Energy companies may get bill for oil spills

Ottawa considering ‘significant’ legislation to force corporations to pay for damages: Kent


Environment Minister Peter Kent says the Harper government plans to introduce new rules that would address the gap in the country’s existing legislation, which leaves taxpayers footing the bill for damage caused by the oil and gas industry.

Photograph by: Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press Files , Postmedia News
Offshore oil developers and pipeline companies that cause accidents could soon be on the hook for billions of dollars in liabilities from new legislation under review by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet, Post-media News has learned.

Environment Minister Peter Kent said the Harper government plans to introduce “significant” legislation to close what environmentalists have long described as a gap in Canada’s existing rules and laws that now leave taxpayers responsible for damage caused by industry.

“I can’t break cabinet confidence, but I can assure you, we are well aware (of concern), not only as it pertains to diversifying markets and increased pipeline traffic, but in terms of liability for offshore drilling,” Kent said.

Under existing federal rules, companies that do offshore drilling face maximum cleanup costs of up to $40 million for environmental damage in the north and up to $30 million elsewhere, when no fault or negligence is proven, but critics have warned that this represents a fraction of the cost of multimillion-or multibillion-dollar disasters such as Alberta-based Enbridge’s July 2010 pipeline rupture, which spilled more than three million litres of oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, or BP’s April 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. There is unlimited liability for companies when fault or negligence is proven. BP has just agreed to a $4-billion settlement with the U.S. justice department to avoid criminal charges. This does not include cleanup costs and civil liability.

Environmentalists and opposition critics have also expressed concerns looking ahead to potential Arctic drilling. They have denounced a series of recent pipeline spills in Alberta as well as a Petro Canada offshore drilling ship accident in November 2004, near Newfoundland and Labrador, that spilled about 165,000 litres of oil at an exploration site on the Atlantic Ocean.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said that recent regulatory changes to increase inspections and standards are part of what he described as “world-class standards” in Canada based on a polluter-pay principle. “Our government is committed to periodically assessing financial liability to make certain that Canada’s polluter-pay system remains among the strongest in the world,” Oliver said in an email.

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association said it supports the polluter-pay principle but is “not supportive of legislation that attempts to be punitive.”

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

LEAKED: Stories from Oil Spills

Forest Ethics
Michelle Barlond-Smith woke up in late July 2010 to find her town of Battle Creek, Michigan in the midst of a crisis. There was an oil spill in the Kalamazoo River—just six miles from her house – and the smell penetrated throughout the community.

“You get this headache,” she said. “I can’t explain it to most people, it’s right through the eyes and you live with it constantly. You are dizzy, you are nauseous.”

This is just one of the compelling stories that will be told when ForestEthics Advocacy hosts LEAKED: Stories from Oil Spills on January 31st from 7pm-9:30pm at the Heritage Hall in Vancouver, British Columbia. Join us and hear for yourself the devastation oil has caused in Alberta, Michigan, and British Columbia:

  • Melina Laboucan-Massimo, member of the Lubicon Cree Nation and campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, will share her community’s struggle through an oil spill, including the response from the government and oil industry.
  • Michelle Barlond-Smith from Battle Creek, Michigan will share her first-hand experience living through the disastrous Lubicon Cree nation oil spill in 2010 that left her community heavily scarred.
  • Leah George-Wilson from the T’seil-Waututh Nation will discuss the 2007 Kinder Morgan Burnaby oil spill and how her nation was called into action.
  • Activist and songstress Ta’Kaiya Blaney will raise her powerful young voice to protect our coast from oil spills.

This event coincides with the wrap up of the Enbridge Joint Review Panel hearings in Vancouver, where many stories and creative actions created a buzz. Events like LEAKED are opportunities for us to unite with communities near and far, and offer a clear warning on impacts to British Columbia should tar sands pipeline and rail proposals be approved.

This is one event you’ll be sorry you missed. RSVP today or watch the event live on our YouTube channel the night of the event wherever you may be!


Nikki Skuce
Senior Energy Campaigner, ForestEthics Advocacy

P.S. ForestEthics Advocacy’s organizer Jolan Bailey spoke out at the JRP hearings last week. Check out the video of his testimony!

