Pipeline Violations Poorly Enforced: Engineer

Andrew Nikiforuk
Former TransCanada employee says rupture risk is widespread, files safety complaint to PMO, regulators. A Tyee investigation, part one.

[Editor’s note: Keying off his new book The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude, Andrew Nikiforuk will give a free talk on the evening of Oct. 3 in Vancouver moderated by Tyee editor David Beers. Tickets are going fast. Details here.]

A pipeline materials engineer, who worked for TransCanada Pipeline for five years, says some of the nation’s major pipeline companies are breaking the rules on pipeline safety and that National Energy Board is not adequately enforcing them.

Evan Vokes, a 47-year-old Calgary-based engineer and former TransCanada employee, has filed complaints with the National Energy Board, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA is a self-regulating professional group that represents engineers) and the Prime Minister’s Office documenting repeated violations of standard safety regulations and codes.

The alleged offences include repeated violations of several sections of the nation’s Onshore Pipeline Regulations (OPR-99) on issues as varied as welding inspections, the safety of materials and conflict of interest.

In addition Vokes also charges that engineers do not always make project and scheduling decisions during pipeline construction (a common lament) and that “unskilled practice by professional engineers in a hurry” is a routine problem throughout the multi-billion dollar industry.

National Energy Board investigating

In response to a Tyee inquiry the board replied that it is actively investigating the allegations. “Board Executives met with senior company representatives to describe the allegations and how seriously the board takes them.” One company in particular has been asked to report on their internal investigation of allegations of non-compliance.

Added Erin Potter, the NEB’s communication officer: “The NEB investigation into this file is ongoing and we are thoroughly reviewing and assessing the information that has been submitted. It would not be appropriate to discuss this matter further while it is under investigation.”

Vokes’ concerns, shared to varying degrees by members of Canada’s embattled pipeline industry, have already been partly corroborated by U.S. and Canadian regulatory bodies in a series of recent investigations and reports on pipeline spills.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), for example, categorized Enbridge as having a “culture of deviance” on safety matters after it investigated that company’s 20,000-barrel bitumen spill on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The NTSB accused the company of taking advantage of “weak regulations” and not learning from previous incidents.

Enbridge employees also admitted to NTSB investigators that the largest oil spill in U.S. history was “a wake-up call” that highlighted problems associated with rapid growth including staff shortages “and that type of thing.”

As a consequence the US Pipeline Hazardous Material Standards Administration (PHMSA), fined the company last summer a record $3.7-million for a total of 24 violations of pipeline regulations jointly enforced by the both National Energy Board (NEB) and PHMSA.

U.S. regulators also caught Kinder Morgan, another big pipeline player with extensive Canadian properties as well as controversial bitumen expansion plans, violating welding codes and nearly a dozen sections of the US Pipeline Safety Regulations while building the Rocky Express natural gas pipeline between 2007 and 2008. It fined the company $400,000 in 2012.

NEB made pipeline safety top priority for 2012

U.S. regulators aren’t alone in finding routine violations of code. A 2009 National Energy Board investigation on the death of an electrician at an Enbridge pump station found violations of construction codes and concluded “the safety culture at Enbridge Kerrobert [pump station] was not adequately developed.”

Unlike its U.S. counterparts, which have long records of public transparency, The National Energy Board did not begin posting its safety and environmental actions till the fall of 2011. Since 2008 the Board says it has issued 24 Safety Orders against on pipelines owned by Enbridge, TransCanada and Kinder Morgan. None are available on its website.

But the spotlight on pipeline safety has not just fallen on Enbridge, which is now under regulatory scrutiny for its proposed Northern Gateway project as well as another spill at a Wisconsin pipeline in 2012.

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board, the nation’s version of the NTSB, is investigating Houston-based Spectra Energy, which operates 2,900 kilometres of pipeline in British Columbia for two separate 2012 incidents: a sour gas rupture as well as an explosion at a natural gas compressor station that injured two workers just north of Fort St. John, British Columbia.

TransCanada, another big pipeline player and Vokes’ former employer, has also been in the headlines. The first phase of TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline leaked 14 times in just two years and the company has now been ordered by the National Energy Board to investigate Keystone’s pumping stations in Canada.

Last year a 50-foot section of TransCanada’s brand new Bison gas pipeline also blew up in Wyoming due to mechanical damage caused by the improper laying of pipe in the ground. That accident forced a month-long closure.

Although the National Energy Board officially declared pipeline safety its top priority in 2012, Canada’s federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development has raised serious issues about the board’s accountability and enforcement practices.

Tracing Enbridge’s learning curve

The Commissioner reported in 2011 that the NEB often identified problems on its 71,000 kilometres of interprovincial pipeline system, but rarely followed up: “there is little indication that the Board takes steps to ensure that the identified deficiencies are corrected.”

