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Enbridge promises minimum precautions, ignores seismic instability

Not everyone will be comforted by NGP's assurance that only 15.7% of all spills are detected by leak detection systems, or that reliance on aerial detection is a good idea in the rugged northern weather.  

Today concludes the first week of the technical hearings in Prince George regarding Northern Gateway Pipeline (NGP) terrestrial impacts. NGP experts made clear that the only safety measures they are willing to take are those required by the federal government. Neither higher US standards for its pipelines nor known risks in remote monitoring and seismic instability inspired the company to commit to extra measures for public and environmental safety. The Northwest Institute for Bioregional Research provides summaries of JRP testimony.

Failure to study seismic instability:

Christopher Jones, counsel for the province of BC, pointed out that NGP failed to study two massive slide areas in Douglas Channel. NGP considers them “old faults not presently active,” although a Natural Resources Canada document suggests that, due to 11 small earthquakes within 20 km of slides in last 25 years, detailed tsunami modelling should be done.

Glacial marine clays in areas such as Chist Creek also create a risk of landslide which NGP has decided not to consider. Drummon Cavers for NGP called mention of it “cavilling after a hair.”

Murray Minchin for intervenor Douglas Channel Watch asked if construction would go forward without a clear understanding of seismic risks. Barry Cavers responded it would if the panel approves it. “It’s not correct to think there’s a boogeyman in every closet,” Cavers pointed out.

Minchin responded that his boogeyman is 744,100,000 liters of diluted bitumen spilling a couple hundred meters down the slope straight into the Douglas Channel from the tank farm. 

Failures in remote monitoring:

NGP will rely on aerial photos and optical remote sensing technology known as LIDAR. Christopher Jones, counsel for the province of BC, expressed concern that long stretches of the proposed pipeline would travel through remote areas where detection by people would be restricted. He asked if aerial patrols could spot leaks if there is snow cover.

Jones also noted that, according to US regulatory documents, oil spilled from Enbridge pipelines in the United States 31 times between 2002 and 2012. Only three of those spills were detected by the company’s automated leak detection systems. None of the six largest spills were pinpointed by those systems.

Jones pointed out that even the best equipment can only spot a spill amounting to between 1 per cent and 3 per cent of the flow over a two-hour period, which could total 208,000 litres, or 1,300 barrels. A slow leak flowing below the 1-per-cent threshold could release some 400,000 litres in 24 hours.

Ray Doering, manager of engineering for Northern Gateway, acknowledged that shut-off valves on Northern Gateway would be spaced such that, in a catastrophic rupture, two million litres could escape into environmentally sensitive areas. It would also take up to 13 minutes to activate those valves, with a 10-minute window to ascertain there is a problem, and three minutes for a valve to fully activate.

Mr. Barry Callelle from the NGP engineering panel explained that they will be able to describe leak detection with more confidence as design and construction progress. All pump stations will be enclosed and have either gas level alarms or there will be a sump with high sump level alarms. They will also rely on foot patrols, aerial patrols, pressure monitoring and tank gauging.

BC counsel Jones brought to attention a Bloomberg news article that states 5% of all spills and 20% larger spills are detected by leak detection systems. Callelle thought the figures were closer to 15.7% of all spills and 32% of major spills.

Previous fines for reliance on inept contractors

Enbridge intends to perform internal audits to document compliance of its own people and contractors, but will not make this information publicly available. In the past it was fined $1million for failing to monitor contractors who were found responsible for 500 permit violations and 115 non-compliances.

Hiding the pipe specifications

Chris Peter or CJ Peter Associates Engineering noted document with pipe specifications was redacted in its public version. The JRP determined to keep this information confidential.

Peter pointed out that US Pipeline Hazardous Material Safety Standard Administration has specific toughness requirements for pipe but Canada does not and the NGP would not be constructed to US standards. The NGP would be built with two wall thickness in response to public concerns but Enbridge has not committed to pipeline of the same toughness as what US regulators would require for Keystone.

Acceptable risk

NGP called its acceptable level of risk ALARP, As Low As Reasonable Practicable. Mr. Jesse McCormick for Haisla Nation summed up NGP’s acceptable level of risk as “more like ALAWTIOK, which would be, ‘As Low As We Think Is Okay’.”



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