LEAKED: Stories of Oil Spills

January 31st from 7pm-9:30pm at the Heritage Hall in Vancouver, British Columbia. Join us and hear for yourself the devastation oil has caused in Alberta, Michigan, and British Columbia.
Forest Ethics

NEB: Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC Sumas Tank 121 Leak


Investigation under the National Energy Board Act In the Matter of 2012-01-24 Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC Sumas Tank 121 Leak [PDF 1060 KB]

FAQs – Final Investigation Report: Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC Sumas Tank 121 Leak

November, 2012

Copyright/Permission to Reproduce

Table of Contents

List of Appendices

List of Abbreviations and Definitions

1. Summary

2. Scope and Objectives of Investigation Under the National Energy Board Act (NEB Act)

3. Factual Information

3.1 Incident Description

4. Results of the Investigation Under the NEB Act

4.1 Failure Mechanism of the Tank Roof Drain System

Chapter 1 – Summary

On 24 January 2012, a release of 90 m³ of crude oil into the secondary containment of Tank 121 at Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC’s (TMPU) Sumas Terminal in Abbotsford, BC occurred. The investigation revealed that the leak occurred after a gasket in a flange pair of the Tank 121 roof drain system failed under excessive pressure caused by water freezing in the roof drain system.

Although TMPU had a new procedure requiring the tank roof drain valve to normally be closed, the tank roof drain valve was open at the time of the incident. This was a contributing factor to the incident. The investigation found that TMPU’s management of the procedural change to the normal drain valve position was inadequate.

The leak was detected later than it should have been. This can be attributed to the fact that the Control Centre Operator (CCO) did not follow TMPU’s procedures on two occasions when setting and responding to the alarms and failed to recognize the leak situation. The investigation found that there were improper alarm settings in TMPU’s new Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system and this may have contributed to the CCO’s inadequate response to the alarms.

The safety of Canadians and protection of the environment are the National Energy Board’s (NEB or Board) top priorities. The Board requires pipeline companies to anticipate, prevent, manage and mitigate potentially dangerous conditions associated with their pipelines. TMPU has identified corrective actions to address all of the findings of cause and contributing factors identified in this investigation report. The Board is satisfied that these actions are appropriate to prevent the occurrence of similar incidents in the future.

Oil spill possibility is worrisome

Dear Editor:

Three words, beautiful British Columbia, are written on every license plate in the Province. This description is a testament to the extensive natural beauty that can be found in every corner of British Columbia.

I believe that the government should do everything in its power to protect this diverse environment, and that means not allowing the Northern Gateway pipeline to be constructed.

I believe that a pipeline would be a huge risk to the North Coast and northern interior of the province, and I would like the B.C. government to oppose it, because the pipe line would travel over more than 1,000 streams and rivers, some of which are salmon-bearing.

Salmon fishing has provided me with some amazing experiences in B.C., and the impact of an oil spill in such a delicate ecosystem would be absolutely detrimental for the health of not only salmon populations, but all species in the area.

I think Enbridge is also a bad choice for B.C., and with almost 610 recorded spills between 1999 and 2008, it would just be a matter of time before Northern Gateway would leak some oil into the environment.

I have been to Alaska and seen the pelts of dead sea otters, dead birds and seals affected by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Even when I went in 2009, oil was still an issue in the area, and it is estimated to take up to 30 years to fully clean the spill.

As a resident of this province, I fear the potential impact of a large scale oil spill that the pipeline could potentially cause.

I do not want to see some of the valuable wildlife such as whales, birds and fish that make British Columbia beautiful affected in a negative way by an oil spill.

Henry McKenzie, Cariboo Hill Secondary student

© Copyright (c) Burnaby Now

Read more:

BP oil spill cleanup toxic to key species

Using oil-dispersing chemicals during the massive 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico likely did far more damage than good to a crucial aquatic animal, according to new research that wades into the hotly contested question of whether and when to use the chemicals following an oil spill.

The dispersant used by oil company BP, when mixed with crude oil, was found to be 52 times more toxic than oil alone to some microscopic plankton-like organisms called rotifers.