In fact many of the problems that Enbridge experienced during the $800-million Michigan debacle, the largest onshore oil spill in U.S. history, were flagged by an NEB inspection audit in 2008 that found multiple problems with the company’s program for maintaining pipeline integrity. (Because Enbridge operates lines that are intercontinental, it is jointly regulated by the NEB and US PHMSA.)

Although the NTSB flagged the NEB 2008 inspection audit of Enbridge’s Canadian operations as an example of the company’s poor learning curve, the audit does not appear to be available on the NEB’s website.

The audit found, among many other safety failings, that Enbridge’s “assessment process and data for determining the crack and corrosion in-line inspection frequency required improvement to prevent failures from reoccurring.”

Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment also found that Canada’s national pipeline regulator did not properly monitor emergency procedures manuals and failed to communicate deficiencies in a timely manner: “We have concluded that the Board’s oversight of companies’ emergency procedures manuals is deficient,” went the report.

According to the Auditor General The NEB had but a budget of $7 million and a staff of 63 to check on regulatory compliance on some of the world’s longest pipelines in 2011.

Since then the NEB has tried frantically to catch up with rapid pipeline infrastructure growth and a doubling of pipeline incidents or what the board calls “an increased trend in the number and the severity of incidents being reported by NEB-regulated companies.”

Engineers have ‘duty of care’: whistleblower

The board reports that it now has a staff of 80 including 35 qualified engineers to enforce the law and will increase inspections from 100 to 150 a year thanks to additional federal funding of $13-million provided this year. Incredibly, it is only now developing a program to fine pipeline operators for non-compliance of regulations.

In 2009 the NEB took on the responsibility of looking after an additional 24,000 km of pipeline owned by Nova Gas and formerly monitored by Alberta’s regulators. It did not increase staff at the time.

Meanwhile the office of pipeline safety of the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which has fined offenders for years, has issued alerts, held workshops and given presentations on what it calls new construction “challenges” facing pipeline builders across the continent.

PHMSA presentations include graphic illustrations of cracked pipelines and clearly show a rising incidence of problems related to bad welding practices and improper coating of pipelines.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada, which investigates accidents, also reports worsening pipeline trends too.

Since 2002 this federal agency has recorded a near doubling of pipeline incidents from an average of 95 a year to 161 incidents in 2011. The federal investigator partly blames the combined effects of the rapid pipeline growth, the conversion of oil to gas pipelines, better reporting, and an aging infrastructure. It is also studying other factors.

All pipelines contain flaws as they are not ideal but the codes set a standard for accepatable risk tolerance. But the most recent issue of the magazine Pipeline International highlights many of the issues raised by Vokes such as the importance of pipeline integrity management. Such a process should allow operators to routinely check that their pipeline networks operate in a safe, reliable, sustainable and optimal manner.

But if neglected and unused, even the most expensive and “high tech” systems or tools will fail warns the magazine article. And if these systems are not properly enforced, adds Vokes, low probability events on pipelines can become catastrophic problems and headline makers.

The Tyee took a copy of Voke’s assorted documents to an experienced engineer who has worked in the oil patch for 40 years and here’s what he said.

“This man knows what he is talking about and knows his codes and jargon and metallurgy. The industry is moving too fast and doesn’t have the people and experience to manage its safety systems.”

Added the reviewer: “The regulators haven’t caught up with the right standards and we don’t have the senior expertise to oversee some of these issues. Vokes is raising significant issues for the industry.”

The issues are significant enough that that Alberta, home to 400,000 kilometres of pipeline, has contracted a Calgary engineering firm to do an independent analysis of pipeline safety and integrity after a series of high-profile oil spills this year.

“There is only story here,” adds Vokes who is pleased that the NEB is taking his allegation seriously. “It’s what the NTSB report called a ‘culture of deviance’ and a lack of accountability. And that’s the whole thing,” says the engineer.

“When you sign onto engineering ethics you have a duty of care to the public before you do to your employer.”

In response to recent pipeline incidents the Canadian Energy Pipelines Association (CEPA), a lobby group for the nation’s powerful pipeline builders, launched an “Integrity First” campaign last August. An industry press release says that the industry needs “to do more to reduce the frequency and impact of pipeline events.”

According to CEPA its members operate and monitor 110,000 kilometres of pipelines or what it calls “energy highways” that carry nearly $60-billion worth of hydrocarbons every year.

Canada’s petroleum industry wants to double the nation’s oil pipeline capacity from 3 million to 6 million barrels over the next two decades.

Monday: Part two of this Tyee investigation.

Come hear Andrew Nikiforuk speak on Canada’s energy future on Oct. 3. Details here.


Speaking on: De-Friending Oil
How petro-dependency corrodes our humanity. And what it will take to pull free

Where: Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema, Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, Woodwards SFU.

