In Chemical Valley (aka Sarnia, Ontario) just north of Detroit in Canada, things can get a bit confusing with 66 oil and chemical plants blowing their sirens and issuing alerts almost every day.  But last week things got out of hand, even for Sarnia.

The Suncor refinery- a Shell Company- had six sirens sounding releases, fires, spills and other happenings – called Code 8 incidents – since September 21st.  I’m not sure if these codes are on a scale of 1 to 10 and an 8 is pretty darn high or if it’s some sort of overly polite Canadian way of saying “get ready to run for your life and stay upwind”.  Either way, this can’t be any fun for the neighbors.

In fact, activist and First Nation leader, Ada Lockridge, has been all over Facebook sharing her perspective.  “If the sirens go off inside the plant and we can hear them, then we need to have some of their protective gear,” said one of her recent posts.

Ada and Ron Plain, another Aamjinnaang leader, already have a lawsuit against Suncor and the Canadian government for violating their Constitutional Rights by continually increasing emissions without due process.

So the most recent of six code 8 reports came October 1 and was called in as a hydrogen fire in the hydrocracker, so again sirens in the plant went off sending folks ducking for cover.  But not to worry, the following day, Suncor was ready to wipe the slate clean and make the following claim:

“After intensive investigation and monitoring” Suncor officials have absolutely, positively confirmed that there was not a fire after all and there are no further hydrogen leaks in the hydrocracker.  False alarm.

But wait, how could that be?  Flames that weren’t there – smoke that didn’t burn?

Jennifer Johnson Suncor spokesperson told media that the false alarm is believed to have resulted from “reflected light that was observed in the unit early this morning”.

Oh sure that makes sense, of course, reflected light was reported as a hydrogen fire.  Sure I can’t tell you how many times when I’m driving into the sun, those sunbeam gleams make the car in front of me look like it’s on fire.  I don’t how many times I’ve called 911 and then looked like a darn fool when I had to confess I was tricked by that old reflected light deal and had not really seen a fire.  Happens all the time.

And just to prove their hearts are in the right place, the refinery issued this heartfelt statement of remorse and compassion: “Suncor understands the worry and inconvenience recent alarms have created for the community and safety remains a core value at the refinery.  Suncor works very hard to protect the safety of its employees, the community and the environment.”

I guess September was just not Suncor’s month with the real fire (well I mean they haven’t retracted this one as of yet) that happened later the same day of the reflected light honest to gosh looked like a fire but wasn’t incident, or the September 21st mixed propane/butane vapor leak, or even the September 24th leak of biodegradable cleaning solvent into the St Clair River.

September is over and things are bound to turn around for poor old Suncor.  Oh and this just in: a month long maintenance also got underway yesterday at the refinery, perhaps a month too late.