About 6.8 million litres of the chemical – called Corexit 9500A — were released into the Gulf of Mexico to try to mitigate the devastating underwater petroleum leak caused by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig on April 20, 2010.

An oil-covered brown pelican sits in a pool of petroleum off the Louisiana coast on June 5, 2010. Oil-spill recovery efforts sometimes have to choose between allowing oil to flow into sensitive coastal fish and bird habitats, or dispersing it into subsea depths where it can kill plankton-like species.An oil-covered brown pelican sits in a pool of petroleum off the Louisiana coast on June 5, 2010. Oil-spill recovery efforts sometimes have to choose between allowing oil to flow into sensitive coastal fish and bird habitats, or dispersing it into subsea depths where it can kill plankton-like species. (Sean Gardner/Reuters)

At the time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other government bodies agonized over whether to use dispersants and, if so, which ones and how much.

Dispersants cause giant pools of spilled oil floating atop the sea to break up into tiny droplets that then dilute with water just below the surface. The process helps creatures including turtles, birds and mammals that need access to the surface, and also ensures less oil flows ashore where it can choke coastal wildlife. However, it increases the amount of oil just below the surface, potentially contaminating the organisms that live there.

Scientists at the Autonomous University of Aguascalientes in Mexico and the Georgia Institute of Technology now say Corexit 9500A is far more harmful than previously thought to a key dweller of those sub-surface depths.

They studied the effect of oil, of Corexit 9500A, and of various mixtures of both on five species of rotifer from the genus brachionus. The rotifers are a core element at the base of the Gulf Coast food chain, where they’re eaten by crabs, shrimp and small fish.

The research, released online Friday ahead of its publication in the February 2013 issue of the scientific journal Environmental Pollution, found that on their own, the oil and dispersant were equally toxic. But when combined, the oil and dispersant increased toxicity to one of the rotifer species by a factor of 52.

“What remains to be determined is whether the benefits of dispersing the oil by using Corexit are outweighed by the substantial increase in toxicity of the mixture,” said study co-author Terry Snell, chair of Georgia Tech’s biology school. “Perhaps we should allow the oil to naturally disperse. It might take longer, but it would have less toxic impact on marine ecosystems.”
EPA tested on shrimp and fish

The research paper looked at rotifers because they’re a common litmus test in ecological studies of toxicity, due to their sensitivity and quick reactions to contaminants.

Previous studies on oil-spill dispersants, particularly ones done by the Environmental Protection Agency while the BP well was still leaking, looked at other organisms. The EPA’s tests were based on shrimp and a small fish that lives in estuaries called a silverside, and they found that nearly all dispersants, when mixed with oil, were no more toxic than the oil alone.

Oil dispersant and a sheen float atop the water off the coast of Louisiana in May 2010, in the midst of the BP spill. The latest study on dispersants says they may cause far more harm than previously thought to aquatic organisms called rotifers.Oil dispersant and a sheen float atop the water off the coast of Louisiana in May 2010, in the midst of the BP spill. The latest study on dispersants says they may cause far more harm than previously thought to aquatic organisms called rotifers. (Matt Stamey/Houma Courier/AP)

That may have led the agency to permit more dispersant to be used than it would otherwise have allowed.

“Our study indicates the increase in toxicity may have been greatly underestimated following the … well explosion,” said Roberto-Rico Martinez of the Mexican university, the rotifer study’s lead author.

The issue has been hotly debated in the United States ever since the Deepwater Horizon exploded. The Senate’s environment and appropriations committees both held hearings on the use of dispersants in summer 2010, and several environmental groups have sued the EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard over the regulation and use of the chemicals.

The new study emerged as three BP managers were in court this week for arraignment on criminal charges related to the disaster. A fourth worker, a former BP engineer, also faces charges.

In all, the British Petroleum oil leak was the largest offshore petroleum spill in U.S. history, sending 4.9 million barrels (584 million litres) of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.