When: Oct. 3, 7:00 p.m.

Tickets are Free

More info: Click here.

Statement on the Brutal Treatment of Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Protestors in Texas

This letter is being sent to many groups in Canada and the United States and groups are being asked to sign it.

September 26, 2012

Statement on the Brutal Treatment of Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Protestors in Texas

Members of Texas Law Enforcement and TransCanada CEO Russ Girling:

We the under-signed U.S. and Canadian organizations and First Nation leaders have learned that while protesting the construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, two US citizens over the course of five hours were repeatedly tasered, pepper sprayed and subjected to prolonged stress positions by the Wood County, Texas sheriff’s office with TransCanada personnel also on hand.

We object in the most strenuous terms to this brutal treatment of peaceful protestors, who are trying to protect their land and families from a dangerous and unnecessary project.

Regardless of our views on civil disobedience, there is not an inch of daylight between our views and those of the protesters on the dangers of this tar sands pipeline. Keystone XL threatens the health and livelihoods of families with tar sands oil spills and is part of an industry that threatens communities with extreme weather. Tar sands oil undermines our clean energy choices.

These protests are part of rising, legitimate public concern with tar sands and tar sands pipelines. People who are moved to peacefully express their opposition must not be subject to abuse or any type of violence.

We are watching events in Texas closely and we expect humane and respectful treatment of any further protestors.


[organization names]

Climate Action Network Canada
Dogwood Initiative
Energy Action Coalition
Labor Network for Sustainability

An open letter to Kinder Morgan Canada

Maryam Adrangi

Can I call you Ian? I hope so. Let’s consider it a first step towards building that trust and confidence you seek with British Columbians. I read your recent op-ed in the Vancouver Sun and I had some follow-up questions and comments.

I should probably confirm that we are in fact speaking about the same project — the Trans Mountain “expansion” project? I put it in quotations because “expansion” seems like a misnomer when you plan to build an entirely new pipeline, even if it’s alongside an existing one.

Or maybe the “expansion” refers to the alternate northern route that you so rarely talk about. The one that would require building a new pipeline to the port of Kitimat, bringing tankers to the north coast of B.C., much like the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.

Given that the Trans Mountain “expansion” would carry even more than the Northern Gateway, I would expect it would bring even more tankers to Kitimat than Enbridge. If you’ve been paying attention to B.C. politics, you may notice that residents in this province are quite concerned about Enbridge and the tankers. A larger pipeline and more tankers would raise even more alarm bells.

I also see you’ve written that you are going “to hear every voice and every concern.” Will you also respect every voice and every concern?
You must have heard that Carleen Thomas, elected band council member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, said “The Tsleil-Waututh Nation opposes the expansion,” at a public forum in Burnaby on June 27. Her nation and over 100 others have signed the Save the Fraser Declaration that bans tar sands pipelines and tankers in the signatories’ territories and on the ocean migration routes of Fraser River Salmon on the north and south coasts of B.C.
If for some reason this opposition has not registered, you definitely heard Chief Mike LeBourdais of Whispering Pine, with whom you had a personal conversation.

Remember, you threatened to rip the pipeline right out of his reserve so that it wouldn’t get any tax money. His response: “Great, I’ll operate the backhoe.” I expect that you’ll continue to hear more of that. I ask again: Will you and Kinder Morgan Canada respect what you hear?

I’d also like to comment on Kinder Morgan Canada’s “culture of safety” that you talk about. What is that exactly?

Making sure construction workers wear hard hats? Or ensuring that pipelines aren’t ruptured and spills and leaks don’t happen? If the latter, where was that “culture” during the 2007 oil spill in Burnaby that forced evacuations and required $15 million in clean-up costs? Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said he was “appalled” that it took your company 17 hours to send a clean-up crew to the site of the spill.

You must have been appalled too. That is probably why you write that you “have plans to respond, clean up, remediate and learn from every incident.”

But at a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Chilliwack on Aug. 16, you said that you “have not changed your response capabilities or equipment” since the 2007 spill. Five years later, I am shocked to hear that you have not improved your capability to respond to a spill in less than 17 hours.__And we know that it is a matter of when a spill happens, not if. You even point out in your op-ed that you “cannot promise there won’t ever be a spill.”

I will end by addressing your last point that “British Columbians want and need reliable information and facts that will provide them with greater understanding of our proposed project and assist them in forming opinions.” Absolutely, we would like full information. However, not only has Kinder Morgan Canada withheld information such as the exact route of the new pipeline, but sometimes we are the ones informing you.

