Oil spill experts tell review panel Enbridge proposal is too risky

Risk posed by oil tankers ‘unacceptably high,’ National Energy Board panel told during Victoria hearings.

Robert Smith was involved in cleaning up an oil spill on Canada's east coast and told the panel: "It's not something you want to have to witness." Credit: marinephotobank, via Flickr Creative Commons

Several oil spill experts testified that Enbridge’s Northern Gateway oil tanker and pipeline proposal poses too great a risk during National Energy Board joint review panel hearings in Victoria last week.

Gerald Graham, a Canadian Coast Guard trained on-scene commander for marine oil spill response operations, said calculations based on Enbridge’s own research show there is a 8.7-to14.1-per-cent chance of at least one tanker spill greater than 31,500 barrels over a 50-year period, depending on whether the pipeline has a 525,000 or 850,000 barrel per day capacity.

“The consequences of a major oil spill along B.C.’s north coast ... could be catastrophic and irreversible,” he said. “Couple this potentially disastrous outcome with a one-in-seven chance of one or more major spills occurring, and the overall threat level posed by Northern Gateway becomes unacceptably high.”

Michael Woodward, a former oil spill emergency adviser for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, told the panel he believes the marine component of Enbridge’s project fails the test of good design.

“Nature and weather is unforgiving, heartless, powerful, to be respected,” Woodward said. “Gales are common and in those conditions it will not be possible to safely operate the proposed tugs in open water nor to land marine pilots on these ships.”

He described being on the water in a 230-foot research ship and receiving a call from the Rescue Coordinator Centre.

“Several fish boats had capsized and sunk off the north end of Vancouver Island,” he told the panel. “The Coast Guard aircraft had tried to help them. They launched life rafts; they were all blown away. They could see these men in the water in survival suits with their helicopters; they couldn’t attempt to rescue them . . . We were asked to come to their aid.

“We gave it all we could. This 230-foot boat — the hammer’s down, the engines are smoking, the bows leaping out of the water. Lumps of green water are smashing into the wheelhouse 50 feet above the water line. We’re taking damage. We’re pushing on. 

“We had to give up … The lifeboats on the lower deck got carried away. I mean smashed to bits. We tried to go to these people. We wouldn’t be doing this unless we were trying to save somebody’s lives, but we didn’t make it. These people all died. This is a deadly place. It’s not to be trifled with.”

Woodward told the panel operating supertankers on the north coast of B.C. is a recipe for a bitumen disaster: “No amount of money or human intervention will be able to fix the damage caused by a supertanker-sized bitumen spill.” 

Robert F. Smith, a retired engineer, told the panel about a seminal moment in his life.

“In 1970, I faced the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced in my life,” he said. “I was a young officer, Canadian military engineer officer, in Gagetown, New Brunswick, and on the 4th of February, 1970, a Liberian oil tanker ran into a rock in Chedabucto Strait and the biggest oil spill on Canadian shore occurred. And I was tasked to clean it up. So I've been there.”

Smith described finding 190 kilometres of coastline covered with tar. “They spilled two and a half million gallons of Bunker C. Bunker C is probably lighter than tar sands because it floats,” he said.

Smith’s job was to command the troop responsible for containing and cleaning up the oil.  “It's not something you want to have to witness,” he said. “It’s impossible to clean up. Once it hits that shore and gets stuck like that, it's from high tide to low tide as far as you can see.”

He outlined the challenges they encountered in something as simple as getting the tar off their shovels and into barrels — the tar would stick, encumbering the cleanup.

“What I learned was wisdom doesn’t come from study, Smith said. “Wisdom comes from showing up for life. So make sure those people show up for life and demonstrate that they got the technology on the ground in the situ, not in some sunny afternoon in a harbour or in a classroom or in a laboratory.”

He urged the panel to find out what happens when the oil hits the ocean and sits there for a week, leaks into a stream or sinks.

“I don’t want anybody else to have to live it again for me,” he said.

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Will they listen to the experts?

Let's hope that these statements by the experts on this issue do not get ignored. This is very serious stuff.

Harper's Autocratic Decision Making

Stephen Harper is from Calgary and is owned by Big Oil. He had an agenda to get the Northgate Pipeline in or lose his Big Oil money that his father Imperial Oils own accountant has drummed into his thick skull. Big Oil has him in their pocket along with Zionist Joe Oliver who only knows profits and money based upon his Wall Street career. We all know Wall St. is the 1% that really doesn't give a danm about our lives on the opposite coast. BC will be stuck with the damage be it inland or on our pristine coastline. We need to shut this stupid arrogant idea down before it starts to materialize by supporting all groups socially, financially, spiritually, physically, mentally and do it loudly. IDLE NO MORE against BIG OIL.

Send it East

Export makes no sense on any level

If we export to China, we accept the world oil currency for bitumen.  That is the now near worthless US$.  Replacing our own imports on the East coast makes the most sense for Canadians.

Close the gap on the pipeline from Gretna, Manitoba to Montreal. Send and refine it in the East.  The Irvings might not be happy about that, but Quebecers, Ontarians and Maritimers would be.

Once the Climate Scam is recognized for what it is, practicality might then be exercised. Pretending that humans can change climate by adding less than 5% more of a beneficial trace gas to the atmosphere is counterproductive.  The Sun controls climate.



too risky,depends?

The issue may be the lingering distrust of the Enbridge OPERATING culture—resulting from what was said during the US NTSB hearings after the (Enbridge) Kalamazoo pipeline fiasco. See this link

http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents/p21799/81081E.pdf (summary) and then ask what Enbridge has done to convince you that they’ll operate differently on the Northern gateway project?

We see ,currently , lots of colorful full page ads by Janet Holder—pretty ads, but not communicating the message we want to see.Yes- there’s lot’s of talk about ‘nuts and bolts ‘stuff...but as another lady once said ‘where’s the beef ?


The Enbridge Kalamazoo, Michigan, nightmare is (was) a making of their own; see [US] National Transportation Safety Board reports.

A lack of commitment to operational training by management and of management can lead to nightmares. Management often will fall back onto the old dodge such as, “We followed all the regulations, standards of the day.”

Give me a break—systems start to become obsolete soon after start up. Further, leaders don’t follow standards, they set the standard—continually; that is during AND AFTER construction..


I don’t know the ‘public image’ solution for Enbridge ---but somehow we need to hear and see something convincing ; not from Janet Holder—but from the full Board of Directors—tell and show us how you’ve changed your organization and ‘culture’.


I’m hoping to see an OPERATIONS SAFETY EPIPHANY by the Enbridge Board...’ fessing up’ is good for the soul ,I’m told... I suggest that such an epiphany would be welcomed by the decision makers and the public, even at this late date