Make B.C. a leader in oil spill response standards says government

By R. Bruce Striegle

High on a Burnaby, B.C. hillside overlooking Burrard Inlet and the mountains of Mt. Seymour and Indian Arm Provincial Parks are the Head Office and supply warehouses of Western Canada Marine Response Corporation. Established in 1976 and called Burrard Clean Operations, the operation was initially an industry cooperative of four major oil companies and a pipeline company, providing oil spill response within the Port of Vancouver. Not far away is Westridge Marine Terminal, the end of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline and the only facility on Canada’s West Coast able to ship crude oil by ocean-going tanker.

Canada’s Shipping Act of 1995 brought new safety standards for ships and oil handling facilities and created the industry-funded and managed Marine Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Regime. The new system was to ensure that industry had the capability to clean up its own spills under the leadership of Transport Canada. The Act required the oil industry to maintain a 10,000 tonne response capability (70,000 barrels) covering marine regions South of 60 degrees N. latitude in Canada.

Following implementation of the 1995 Act, Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) was certified by Transport Canada as Canada’s first response organization to provide marine oil spill response services to ships and oil handling facilities on the West Coast and interior navigable waters. Since its inception, WCMRC has provided response to more than 650 spills.

Bruce Turnbull, WCMRC’s business support manager explains the organization continues to be industry-funded. “Our primary shareholders are Imperial Oil, Shell Canada, Chevron, Suncor and Kinder Morgan. Through a membership structure, other marine operations such as cruise lines, BC Ferries, barge and tug companies, container or other dry cargo carriers have joined, taking our membership base to about 2,000.”

The company has 22 permanent staff, eight part-time employees and up to 500 trained responders. “We maintain an inventory of sophisticated spill response equipment, more than 30 vessels and over 50 tightly-packed response trailers,” says Turnbull. “We are ready to provide the expertise and gear, including containment booms and mechanical recovery capabilities necessary to organize and manage marine oil spills along the 27,000 kilometres of B.C.’s coastline.”

Turnbull says that in the face of proposed capacity expansions, WCMRC will expand proportionally. “Currently we have more than double the capacity required through our certification of 10,000 tonnes, or 70,000 barrels.” He explains that should the Northern Gateway pipeline proceed, Port of Kitimat will become a designated port, requiring spill protection certification for the port of the minimum 10,000 tonnes, “We’re ready to meet those requirements should the pipeline proceed.”

Is the issue royalties or spills and spill response?

On the same July day that British Columbia Premier Christy Clark made national headlines with her demands that B.C. must receive increased benefits from the proposed twin-piped Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, the B.C. Government released a 56-page technical analysis outlining its minimum requirements for the expansion of the heavy oil export industry. Lost in the manufactured royalties’ controversy were some startling sections in the report on the state of existing marine spill capabilities in B.C. The report contained eleven recommendations to improve and strengthen oil spill response.

While nationwide headlines have focused on opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal, opposition has also mounted over a second pipeline from Alberta, with Kinder Morgan preparing to expand its 1,150 kilometre Trans Mountain Pipeline. Constructed in 1953, the line carries 300,000 barrels daily. The proposed expansion will raise capacity to 750,000 barrels a day, roughly equal to that of the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal.

From its Westridge Marine Terminal on the Eastern reaches of Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet, a 20-minute drive from downtown Vancouver’s waterfront parks, beaches and seawalls, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will swell tanker traffic through the postcard-scenic urban waterway from four or five per month to between 20 or 25. Much of the current pipeline capacity is distributed by surface transportation to the Metro Vancouver and Washington State markets, with only a handful of tanker exports. The increased pipeline capacity is in response to new commitments for export to Asian and California markets accounting for the dramatic rise in tanker trips. Trans Mountain says it has received binding orders, enough to ship 660,000 barrels per day for 20 years.

Responding when a spill happens

Not an insignificant fact behind the opposition is that in the summer of 2007, an excavator doing sewer work in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby ruptured the Trans Mountain Pipeline. A 30-metre geyser of diluted bitumen (dilbit) spewed 250,000 litres onto a residential neighbourhood, 70,000 litres of which drained into Burrard Inlet. The rupture forced evacuation of 250 people and the spill cost an estimated $15 million to clean up.