At a recent Chamber of Commerce meeting in Chilliwack, members of a local pipeline opposition group, PIPE-UP, let you know that the diluted bitumen you want to transport is more corrosive and harder to clean up than conventional crude. Don’t let the name fool you, the risks aren’t diluted at all. The volunteer-run community group followed up with your staff by sending reports and documents verifying these facts. And yet you continue to claim that there is “no scientific or operational evidence that it is any more corrosive to the pipeline than other products.”

I agree with you that the only way forward requires trust and confidence. But how can this “expansion” move forward when we have been given so little in which we have any confidence or trust?

UBCM opposes oil tanker traffic growth in near-split vote

B.C. civic leaders voted by a razor-thin margin Thursday to oppose oil pipeline projects that would expand tanker traffic in coastal waters.

The resolution passed in a nearly split electronic vote at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention with 51.3 per cent of delegates in favour and 48.7 per cent opposed.

“We rely solely and wholely upon the oceans for its many resources,” said Skeena-Queen Charlotte regional district director Des Nobles, one of several delegates who said the risks of B.C. carrying more oil to the Pacific far outweigh the benefits.

Others cited the higher cost and challenge of cleaning up a spill of heavy bitumen crude oil and Canada’s insufficient spill-response capability.

“Communities in the interior of B.C. and on the coast can survive and thrive without this pipeline,” said Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt. “I’m not convinced smaller communities and even large ones can thrive in the face of a catastrophic oil spill.”

Opponents of the resolution cited the damaging signal it would send of B.C.’s openness to business before environmental reviews are complete.

Enbridge is in a joint review process on its proposed Northern Gateway bitumen pipeline to Kitimat, while Kinder Morgan is in an earlier stage of its plans to expand its existing Trans Mountain oil pipeline from northern Alberta to Burnaby.

“The oil in Canada is going to come out of the ground and it’s going to find its way to market,” said Prince George Mayor Shari Green, who opposed the resolution.

She said Alberta oil sands crude might flow to tidewater through Alaska or Washington State instead of B.C.

Kinder Morgan already has a branch of its Trans Mountain oil pipeline that also reaches the coast in Washington State at Cherry Point, where some of the flow is refined.

“Tsunami debris is already arriving on our shorelines,” Green said. “So would oil from our neighbours should there be an accident.”

The resolution advanced by Saanich council requires UBCM to “oppose projects that would lead to the expansion of oil tanker traffic through B.C.’s coastal waters” and urges provincial government leaders to fight it by any legislative and administrative means available.

Northern Gateway pipeline economics

Robyn Allan
I grew up at Jericho Beach. My brother and I played war games with our friends based on a TV show called The Rat Patrol. We’d sneak along the beach, under the army base wharf, past imaginary enemy lines and make our way to Spanish Banks and up into a field we called the Plains of Abraham.

I never imagined then that I would be fighting now to stop Supernatural British Columbia from becoming a supertanker terminal for Alberta. It’s not just the danger of a spill and what it will do to the beaches that I want to talk about today. It’s the broader issue of Canada’s energy strategy putting all our futures at risk.

Canada has an energy strategy? Yes we do. It’s just not designed to serve Canadians.

The strategy is decided in the boardrooms of large corporations and national oil companies owned by foreign governments. It’s delivered to the federal government behind closed-door meetings with lobbyists and over dessert at state dinners in other countries. Companies like Suncor, Nexen, MEG Energy, Cenovus and Total are all investors in the Northern Gateway approval process. We also have national oil companies owned by the Communist Party of China like Sinopec, PetroChina, and the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company. These companies are all directly or indirectly involved in this project.

These players have decided they need pipelines to the westcoast. They want to ship crude oil, primarily unprocessed oil sands called bitumen, to Asian markets. Both Sinopec and PetroChina have a fleet of oil tankers. They own almost all the refineries in China. That’s where they plan to upgrade and refine the crude oil they produce here into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other petroleum products necessary to power Asia’s economic growth. It’s upgrading and refining that creates jobs. It’s upgrading and refining that generates value added – not shipping bitumen down a pipeline.

We’ve been led to believe Northern Gateway means construction jobs. Enbridge – in a new ad campaign developed for British Columbians – pitches the construction jobs as a big plus. Enbridge claims “over 3,000 construction jobs at the peak of construction.” Sounds, you know, okay. That is until you run it by the truth metre.

That number comes from Volume 6C of their application, pages 4-8. The number is 3,029 person years of employment for three months in the third quarter of the third year of a five-year construction project. Person-years of employment are not jobs. If you work for a company for three years as a manager, that’s one job and three person-years of employment. Enbridge would call it three jobs. The construction jobs, when we run them through the truth meter, are just a tad over a 1,000, not 3,000.

That doesn’t mean these jobs are for British Columbians – they may go to anyone, even offshore temporary workers.
Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel has told us PetroChina would “love” to build the pipeline. Stephen Harper has made major changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in Budget Bill C-38. These changes allow companies to import workers within 10 days, and pay them 15 percent less than the going domestic rate. These changes will certainly help PetroChina tender a low bid since they have a huge, low-paid labour pool ready to draw on.

