What’s in a pipeline alters the risk

What’s in a pipeline alters the risk

Elizabeth James / North Shore News
November 13, 2013 12:00 AM

“Although Kinder Morgan has conducted inspections for stress corrosion cracking on [its] Cochin Pipeline in Western Canada through inline inspection. .. the [National Energy] Board has previously deemed the crack detection methodology employed by Kinder Morgan to be inappropriate.”

NEB Letter and Order SO-K077-005-2012

When debating the merits of pipelines versus railcar transport, did you notice on Kinder Morgan’s website that its Trans Mountain pipeline
currently carries crude oil, semi-refined and refined products along the same pipeline?

That fact had escaped me until Vancouver-based activist David Ellis brought it to my attention as I began this column.

And here I’d been thinking a pipeline would be safer than the derailments we’ve seen across the country this year.

Ellis is concerned because, as he travels on business throughout British Columbia, he often drives miles alongside a pipeline most of us don’t even know exists.

The increased risk posed by what KM calls “batching” becomes clearer when you consider the volatility of refined oil products.

Spilled crude oil might burn for a long time but Ellis believes our chief concern should be the explosion-potential of refined product.

“As far as I know, Trans Mountain is the only pipeline in North America that carries both refined product and crude oil in batches,” he said.

So bearing in mind that Canada’s National Energy Board “requires companies to take effective actions to prevent the occurrence of leaks
and ruptures,” where does NEB stand on the history and operational practices of Texas-based Kinder Morgan Energy Partners? The answer is particularly relevant to the B.C. portion of KM’s Cochin line.

On Aug. 2, 2013, NEB recorded that on June 12 and 26, six months after it had conveyed its 21 Dec. 2012 orders to KM, the company had
“identified and reported two separate leaks” on its Trans Mountain pipeline in B.C.

Although the products are corrosive, especially in a 60-year-old pipeline, such leaks are usually found at failed weldingseams along the
line.

The current spillsite is approximately 40 kilometres north of Hope, B.C. and the photographs I received from Ellis last week paint a disturbing picture of the cleanup that remains a work in progress.

Initially thought to be a spill of about 25 barrels – 4,000 to 5,000 litres – by the end of October Trans Mountain had shipped more than
5,000 cubic metres of contaminated soil to Richmond, for remediation by the Tervita Corporation.

The company discovered and reported the problem in the course of performing the inspections it was carrying out in compliance with the
NEB’s 2012 directives.

Nonetheless, the discovery was a disturbing confirmation of the NEB belief that the company’s traditional inspection protocols left much to be desired. That’s because neither KM nor passersby have any idea how long the “batched” contaminants had been seeping into the surrounding environment.

As Ellis asked, “What might have happened during our long, hot summer, had someone tossed a live cigarette-butt into a ditch full of refined oil alongside the highway?”

And speaking of pipelines in ditches, open for all to see – what about the NEB requirement that pipelines should not be exposed in such a way as to leave them vulnerable to tampering or vandalism?

For me, however, the Aha! moment came when I read that, in May 2007, KM had concluded a $50-million deal to acquire the Canadian portion of the Cochin pipeline from the BP group, thus increasing its interest from around 40 per cent to full ownership.

That resonated with me because, as I wrote in a June 2010 column, BP workers had predicted that “years of corporate costcutting and inattention to safety measures and routine maintenance would lead to pipeline and other disasters.”

The largest disaster, of course, happened on April 20, 2010 when the BP-operated Transocean oil rig exploded, killed 11 workers and began to spill 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico. Many suggested the event could have been prevented by the installation of a recommended $500,000 acoustic remote-control shut-off device.

At the time, President Barack Obama suggested the precautions were ignored because “the oil industry [had] enjoyed far too cosy. .. ties
with government regulators.”

A third and startling NEB communication suggests that this is not the case here.

Giving a whole new meaning to the slogan Call Before You Dig, Letter and Order KAR-001-2013 was delivered to BC Hydro on Feb. 4, 2013.

The letter listed 10 occasions between May 2008 and November 2012 when Hydro and/or its sub-contractors had excavated or otherwise violated the safety zone adjacent to a pipeline. The incidents included ones in Burnaby, Surrey, Hope, Kamloops and Valemount without notice to or permission from the pipeline company involved. A miscalculation at any of these sites had the potential to create a forest fire or a Lac M├ęgantic-size disaster right here in B.C.

One way or another, the regular spills and disasters Canadians have witnessed this year suggest that, at some level, the billiondollar oil industry still regards million-dollar fines and spill cleanup expenses as the cost of doing business.

Regulatory agencies like the NEB lack the funding and human resources to be everywhere at once. They have little option but to rely on the foxes to protect the hen house.

So whether we prefer pipelines or rail to transport our oil and gas products, we need to make sure industry is never allowed to come
anywhere close to developing political or regulatory cosy ties.

My thanks to David Ellis, his Alberta counterpart Evan Vokes and to the NEB’s Rebecca Taylor for the signposts they offered to speed up my understanding of this complex topic.

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