Western Marine Response Corporation handled the spill recovery. Trevor Davis, WCMRC’s area manager, South Coast, explains the organization handles roughly 20 incidents per year, spills ranging from small gasoline incidents with powerboats to episodes with tankers and canola oil. “The largest responses we’ve handled included the Kinder Morgan Burnaby spill, a 2006 bunker oil cleanup in Squamish of approximately 29,000 litres or 243 barrels, and our work in 2005 at Lake Wabamun, Alberta.” The Alberta spill involved a CN Rail freight train derailment spilling approximately 734,000 litres of bunker oil and a chemical used to treat utility poles.

“We’ve also responded to a request from our Washington State mutual aid partner to assist with the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. We sent 15 crews of 13 responders, supervisory personnel, containment and fire booms.” The organization sent a skimming vessel and crew as well as response advisors to assist in the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. Davis adds that the polluter manages and pays spill recovery costs.

The B.C. Technical Analysis however, says, “Limits of liability rules in Canada mean that a spiller, through insurance and pooled industry funding may not have to spend more than approximately $1.3 billion cleaning up a spill. This means costs could fall to the B.C. and federal governments (i.e. provincial and federal taxpayers), as well as local businesses and residents.” Those costs include clearing beaches of oily waste and disposing of it, rehabilitating oiled wildlife and coastlines, salvaging wreckage and economic impacts to other business sectors operating in the area.

Tanker traffic to almost double in B.C. waters

Each year along the B.C. coast there are about 1,180 tanker trips. This includes tankers carrying jet fuel or gasoline and 60 tanker visits carrying various petrochemicals to or from Kitimat on the northern B.C. coast. With the construction of the proposed oil pipelines, the number of tanker trips will almost double to approximately 2,280 per year.

Tankers are categorized by their size (dead weight tonnes) and their cargo capacity. The only tankers transporting oil in Port Metro Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet waters are called Aframax. They weigh from 70,000 to 120,000 dead weight tonnes, with a capacity of 500,000 to 800,000 barrels of oil. Within these waters, Aframax tankers are currently subject to loading restrictions of 85 per cent (13.5 metres draft) and the larger class Suezmax tankers (weighing from 120,000 to 200,000 dead weight tons, with a capacity of one million barrels) are not permitted.

U.S. tanker traffic also impacts B.C.’s tanker traffic count. In 2010, there were approximately 700 U.S. oil tanker trips. Loaded in Alaska and unloaded in Washington, they make return trips, in each case, passing along the entire outer coastline of B.C. This traffic complies with a voluntary tanker exclusion zone keeping them outside B.C.’s Northern Coastal waters, but still close enough to have an impact in the event of an accident.

The controversy over dilbit – Alberta bitumen

The B.C. Technical Analysis states, “Crude oil and refined oil makes up the majority of the oil products being shipped along North America’s West Coast. As such, most available spill response capacity has been designed to address these types of spills.” Oil may be oil to the financial sector, but the properties of Alberta bitumen are different. In order to attain a viscosity able to be pumped through pipelines, the thick processed bitumen is mixed with a variety of chemical additives including light natural gas or other petroleum products and includes sulphur and heavy metals.

According to many scientific sources, including statements in the B.C. report, dilbit, when spilled in water, is more likely to sink, due to its higher density. In addition, due to its additives, it is environmentally a higher-risk product than crude oil. It is more difficult to recover bitumen and more remediation is required should an unintended release occur, particularly once bitumen sinks into the water column or into soils.

It’s clear, however, that the oil industry, including producers and spill responders, treat dilbit in the same manner as crude, and in fact call it heavy crude. In an October 2011 fact sheet published by the Association of Oil Pipelines, diluted bitumen is referred to as having characteristics similar to other heavy crude currently transported by pipeline in Venezuela, Mexico and California. This information concludes that diluted bitumen is essentially the same as any other type of crude and is not more of a risk to pipelines, people or the environment than other crudes transported via pipeline.

Industry maintains no difference between dilbit and heavy crude

The Association dismisses claims of increased risk to pipeline infrastructure, and states that, “No instances of crude oil release caused by internal corrosion from pipelines carrying Canadian crude are evident in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) pipeline accident data from 2002 through early 2011.” This contrasts with the events of July 25, 2010, when at 5:58 PM local time, a 30-inch pipeline, Enbridge’s Line 6B, originating in Griffith, Indiana, and crossing South-Eastern Michigan ruptured in a wetland at Marshall, Michigan.