There are virtually no long-term jobs from Northern Gateway. Enbridge says 78 jobs in BC and 26 in Alberta. A total of 104 permanent jobs.
But we do give up a lot of permanent jobs by not upgrading bitumen in Alberta. We ship those jobs down the pipeline along with the crude oil. For the bitumen that can be shipped along Northern Gateway, it’s estimated 4,800 permanent upgrading and refining jobs are lost. Compare 4,800 permanent jobs lost to Enbridge’s 104 permanent jobs gained.

We need to know that when bitumen is exported, so are jobs and value-added wealth. None of the lost jobs have been acknowledged by Enbridge in its ads or included in any of its analysis. If the Canadian government was as concerned about jobs in Canada as it pretends to be, bitumen would be upgraded in Alberta.

So what’s stopping us? The multinational companies and the Chinese government don’t want it that way. Upgrading and refining in Alberta was the strategy as recently as 2008. The oil industry had 10 new upgraders planned and even some new refineries, but then the financial crisis hit. Since then, oil production plans have recovered, while plans for new upgraders and refineries in Canada have not.

Back in 2008, when Prime Minister Harper was running for re-election, he promised bitumen would not be shipped to Asia. His government continued to publicly extol the virtues of processing oil in Canada right up until Enbridge filed its application for Northern Gateway in May 2010. So when industry proponents say it’s not economic to upgrade and refine in Canada, you can say, “Hey wait a second, as recently as 2008 that was the plan; it was economic and it was endorsed by Harper’s government.”

Once Northern Gateway is built, when Enbridge decides it wants to expand capacity, increase tanker traffic and expose the land and sea to exponential spill risk, no one will be held accountable to address the environmental threat. If the actual environmental threat of Northern Gateway is going to be assessed, it has to be done as part of the initial application.

This issue becomes important when Kinder Morgan submits its application to the National Energy Board. You need to ensure the full design capacity of the new pipeline and marine expansion is assessed, not the minimum, as has happened with Northern Gateway.
Kinder Morgan has presented its new project as a 450,000 barrel per day pipeline. With design features similar to Northern Gateway’s, it could move 850,000 barrels a day and that means somewhere around 475 oil tankers a year dropping anchor off English Bay.

There’s one final area of misinformation I want to discuss today. That’s Enbridge’s operating risk and safety record. Enbridge tells us in its ad campaign that the company has “World-class safety standards… carefully planned and built to respect the terrain and wildlife. The pipeline will be monitored 24/7.” But when you run this information through the truth metre, well…

From 1998 to 2010, Enbridge had 770 reportable oil spills, a number of them considered large by National Energy Board standards. When Enbridge submitted its risk analysis to the National Energy Board, it only included spill statistics from 2005 to 2009. In the insurance industry, we call this kind of selective choice of data “cherry picking.”

On July 25, 2010, a little over a month after filing its application for Northern Gateway, Enbridge suffered the most significant spill in the company’s history. Enbridge’s Line 6B ruptured in Marshall, Michigan, releasing more than 20,000 barrels of dilbit. Toxic condensate evaporated into the air impacting the local population. Bitumen made its way into the Kalamazoo River.

Enbridge’s corporate standard for identifying a spill is 10 minutes with an additional three minutes for pipeline shutdown. It took more than 17 hours for the Kalamazoo spill to be detected and the pipeline shut down. This pipeline was monitored by Enbridge “24/7.” Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel testified before the US House of Representatives in September 2010. He said, “By the end of September, we will have completed the bulk of the clean up.”

Twenty-three months later, with clean-up costs reaching $765 million, only three of the 39 miles of the Kalamazoo River have been opened to the public. Restoration of the affected waterway and surrounding lands has not started. The restoration stage of the Kalamazoo River will certainly take years and possibly decades. A few weeks ago [early June], the US National Transportation Safety Board released 170 documents, 5,000 pages and 58 pictures of the spill. These documents provide an arms-length, independent look at Enbridge’s world-class safety standards. They explain operating safety took a back seat to corporate growth.

All it will take to ruin the Kitimat watershed system is a spill of – not 20,000 barrels of dilbit into the Kitimat River, but if the spill takes place upstream – somewhere in the neighbourhood of 600 to 650 barrels should do it.

There are more than 700 fresh waterways that Northern Gateway will traverse. The topographical and other geophysical challenges of Northern BC are significantly greater than the relatively flat land traversed by Line 6B in Michigan.

The Kalamazoo spill wasn’t discovered by Enbridge in its state of the art control room, even after 17 hours of pressure problems, repeated alarms in the control room and three shift changes. No one saw the problem as a spill. Someone in Marshall who saw the oil called the control room. But here is something truly shocking. Enbridge doesn’t just downplay Kalamazoo; the company behaves as if the spill never happened.

