Kinder Morgan’s historic oil spills are double the Kalamazoo disaster: NDP MP

Ducks dying, a Kalamazoo River blackened with oil, and haz-mat workers vacuuming sticky sediments in the worst land pipeline spill in U.S. history — not the visuals Kinder Morgan wants to be associated with, especially when it had nothing to do with the disaster.

“It’s a stupid comparison,” bristled Kinder Morgan vice president Hugh Harden from Calgary on Wednesday.

The oil executive in charge of Trans Mountain pipeline’s operations was reacting to a new pipeline spill analysis from Burnaby Member of Parliament, Kennedy Stuart.

The outspoken MP, well known for his opposition to Kinder Morgan’s $5-billion proposal to now expand the Edmonton-to-Burnaby pipeline, released new federal data on the existing pipeline’s spills. The NEB records date back more than half a century, and show the total volume released by Trans Mountain was 40,000 barrels.

The Kalamazoo disaster by Enbridge released 20,000 barrels.

“Over the lifetime of this [Trans Mountain] pipeline, it’s leaked double the amount of the Kalamazoo spill,” said Stewart on Wednesday.

“I think when you make that comparison, I think you start to say, ‘what a serious amount of oil and oil products this actually is.”

Stuart’s office also issued a map graphic showing Trans Mountain’s top 10 spills, with the largest three near Edmonton in 1985, 1977 and 1966.

Map graphic provided by Kennedy Stewart’s office

But Harden said the comparison to the disastrous Michigan oil spill disaster was “astounding.”

A “ludicrous” comparison

“Tell me how it is in any way fair, logical, or in any way reasonable to compare the operating record of a company over 60 years of 80 incidents, most of which are inside the terminal or company’s property, and had no impact on the public or the environment, to one incident where 20,000 barrels of oil went into a river?,” asked Harden.

“The comparison is ludicrous.”

“[The people in Kennedy Stewart’s office] are totally one-sided, and unreasonable, and they are not looking at logic. They are looking at stirring up people’s emotions and trying to get them to overlook the facts,” added Harden.

The oilman further likened Stewart’s analogy to a “jumbo jet crash with 340 people on board to a small company that flies planes with 8 people on it, and they had over a 60-operating-year history, they had 10 crashes.”

“I just had to laugh out loud when I read [the media request inquiring about it].”

Photo of MP Kennedy Stewart by Mychaylo Prystupa

In response, Kennedy Stewart’s office fired back in an e-mail:

“It is unconscionable that the Vice President of Kinder Morgan would laugh out loud at people being killed in a plane crash. Disgusting. It again underlines the total disregard this company has for our community.”

Harden later wrote: “I would like to apologize for comparisons I used which may have been interpreted as being inappropriate and once again I regret any offence that might have been taken.”

Scientists weigh in

So is the planet worse off by a single mega oil spill versus dozens of smaller ones?

Canada Research Chair and UBC ecologist, Dr. Kai Chan said:

“What really matters is the amount of area the oil seeps into, and the amount of time that it’s doing that, in those ecosystems. And that absolutely could be greater – in the event of a bunch of small spills, in part because the response can be slower in total, because it’s not employing a large scale response team,” said Chan.

“There’s basically economies of scale for oil spills,” he added.

Dr. Jeffrey Short, a science director at Oceana who spent 31 years as a research chemist focused on oil pollution with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said it is difficult to make the comparison.

“The question is, why did [Kinder Morgan] have [even] 10 spills? And if they’re planning to triple the pipeline capacity, they’re going to have larger spills,” said Short, from Alaska.

Kinder Morgan VP not persuaded by climate change science
Controversially, the Kinder Morgan vice president admitted, he’s also not persuaded by global warming. Recent studies have shown that 97 per cent of world scientists who have published papers on climate change have concluded that humans are causing it.

“We just had the worst winter in 10 years in Calgary,” he said, with a laugh. “I’m an engineer, I have somewhat a scientific background.”

“I am not convinced either way about the science. I think there’s strong arguments for and against.”

But one impact that all sides agree on, is the human toll the spills can have.

The social impact of spills

Oil spill victim, Burnaby resident Mary Hatch – photo provided by Hatch
Burnaby resident Mary Hatch recalls vividly the company’s 2007 spill that sprayed bitumen on her property and lawn. She still keeps press clippings from the years of coverage of the event. Her home was just 100 metres from the rupture.

“I was just sitting at my kitchen table, and a fire fighter came to my door,
recalled Hatch. “I opened it, and he said, ‘you must evacuate immediately. There’s been an oil spill.’

The frantic clean up went on for two years, resulting in the removal of her lawn, and inability to access her home.

“It’s a traumatic experience. It impacts your whole family. You worry about their health. You are not compensated unless you are to hire your own lawyer, and take Kinder Morgan to court, and they have a lot of money and big lawyers. So I didn’t do that,” she said.

“Yes, you get your soil back…but you go through through a lot of turmoil, and upset – you can’t use your property for a couple of years.”

‘We want to avoid oil spills’

Kinder Morgan said the Burnaby incident, to which the company pled guilty in court, was caused by an “incompetent contractor hitting” its pipeline and was not directly the company’s fault, said Harden.

“That [Burnaby 2007 spill] caused us $22 million to clean up. Now you compare that to Kalamazoo, they are at…$1.2 billion, and the EPA is taking over that clean-up, so who knows where those costs are going to be,” said Harden.

“We want to avoid all oil spills, none of them are acceptable. But the ones that keep me awake are on the right of away, outside our terminal.”

“I’ve got 250 people working for me. You know what they all work for? You know what their goal is? Keep the oil inside the pipeline. Keep the black sticky stuff inside the round thing,” Harden added.

New pipeline safety measures announced
Stewart’s release of the oil spill data comes on the same week the Harper government released new pipeline and tanker safety measures, to hold companies liable for spills.

Companies will be expected to pay up to $1 billion if spills occur, irrespective of who is at fault, and will be held liable for the full cost if the spill is due to negligence.

Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford also hinted Aboriginals will be part of a training initiative, to get First Nations to be part of oil spill preparedness and response.

An intervenor for the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion hearings, Pipe Up Network spokesperson Michael Hale, said he’d prefer not to see more oil spill risk going through his property.

“Pipelines spill regularly,” he said. “Do we want to blacken our part of the beautiful world with a 20th century fuel that is now becoming increasingly scarcer, dirtier, and more dangerous?”

Harden stressed that the entire pipeline industry, including Kinder Morgan, Enbridge, TransCanada and others — works very hard to prevent spills.

“We all understand that when any [one pipeline company] has incidents, it looks bad on all of us. It’s kind of like we own everybody else’s spills.”

Hughes added, that most don’t appreciate how utterly dependent society is on oil at the present, supplying what he said was 99% of all energy needs.

“Fossil fuels are going to be around for a long time, and will be a bridge to the future where maybe you don’t need it anymore. That’s going to be decades.”

Stuart obtained a spreadsheet of the pipeline’s 78 spills from the National Energy Board. It matches a similar document on Trans Mountain’s website of spills.

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