As documented in the USDOT accident report, during a planned shutdown, increased pressure ruptured the line. The report says, “The pipeline segment ruptured due to corrosion fatigue cracks that had grown in size until the pipe failed during the planned shutdown.” An estimated 3.2 million litres of oil saturated the surrounding wetlands, flowed into a local creek and then the Kalamazoo River. Hundreds of residents were evacuated, 320 people reported medical problems, and as of July, costs of the cleanup exceeded $US767 million.

WCMRC’s Bruce Turnbull responds to the question of dilbit recovery vs. crude pointing out that the issue is one of density. The National Energy Board prohibits pipeline transport of anything over .94 density, he explains, and says that the density of freshwater is 1.0, with saltwater being even denser, so the propensity of dilbit is to float. “We handled the product during our clean-up of the 2007 Burnaby Kinder Morgan rupture. We know that our equipment was able to clean very effectively. In fact, we found it easier to clean on the water. We were out over a period of days, and at no time did it sink.”

South Coast area manager Trevor Davis adds that testing during and following the Burnaby spill showed no indications of sinking dilbit. Controlled testing using Burrard Inlet seawater and dilbit let stand for nearly three weeks also didn’t sink. ”Our experience was that it floated.” He suggested reasons why the product sunk in the Kalamazoo incident could include water temperatures, lower density freshwater, turbulence of the creek and river (factors cited in the USDOT report) and the sediment created by the turbulence, which would add density.

Existing B.C. spill response ­requirements too limited

The B.C. Technical Analysis states that West Coast marine spill management needs strengthening to increase capacity for all types of spill scenarios. The report says it is possible that the existing capacity for crude oil spills, from training to equipment, may not be appropriate for bitumen. Thus, a major gap may exist for all current and future bitumen shipments taking place on Canada’s West Coast.

In language unusually blunt from government, the report says, “The existing requirements for marine spill response organizations on the West Coast are insufficient given the potential impacts of a major spill. Chief among these insufficiencies is the modest requirement that response organizations maintain capacity to address spills up to a maximum of 10,000 tonnes. This maximum is the equivalent of 70,000 barrels of oil. The West Coast’s response organization would be completely overwhelmed by a spill similar in scope (260,000 barrels spilled) to Exxon Valdez.”

Like many things Canadian, responsibility for oil spill cleanups involves a multi-tiered, multi-jurisdictional checkerboard. Federal and provincial governments share the responsibilities, but the Coast Guard, the provincial Ministry of Environment’s Emergency Program, Environment Canada, Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans, Canadian Wildlife Services, local municipalities and First Nations and even the Royal Canadian Navy must all be engaged, and most of these bodies will have a role or a say in spill response. With B.C. located between Washington State and Alaska, there are also trans-border considerations, and international co-operation responsibilities and agreements around spill response.

The B.C. Technical Analysis says that a December 2010 report from the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, Oil Spills from Ships, found that on the federal side, risk assessments related to spills were incomplete, emergency management plans were out-of-date and there was no national approach to training, testing plans (exercises) and maintaining equipment. “These types of gaps make it difficult to fully assess the extent of spill management in Canada’s marine environment.”

Current levels of spill resources not adequate for projected capacity

Who is responsible for action in a spill recovery comes down to the details of each event. The federal government holds the constitutional authority for navigation and shipping, the province has the authority for management of provincial lands and resources. Provincial jurisdiction technically also expands into the inter-tidal zone (all land between the high and low tidal marks) as well as the seabed of the Straits of Georgia and Juan de Fuca, the Queen Charlotte Sound – Johnstone Strait and the coastal seabed between many of the major headlands along B.C.’s outer coast.

While WCMRC has a proven track record, perhaps the B.C. government has a point, in light of the proposed scope of added pipeline and tanker capacity, when its report says that greater clarity is required about existing marine spill management capacity in B.C. “A full assessment does not exist and is required in order to have a complete picture of government, industry and community expertise and resources.”