During the past two years, Enbridge has not updated any of the risk analyses filed with the National Energy Board to include the Kalamazoo spill. We need to ask – who is looking after the Canadian public interest? Mr. Harper is not. Mr. Harper is not behaving as the Prime Minister of Canada. Mr. Harper is behaving as a marketing manager for big oil.

We need to ask who is looking after BC’s public interest? Premier Clark is not. As Premier she has the constitutional power to ensure Northern Gateway undergoes a provincial environmental assessment that includes the environmental threat of the designed capacity of the project—including the tanker traffic it triggers.

She has the power to ensure BC’s public interest is protected, but stands back and allows it to be trampled by the Harper government. We need to be clear. Premier Clark has been asked to lie down and play dead on Northern Gateway. By agreeing to do so she has given Northern Gateway the go ahead.

Not exercising the right to a provincial environmental assessment means BC agrees to accept the National Energy Board decision. Prime Minister Harper has told us Northern Gateway will go ahead. The only way to stop this pipeline and the tanker traffic that comes with it is for BC to exercise our right to review the project and decide whether or not we want it to go ahead.

Who is looking after the pubic interest of this riding? Your MLA Christy Clark is not. As Premier, she has the power to ensure a provincial environmental assessment of the Kinder Morgan project. Yet she has not said the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal will undergo a provincial review. As a result, Premier Clark has agreed to – what has become – a National Energy Board rubber stamp with a big yes on it.

By doing nothing, Christy Clark has made a decision for you.

She has decided the oil export strategy designed in the boardrooms of big oil take precedence over your vision of what British Columbia, as a province, and Vancouver, as a coastal city, should be.

Environmental assessment is our right. While you still have the power to keep BC’s economy and environment out of harms way, take action. Tell Prime Minister Harper you’ve had enough of his support of large oil companies who put at risk our economy and our environment.

Tell Premier Clark to stop playing dead and stand up and protect the rights of all British Columbians. Thank-you.
Robyn Allan is an economist and the former president and CEO of ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia) www.robynallan.com. On June 16, she delivered a talk on the Northern Gateway Pipeline at a townhall meeting in Vancouver hosted by Joyce Murray, Liberal MP for Vancouver Quadra, www.joycemurray.liberal.ca The text here has been adapted from her talk. Read her entire address at www.commonground.ca

This article appeared in the JULY 2012 print edition © Common Ground magazine.
View blog version of this issue | View full print layout of this issue

Lawyers for First Nation question benefits of proposed Northern Gateway pipeline


EDMONTON – The benefits to the oil industry of Enbridge Inc.’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline may be exaggerated and its costs to the economy and environment underestimated, hearings into the project heard Tuesday.

The $6-billion pipeline has been touted as a way to link burgeoning production from Alberta’s oilsands to growing markets in Asia, which would allow Canadian producers to improve profits by reaping higher prices for crude overseas.

But a lawyer for the Haisla First Nation, which claims much of the land the pipeline would travel though, said projections of nearly $1.5 billion a year in increased revenue by 2018 are inflated.

Hana Boye said the estimate Enbridge (TSX:ENB) is presenting at the National Energy Board hearings was developed with figures from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers which suggest oil supply in Western Canada will grow by 6.5 per cent a year between 2011 and 2020.

That’s different than what Enbridge is telling its own investors and shareholders, said Boye. The company’s own estimate is 4.4 per cent growth — a difference of 500,000 barrels a day by 2020 that leads to a corresponding drop in revenues earned by producers.

“Have you given a different supply forecast to your shareholders than that provided to the panel?” Boye asked Enbridge’s Gateway manager John Carruthers on Tuesday.

Carruthers acknowledged that different figures have been used at different times. Estimates can vary depending on assumptions of what the mix of varying crudes would be, he said.

“There would be times when we would see differences.”

But the variances aren’t big enough to change the project’s economics, Carruthers said.

“The minor changes over time don’t change the project need.”

Boye added that the project could discourage the upgrading of oilsands bitumen in Alberta and that its cost to the environment hasn’t been fully evaluated.

She pressed Enbridge over the use of diluent — lightweight solvents mixed with bitumen or other heavy crudes to make them flow through a pipe. Although the mix varies, roughly one-third of what would flow through the Gateway line would be diluent. The Gateway project includes a second pipeline that would import diluent from the B.C. coast back to Alberta.

Boye suggested the cost of that diluent has not been factored into calculations of producer benefit.

Ignoring the cost of diluent exaggerates the case for shipping raw bitumen outside Alberta for upgrading or refining, said Robyn Allan, an analyst for the Alberta Federation of Labour, who is advising the Haisla.

