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button-eyesA year after the Sunrise Propane explosion, how much has changed?
The Technical Standards and Safety Authority’s Propane Safety Review Recommendations are a fair guide to the changes. They are as interesting for what they don’t say, as for what they do.
Despite the tone of much media coverage, the Propane Safety Review was fairly content with the TSSA approach to propane regulation. Half the recommendations call for new regulations, but the proposed changes are relatively modest. For example, propane operators should have insurance; trainers should have practical experience; and propane plants should have formal risk management plans, certified by engineers. These are utterly conventional elements of good management of any hazardous industry, and many of these changes have already been implemented: see O.Reg. 440/08 and 441/08. The other recommendations call for traditional enhancements to TSSA inspection, training, and information flow.
Much public interest has focussed on where propane facilities should be located. In this key area, little has changed. Recommendation 10 simply asks the TSSA to tell interested municipalities where propane facilities are located, and what buffer zone the TSSA recommends. Recommendation 14 is that propane operators should find out when new subdivisions are proposed next door. Recommendation 17 will require the TSSA to seek comments from the local municipality when approving new propane plants. Unfortunately, none of these recommendations will stop municipalities, or the OMB, from allowing new homes to be built too close to a propane plant. This has been the fate of many other buffer zones in the past thirty years. The OMB often minimizes buffer zones, on the ground that hazardous operations should manage their impacts on their own site. There is also the question of who should compensate those who own the lands in the proposed “buffer zone”- why should their land values be held down to benefit the industry next door? Since the ideal buffers are hard to protect, Recommendation 13 will require propane operators to take additional precautions when new developments are built nearby.
Taken together, these recommendations should ensure that land use planners know where propane plants are located, and vice versa. And they should also ensure that safety precautions increase when the population at risk does. But they don’t give municipalities, or neighbours, any greater power to determine where propane plants should operate. And that will leave some people dissatisfied.

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