The government report suggests that at the current level of resourcing, B.C. spill response capability is likely not big enough to respond to growth in volume of spill, nor has the potential for handling concurrent major incidents. In a review of neighbouring states, Alaska has an operating budget of US$9 million, 82 staff members (36 emergency responders), and a US$50 million response account. Washington State operates with 70 staff members (28 emergency responders) an approximate US$12 million annual capital budget and a US$9 million response account.

In light of the scope of the proposed developments, according to its report, the Government of B.C. has already begun to work with the federal government to improve the capacity of marine spill response on the West Coast and ensure the highest level of spill preparedness on routes where oil is being transported either as a cargo or as a fuel.

Pipeline leak detection systems miss 19 out of 20 spills

An investigation of pipeline accident reports from the last ten years has revealed that the much touted leak detection systems employed by pipeline companies only catch one out of twenty spills. The InsideClimate New article by Lisa Song illustrates an alarming disconnect between industry rhetoric and reality when it comes to detecting leaks on pipelines. Not only do pipeline leak detection systems miss nineteen out of twenty spills, they miss four out of five spills larger than 42,000 gallons. Understanding the limits of current leak detection technology has never been more important. As companies like Enbridge and TransCanada propose pipelines moving large volumes of tar sands across sparely populated areas, through rivers and aquifers, it’s critical that the public consider what’s at stake with open eyes. Particularly after learning from Enbridge’s Kalamazoo tar sands pipeline spill how much more damaging tar sands can be.

What does that mean for tar sands pipelines like Keystone XL and Northern Gateway?

TransCanada has told regulators that its leak detection system has a threshold of between 1.5% and 2%. Given that Keystone XL has a maximum capacity of 830,000 barrels of tar sands per day, TransCanada is saying that Keystone XL’s leak detection system can only reliably identify leaks if they’re spilling more than 500,000 to 700,000 gallons of tar sands a day. When put in that context, the reason folks don’t want Keystone XL built through their rivers and groundwater become clear.

Of course, TransCanada has told federal regulators that “computer based, non real-time, accumulated gain/loss volume trending would assist in identifying seepage releases below the 1.5 to 2 percent” threshold. In plain English, that means that given enough time, if TransCanada put a certain amount of tar sands in one end of Keystone XL, and gets less oil out of another, eventually they’ll determine they have a leak. But when?

Few would take heart upon learning the answer to that question. One of the “57 special conditions” that Keystone XL proponents claim will make the pipeline safer lays out the requirements its “non real time” leak detection system. Condition 31 says that Keystone XL’s leak detection system must be prepared using guidance provided in the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). And what does the CSA say?

To comply with this “special condition,” TransCanada’s non-real time leak detection system must be able to detect spills of 4.9 million gallons within a week (or 2% of its capacity). Leaks larger than 350,000 gallons a day, or 1% of its capacity, must be identified within a month – allowing a leak to generate a spill of over 10 million gallons over the course of a month before discovery. And there is no guidance for leaks less than one percent – on Keystone XL, a leak less than 350,000 gallons a day. When looking into it at way, the condition doesn’t seem that special.

These issues are also at play with Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project, a pipeline to move tar sands across the mountains and rivers of British Columbia. As we noted in our report, that 525,000 bpd tar sands pipeline could also leak millions of gallons of tar sands in highly remote regions without its leak detection system identifying a problem.

Enbridge’s Kalamazoo tar sands spill presents another case undercutting industry’s claims about pipeline safety and leak detection. As the InsideClimate piece notes, “Just 10 days before the accident, Enbridge Inc., which operates the Michigan pipeline, told federal regulators it could remotely detect and shut down a rupture in eight minutes. But when the line burst open, it took Enbridge 17 hours to confirm the spill.”

What is more surprising is that one month after failures in its leak detection system allowed it’s line 6B pipeline to spill over a million gallons of tar sands into the Kalamazoo River, Enbridge proposed to employ a new leak detection system only capable of detecting leaks greater than 15% of Line 6B’s capacity. Such a leak detection system could only identify spills greater than 1.2 million gallons a day.