“There is no economic analysis … that’s been supplied to the hearings (of the impact) to the Canadian economy when we import condensate instead of upgrading in Alberta,” she said outside the hearing.

“Importing condensate instead of upgrading (bitumen) is hollowing out the sector.”

Boye also questioned environmental economist Mark Anielski about his dollar-value calculation of the project’s environmental impact. She pointed out that his analysis only included the 50-metre pipeline right of way and ignored possible effects outside that corridor.

Anielski responded those effects could exist, but there’s no credible method of putting a monetary value on them.

“This kind of information is not available,” he said. “To speculate would be unprofessional of me.”

Anielski also acknowledged his report didn’t put a value on a wide array of ecological effects from forests that would be disturbed by the pipeline — everything from erosion control to genetic diversity to pollination.

Enbridge has promised to plant a tree for every one cut down for the pipeline right-of-way, he said. The company is also working with the Nature Conservancy to protect land that would offset areas disturbed by the project.

The hearings are expected to continue in Edmonton throughout the week.

© The Canadian Press, 2012

Opposition to Trans Mountain pipeline nearing Northern Gateway levels


Once a little-known factor in plans to carry oil to Canada’s West Coast, expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline now faces a level of public opposition almost as high as Enbridge Inc.’s controversial Northern Gateway project.

A new poll finds that 60.3 per cent of British Columbians surveyed are against Gateway, while 49.9 per cent oppose the twinning of the Trans Mountain system, a half-century-old pipe that already carries substantial volumes of Alberta oil to Burnaby, B.C.

Video: Former environment minister slams Enbridge pipeline plan

Those surveyed were asked to name which issue they saw as most important in B.C. and, unprompted, pipelines got the second-highest number of votes – behind the economy but above health care, the environment, unemployment and education.

The poll was commissioned by the Living Oceans Society, an environmental group that has sought to keep oil tankers off the B.C. coast. Nonetheless it provides an insight into the deepening public opposition facing the oil patch as it seeks to access new, and lucrative, Pacific markets for its product.

The opposition to Trans Mountain is especially striking, since Kinder Morgan is seeking to expand an existing pipeline and terminal used to load oil tankers. In other words, oil already moves to the B.C. Lower Mainland through Trans Mountain in substantial volumes. The Enbridge project, on the other hand, promises to bring oil to the northern B.C. coast where oil movements today are very limited.

Kinder Morgan also has yet to formally apply for the Trans Mountain expansion, and won’t even publish a map of its proposed route until late next year, when it makes that application. Enbridge is already in the midst of a prolonged and hotly-debated federal review that has brought forth thousands of public comments.

Yet a telephone survey of those along the Kinder Morgan route – the survey also included Vancouver, which lies beyond the pipeline but next to waters where tankers would sail – found substantial opposition to the expansion project.

“Those that think Kinder Morgan is a much different animal, in terms of the average person, than Enbridge are mistaken,” said Bob Penner, CEO of Stratcom, the left-leaning communication strategy and polling firm that conducted the survey. “People are seeing them both very similarly. They’re not buying the positive arguments for them and they’re not buying that there’s a big difference between Kinder Morgan and Enbridge.”

The poll of those along the route tapped 768 people. A separate online poll of British Columbians obtained 1,012 responses. While Stratcom said it sought to present neutral questions, both polls employed questionable language in some instances, by suggesting Trans Mountain transports only bitumen, or heavy oil sands crude, rather than the broader variety of oil and refined products that the pipe actually carries.

The B.C.-wide poll found support for both projects at low levels, with 19.9 per cent of people behind Gateway, and 21.9 per cent behind Kinder Morgan. In both cases, the number of British Columbians that have maintained an open mind is low: 15.6 per cent declared themselves neutral on Trans Mountain, and 10.2 per cent neither supported nor opposed Gateway.

The low levels of support come as Trans Mountain mounts an increasingly widespread campaign to win public favour. The company now has a half-dozen people on its community engagement team, some strategically hired from communities along the pipeline route.

In October, it will launch a series of public information sessions along the pipeline route, and is also developing an online platform where “there will be forums and discussions and opportunities to provide feedback to our website,” said Lizette Parsons Bell, the expansion project’s lead for stakeholder engagement and communications.

“We hope and trust that British Columbians, and all Canadians, will take the time to learn the facts about the project in order to make an informed opinion and engage us with a real dialogue based on facts,” she said.

However, she declined comment on whether the company would be willing to amend its route – a route it has resisted making public – based on public input, saying such questions would need to be posed to the expansion project’s manager. The precise route of a pipeline is often amongst the most contentious elements its proponent faces.

