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Kinder Morgan oil spill volume from 2013 was quadruple the reported amount

“There's been more oil spilled than [Kinder Morgan] is saying,” pipeline critic David Ellis said last November. A March 2014 document reveals there was, in fact, quadruple the amount that the company initially reported to have spilled at Coquihalla Canyon. 

Photo of section of Trans Mountain pipe on Coquihalla Summit by David Ellis, August 2013.

After persistently prodding the National Energy Board, pipeline critic David Ellis finally got a report on Kinder Morgan's two oil spills along the Trans Mountain pipeline route. The spills happened last June, and had temporarily shut the pipeline down for investigation.

What he saw on page two of Kinder Morgan's Engineering Assessment floored him. It stated that instead of just 20-25 barrels spilled near the Coquihalla Canyon, the pipeline leaked well over quadruple that amount. 

Ellis had wondered why Kinder Morgan was removing some 5,005 cubic metres (over 600 truckloads) of oil-contaminated soil from the area.  It seemed excessive, which led him to comment at the time: “there's been more oil spilled than [Kinder Morgan] is saying.”

His suspicions were confirmed by the report, which said a subsequent analysis “resulted in a revised estimated release volume of approximately 18 m3” --  or about 113 barrels of oil spilled in the park area.

At the time that he started voicing his concerns about it, Kinder Morgan attacked his credentials and maintained that the large volume of soil was being removed only to “meet strict clean up criteria because of its location within a provincial park." But the latest report suggests it was because the spill was bigger than people originally thought. 

Both Kinder Morgan and the NEB said that the company took all the appropriate steps to contain the spill once it started. 

"The initial estimate of volume was exactly that, an estimate," said Kinder Morgan spokesperson Andy Galarnyk.  "As remediation work continued we updated the volume estimate based on levels of contamination discovered." 

He said  there was "no further leakage after the initial discovery" and that the leak was "repaired permanently, immediately".

More problems with aging pipeline expected?

According to the report, the problem was misidentified as a manufacturing anomaly, and later turned out to be a dent with gouges, caused by pipeline fatigue. The pipeline, built in 1953, is now over 60 years old. Ellis worries there may be more problems with the pipe down the road. 

“It's like an old garden hose,” Ellis said, of the Trans Mountain pipeline. "They should shut this pipe down immediately to investigate." 

Ellis is concerned by the larger-than-reported spill -- not only because it took place in a provincial park area teeming with wildlife, but because the stretch of pipeline around Hope was constructed in 1953 with a thinner pipeline wall than required as part of a cost-saving measure. He believes the last 12 miles of this thin pipe near Hope is especially vulnerable for a spill. 

"I am most worried about the thinner, 'budget-saving' pipe that did break in the Coquihalla and runs to Hope," Ellis said. "What would 110 barrels of crude oil do to the Fraser River salmon if it got in there?" According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the sockeye salmon run this year is expected to be in the range of 7.3 million in the low end, and 72.5 million in the high end. If it's in the high end, it could be the biggest sockeye run decades.

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Athabasca tar sands, photographed by Andrew S. Wright

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