Length of B.C. oil spills investigation raises questions

Two small spills on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline in British Columbia have triggered an investigation by the National Energy Board that is still going on six months after the incidents occurred.

The length of the investigation into the spills that appeared minor at the time has prompted questions about whether the incidents were larger than reported, or whether it points to a potentially bigger problem with the structural integrity of the 60-year-old pipeline. Kinder Morgan, however, disputes both.

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The investigation was confirmed this week in an e-mail from Rebecca Taylor, an NEB spokesperson, to David Ellis, a Vancouver bookseller who has become one of the pipeline’s fiercest critics.

“The NEB is currently conducting a thorough investigation of this incident,” Ms. Taylor wrote in response to his questions about the two spills near Hope that leaked six barrels and 25 barrels of oil respectively.

“We understand this issue is of public concern and are working diligently to share this information when it is available,” wrote Ms. Taylor. “We cannot provide exact timelines for completion of our investigation. As with any in-depth review, the NEB will take the time required to conduct a thorough evaluation.”

Mr. Ellis said Thursday it is clear the NEB is doing more than look at two small leaks.

“My gut feeling is … that basically they keep digging up the pipe and they find it is all rotten,” said Mr. Ellis, who 10 months before the spills predicted the pipeline was going to start leaking because of its age.

“He is certainly entitled to his views,” said Ms. Taylor who, in an interview, confirmed her e-mailed comments. She would neither confirm nor deny Mr. Ellis’s suspicions.

“It takes some time to go through the material and obviously the company is still working on the remediation,” she said. “The board takes the time it needs to assess cause and contributing factors … of what led to these product releases.”

The two leaks occurred June 12 and June 26, briefly shutting down the only pipeline that delivers oil across British Columbia to the West Coast. After the leaks, the NEB issued a safety order requiring the company to reduce pressure in the line.

Andy Galarnyk, a Kinder Morgan spokesman, said Mr. Ellis’s fears that the leaks were larger than reported, or that the incidents signal an inherent weakness in the line, are unfounded.

“The estimates of oil released remain unchanged (6 barrels Kingsvale and 20-25 barrels Coquihalla),” he stated in an e-mail. “We take every incident seriously and continue to work closely with our regulator and other government agencies to ensure that clean up requirements are met at this site and that it will be reclaimed to its original condition.”

Mr. Galarnyk said although the pipeline was built in the 1950s it remains in good shape because of Kinder Morgan’s continuing maintenance and inspection procedures.

“Inline inspections, anomaly investigation and repair, Cathodic protection, control room monitoring, aerial and ground patrols, and our Damage Prevention and Public Awareness Program, are all part of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline safety program,” he wrote. “We remain confident of the pipeline’s ability to continue to safely and efficiently deliver product to our customers for many years to come.”

Kinder Morgan has been under increased scrutiny in B.C. because the company is proposing to twin the pipeline to increase capacity from 300,000 barrels a day to 890,000 barrels a day. The pipeline runs 1,150 kilometres from Alberta to waterfront facilities in Burnaby.

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