Resistance to the expansion is not uniform. There is greater support than opposition amongst those who vote Liberal and Conservative – although Mr. Penner points out that with a quarter of Conservatives opposed, it’s enough to put in jeopardy some Conservative seats in the province. Among those who supported the expansion, its benefits to the economy ranked as the top reason; other factors included its contribution to jobs and the fact a pipeline already exists along that route.

Still, a demand from Premier Christy Clark that B.C. take a greater share of revenue from pipelines like revenue appears to be doing little. Of those polled, 29.7 per cent said more money from Gateway would make them more likely to support the project, while 25.2 per cent say they would grow less likely to support it.

“With these polls as a whole, it’s clear that for every single party, [pipelines] are a political vulnerability,” said Tzeporah Berman, one of B.C.’s best-known environmentalists, who now consults for numerous organizations.

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

How oil companies plan to kill you (yes, you)

By Nadine Moedt (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: September 12, 2012

How will two oil companies (Kinder Morgan and Enbridge) try to kill thee? Let me count the ways. Having spoken to two representatives from PIPE UP, Sheila Muxlow and Michael Hale, I am thoroughly scared shitless and wish to list the reasons why continuing to allow tar sands oil through BC is a terrible and downright irresponsible idea.

First off, the product that these companies are shifting to—tar sands diluted bitumen rather than conventional oil—puts everyone at risk. Because tar sands bitumen is in its natural state is solid, it must be diluted by a variety of toxic chemicals to be moved through the pipeline. In order to be transported it must be submitted to pressure and heat, which increases the risk of spillage. The chemicals used include benzene, a chemical that has been linked to blood cancer. If there is a spill, these chemicals would evaporate into the air for us to breathe in.

To make things worse, tar sands diluted bitumen is nearly impossible to clean up in the event of a spill. That’s because tar sands bitumen is solid, so once it cools in the event of a spill, naturally it sinks. Sheila Muxlow, a spokesperson for PIPE UP, points to the Kalamazoo Michigan spill in 2010 as an example of what might be in store for us. After two years of attempting to clean up that spill using conventional methods, such as skimming oil off the water, they still have not been able to rid the water of this poisonous substance. No amount of money thrown at this issue will clean up an oil spill if we simply do not have the method to do so.

Many people are not aware that we are already allowing tar sands oil through BC. Considering all the attention given to Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, I was shocked to learn that Kinder Morgan’s Trans mountain pipeline runs right through the Fraser Valley and is now carrying tar sands diluted bitumen. What makes things worse is that this is a pipeline built in the early ‘50s for the transport of conventional oil and natural gas; it was not built to accommodate the heat and pressure tar sands diluted bitumen requires. Now, Kinder Morgan is proposing an expansion: another pipeline running parallel to the first, right through our backyard.

And if this doesn’t sound bad enough, both Kinder Morgan and Enbridge are setting up this pipeline solely for export. At the moment we have something like 71 to 80 tankers a year in the Burrard Inlet. If these proposals go through, god forbid, this number would go up to 365 tankers a year. The tankers would not be the relatively small ones we have now, but large crude carriers, ranging up to 400 meters in length. Muxlow mentioned there has been talk about the need to “dredge the inlet” in order to make sure these beasts can make it through the inlet. This dredging would have a horrible ecological impact, stirring up any pollution resting at the bottom from the tankers we already have coming through and disturbing any present marine life.

So what are the benefits? Surely by prostituting our environment for the sake of Ottawa and these big oil companies we get some compensation. Right? Michael Hale has done the research and our gains, he says, are a “pittance.” Here are the facts he has summarized, taken directly from the report on the economic benefits of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline by Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). To start, over $10 billion would be spent (Enbridge has estimated a $5.5 billion dollar project and Kinder Morgan, $4.5 billion). There would be “spin off,” i.e., people get work. Yet economic benefits would result for any new project and the fact is that building pipelines is “capital intensive” and results in “relatively less employment” than if that money was spent on other projects. It makes sense. Manufacturing the actual pipes can be done in factories, and the digging/laying down/raping of the environment would not result in full time employment for many workers. The cost of carbon emissions, the cost of potential spills, and other environmental risks is glossed over by Enbridge. CCPA states that “while private gains accrue to the oil and gas industry, huge costs are borne by others.” Others being you, your children and your children’s … But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We probably won’t make it that far if this pipeline goes through.

Here are some other economical facts Hale lists. For local residents: the price of gas would go up, drinking water from the aquifer would be at risk, and local manufacturing would be negatively impacted as the export of raw material contributes to inflation.

We need to explore our options before we allow these oil companies to put all of us at risk. At this point, it is absolutely critical to be thinking about building infrastructure that promotes a more green way of life. We need to focus on alternative energy sources. To build a pipeline that would speed up extraction of the tar sands oil and reinforce our dependency establish on fossil fuels would be completely irresponsible and—let’s be honest—just plain stupid.