While Enbridge is now well known for its “Keystone Kop” performance during devastating Kalamazoo tar sands spill in Michigan, a smaller spill on another Enbridge pipeline demonstrates an entirely different category of risk. In June of 2011, a landowner discovered a 63,000 gallon spill from a leak the size of a pin-hole. No one is clear how long the leak had been ongoing, but one thing is clear – if a landowner had not happened upon the spill, in all probability the pipeline would still be leaking.

Operators can feel pressured to “tell people things they shouldn’t tell them because it’s not true” Richard Kuprewicz, President of Accufacts, Sept. 19, 2012

This is quite different from the picture painted by pipeline company representatives. In one public panel, TransCanada representatives simply denied that spills smaller than 2% could not be reliably detected by Keystone XL’s real time leak detection system. Simply stated, it’s hard to have an honest public discussion about the risks of projects like Keystone XL when the company sponsoring the project isn’t honest to the public about those risks.

Photo of Kalamazoo River cleanup, courtesy of Mic Stolz

The Dilbit Disaster: Inside The Biggest Oil Spill You’ve Never Heard Of, Part 1

This is part 1 of a three-part series. You can read it all on an eBook now.

MARSHALL, Mich.—An acrid stench had already enveloped John LaForge’s five-bedroom house when he opened the door just after 6 a.m. on July 26, 2010. By the time the building contractor hurried the few feet to the refuge of his Dodge Ram pickup, his throat was stinging and his head was throbbing.

LaForge was at work excavating a basement when his wife called a couple of hours later. The odor had become even more sickening, Lorraine told him. And a fire truck was parked in front of their house, where Talmadge Creek rippled toward the Kalamazoo River.

LaForge headed home. By the time he arrived, the stink was so intense that he could barely keep his breakfast down.

Something else was wrong, too.

Water from the usually tame creek had inundated his yard, the way it often did after heavy rains. But this time a black goo coated swaths of his golf course-green grass. It stopped just 10 feet from the metal cap that marked his drinking water well. Walking on the tarry mess was like stepping on chewing gum.

LaForge said he was stooped over the creek, looking for the source of the gunk, when two men in a white truck marked Enbridge pulled up just before 10 a.m. One rushed to LaForge’s open front door and disappeared inside with an air-monitoring instrument.

The man emerged less than a minute later, and uttered the words that still haunt LaForge today: It’s not safe to be here. You’re going to have to leave your house. Now.

John and Lorraine LaForge, their grown daughter and one of the three grandchildren living with them at the time piled into the pickup and their minivan as fast as they could, given Lorraine’s health problems. They didn’t pause to grab toys for the baby or extra clothes for the two children at preschool. They didn’t even lock up the house.

Within a half hour, they had checked into two rooms at a Holiday Inn Express, which the family of six would call home for the next 61 days.

Their lives had been turned upside down by the first major spill of Canadian diluted bitumen in a U.S. river. Diluted bitumen is the same type of oil that could someday be carried by the much-debated Keystone XL pipeline. If that project is approved, the section that runs through Nebraska will cross the Ogallala aquifer, which supplies drinking water for eight states as well as 30 percent of the nation’s irrigation water.

“People don’t realize how your life can change overnight,” LaForge told an InsideClimate News reporter as they drove slowly past his empty house in November 2011. “It has been devastating.”

* * * *

The spill happened in Marshall, a community of 7,400 in southwestern Michigan. At least 1 million gallons of oil blackened more than two miles of Talmadge Creek and almost 36 miles of the Kalamazoo River, and oil is still showing up 23 months later, as the cleanup continues. About 150 families have been permanently relocated and most of the tainted stretch of river between Marshall and Kalamazoo remained closed to the public until June 21.

The accident was triggered by a six-and-a-half foot tear in 6B, a 30-inch carbon steel pipeline operated by Enbridge Energy Partners, the U.S. branch of Enbridge Inc., Canada’s largest transporter of crude oil. With Enbridge’s costs already totaling more than $765 million, it is the most expensive oil pipeline spill since the U.S. government began keeping records in 1968. An independent federal agency, the National Transportation Safety Board, is investigating the accident, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has launched criminal and civil probes.