is expected to investigate themselves when events like this occur, and the MOE will almost always accept whatever findings that ESSO comes up with.  This is standard protocol between the MOE and industry.  My guess is that ESSO never even submitted an investigation regarding this fire, and that the MOE was okay with that.  Whenever we have tried to follow up with investigations/reports, we are always informed that one hasn’t been submitted yet, OR that the investigation/report concludes that whatever did occur, there was No Off-Site Impact.

The plume cloud you see in this picture collapsing in the general direction of Aamjiwnaang was considered to have No Off Site Impact.

Plume clouds happen more often in a slow accumulating process, rather that in the dramatic fashion as seen above.  We witnessed one less than two weeks ago, and it was part of the nearly two week complaint I’ve filed against ESSO with the MOE.  I called in part 3 of that complaint this afternoon.

 This Photo is much more common of ESSO.  Coker unit fires are less frequent, but ‘UPSETS’ caused by power outages, among other things, happen on a much more regular basis.  This is a power outage ‘upset’.  There are NO environmental regulations attached to ‘upsets’.  Therefore, it would suggest to me, that industry would be encouraged to operate in an environment of constant upset. 

A couple weeks ago I was traveling south from Canatara Park.  At the corner of Christina and Errol we noticed a substantial flare.  Usually we have to be ON the 402 overpass to see any flares, but now with Suncor’s new development, we can see them from the SGCC.  We decided to investigate the flare and almost immediately Kathy noticed a ‘special’ cloud, special on an already cloudy day, that seemed to be hovering directly above ESSO.  As we traveled towards Suncor, we were able to confirm that a ‘plume cloud’ had developed immediately above Ole’Smokey Hole, or, the most southerly of the 6 large concrete towers.

We have noticed these plume clouds previously coming from ESSO.

We called the Suncor flare in to the MOE.  The flare was roughly 200 feet high, in my estimation.  That same flare was lighting up the sky two nights back as well, with nearly 200 ft high flames.  It’s very conducive to sleeping, I’m sure.  And it’s loud.  And sometimes those flares ‘collapse’ and cause fires at Aamjiwnaang.

We also called in the plume cloud.  If I remember correctly, the MOE said everything is OK.

The second complaint against ESSO/OSH came last Wednesday.  We were driving Isaac home to Corunna, during the ‘tornado warning’.  We noticed that the Shell concrete tower, directly behind/east of their office building, was spewing black smoke, with most of it being pushed quickly towards the ground.  That was the instigator for the complaint (which, BTW, was just fine, according to the MOE, it’s part of their SOOT dispersion method).  We called that in, along with a follow up against OSH, which was still releasing a steady stream of black.  (The MOE has told me repeatedly, along with ESSO employees, that this soot dispersion is part of their process, and happens every few hours as ash builds up.  That doesn’t explain why there have been hours long releases throughout the day, and all night long.)  There was a third complaint/observation made with the MOE on that call.  A VERY large number of towers and stacks were flaring or releasing smoke, not steam, during the tornado warning period.

Another thing to mention was that the previous night to this complaint being made, we noticed a recurring odour of what I call ‘two stroke engine exhaust’.  Other people have verified this.  Every few minutes, this would waft into the apartment, for hours.  After I called in the above complaint, I decided to stop at ESSO and ask the Shift Super what was going on.  He agreed that plume clouds did occur, and couldn’t deny the possibility of collapse.  He repeated the story of soot dispersal occurring when necessary, every once in a while, but he didn’t seem to agree that it has been occurring on a constant basis for quite a few days.  When asked about the smell, which wafted in a few times during our short conversation, he said he didn’t smell anything.  The wind was pushing the plume from OSH directly at us.

That night that I called the MOE for the second time about OSH, the same night that I talked to the ESSO Super, I headed over to Port Huron with Kathy.  She’s due anytime now, and we want to be close to her hospital.  That was last Wednesday.  That night, OSH blasted smoke until roughly 3-3:30am, at least (That’s when I fell asleep).  It traveled north.  It so happens that Kathy lives immediately across from OSH/ESSO.  She lives on the river road (Military) on the west side, and the windows perfectly frame OSH.

The next night, Thursday, at about 7:30 pm, OSH started releasing a constant stream of black smoke.  It had been operating all day, but the release was much smaller, and only noticeable if a person was looking for it, with some exceptions of short ash releases.  It continued on again, blowing north, until at least 3-3:30am, when I fell asleep.

Friday night, OSH followed the same daylight pattern as described for the previous day, and promptly started at 7:20pm blowing black smoke, constantly until at least 3-3:30am, when I fell asleep.  It blew north early on in the evening, and than the wind died down, and it traveled straight into the night sky, no plume cloud developing.

Valerie took some pics of OSH Friday night from the bridges, and other locations too.  You can see the plume collapsing and dissipating quite quickly over the South End Sarnia.

Last night, we left the apartment around 8pm, and the regular plume hadn’t yet started up for the night.  It had followed the same day time pattern of the two previous days.  By the time we returned, 10ish, the plume was in predictable form.  It continued on, blowing south, until 3-3:30ish, at least, which as we all now know is my bedtime.

 Each morning, the black smoke has ceased by the time we get up.

I called my third complaint into the MOE this afternoon regarding the nighttime nefarious activities of OSH.  J answered at the Spills Action Line in Toronto.  J did everything he could to dissuade me from making my complaint.  I spoke to him for 20 minutes.  He spent half of that time trying to get me to not make my complaint, or make it tomorrow (just to see if OSH does the same thing again), or refusing to accurately record my complaint.  He refused to record that the event had occurred for 4 nights now.

I went forward with the complaint anyhow.  I asked if nighttime releases at such constant streams was ‘allowable’ under the CoA (Certificate of Approval), I asked for readings from the monitor that is attached half way up OSH.  I asked if that monitor is ‘tapped’ into OSH, or is it only on the outside?  I asked that the readings indicate what chemicals are being emitted, and at what concentration, and I asked what health effects are likely due to the releases.

I look forward to passing along whatever information I can get.

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