Fears grow over Canadians hauling lots of gas in cans over border

THE PROVINCE (VANCOUVER, B.C.)November 21, 2013 

Fears have emerged as thousands of British Columbians cross the border from Washington state loaded with cheap U.S. gas in jerry cans.

“You have 100, 200 gallons of gasoline in just regular gas cans — should that vehicle become involved in a collision, the result has the potential to be catastrophic,” said Sgt. Jason Hicks of the Washington State Patrol.

On Tuesday, Nov. 19, at least half of the vehicles lined up at the Bellingham Costco gas station had British Columbia plates.

Driver J. F. Cloutier of Richmond said he saves about $70 by driving south and filling up his car and several jerry cans with gas.

After placing the jerry cans, untethered, in the back of his hatchback, Cloutier told The Province that he’s not worried about safety.

“But if I got rear-ended, that could be a problem,” he added.

For Hicks, it’s “absolutely” a concern.

The fiery cataclysm that could result from a gasoline-fuelled crash isn’t just theoretical.

A van with a plastic tank believed to be full of stolen gas crashed into a concrete wall on Oak Street in Vancouver near 53rd Avenue in October and burst into flames. A similar vehicle blaze, linked to stolen gas, happened in Coquitlam shortly afterward, and there was another incident earlier this month in Surrey.

Squamish resident Don Patrick, 71, told The Province he was at the Costco in Bellingham last Friday watching people fill up as many as four 25-liter containers each when he heard about the 17-car pileup on the Vedder Canal Bridge in Abbotsford.

It occurred to him the gas purchasers, many of whom didn’t appear to be too careful with their containers, posed a risk to everyone on the road.

“I was just thinking of traffic safety,” said Patrick, who used to work in the insurance industry. “If I rear-ended one of these people (without gas cans) it would be a little minor thing,” he said. “But if there’s a jerry can in the back spilling fuel all over the place ... it becomes a bomb. I, and my family, and their family, as well as passing cars — everybody is exposed.”

What really sparked Patrick’s concern was the driver of a Lexus SUV who didn’t properly close her four jerry cans, putting them in the back seat with the nozzles still sticking out.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent said American border officers aren’t comfortable with so much traffic going by them with loose gas containers in the back or trunk.

The Canada Border Service Agency only has jurisdiction over gasoline for tax purposes, said spokeswoman Stefanie Wudel.

“If you are bringing in cans of gasoline, they are subject to 5.1 percent taxes but are duty-free,” she said. Limits on the amount of gasoline being wheeled around are the jurisdiction of Transport Canada.

According to the federal ministry’s website, a driver can carry 150 liters of gas, but the fuel must be contained in jerry cans with a capacity of 25 liters (about 6.6 gallons) or less.

ICBC spokesman Adam Grossman didn’t have statistics about accidents involving gas transport, but suggested extra coverage as a precaution.

“If you’re driving around with extra containers of gas in your car and you are in a serious crash, the potential liability could be very large given the flammable risks involved,” Grossman said in an email.

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