Northern Gateway President cross-examined on oil spill risk on eve of Kitimat vote

Advance poll opened today in a critical vote to Enbridge’s PR effort to rescue a controversial oil sands pipeline to B.C.'s coast

John Carruthers Northern Gateway President Kitimat council meeting Daniel Mesec
Northern Gateway president John Carruthers responding to questions at Kitimat council meeting March 31 - photo by Dan Mesec

This week, a crucial political campaign for Enbridge to sway Kitimat citizens to vote for its controversial $6.5 billion pipeline heated up with the unexpected cross-examination of Northern Gateway’s President John Carruthers at a Kitimat council meeting.

The pipeline executive made a last minute appearance to the northwest B.C. municipal council, in what appears to be the final push to gain support for its project. 

But Kitimat councillor Phil Germuth -- an autobody mechanic -- used the opportunity to grill Carruthers on the company’s oil spill detection technology like a seasoned attorney.

“We already know that by Enbridge’s own numbers – that one to three percent [of a burst pipeline's volume] in a 12 hour period – could leak between 100 and 200 thousands litres of product out into our environment without setting off any alarms,” said Germuth on Monday.

“Is it not a fact that you would be satisfied by putting in a [pipeline] system that could leak that much into our environment, without setting off any alarms?"

Phil Germuth - Kitimat councillor

Phil Germuth - Kitimat councillor - Facebook

“So the key in looking at prevention of incidents," responded Carruthers, "is one, you design it in the first place to avoid any of the hazards, and do everything you can...  we've committed some $500 million to prevent accidents."

The Northern Gateway head also said the company would invest in other "promising technologies" as they came on board.

“We’ll put in the best we can,” pledged Carruthers.

“So you didn’t actually answer the question,” snapped back Germuth. 

The councillor argued that oil spills would happen even with Enbridge’s very best prevention technology. 

“Again, we’ll try to get [oil spills] as low as possible with the technology available,” shrugged Carruthers.  “That’s a very solid commitment.”

The exchange was not televised, but caught on camera by a northern video journalist, Dan Mesec, who posted it to Youtube.

Kitimat vote important to Enbridge

As an indication of how important this vote has become to Enbridge, the Northern Gateway president also appeared at the company's “open house” in Kitimat on Tuesday.  Attendees were asked to sign in, and guards blocked anyone from taking photos or videos. 

Some opponents attended out of curiosity.

“I found it very insulting having these people in suits are telling us what we have to think,” said resident Kathy Ouwehand, who went to the open house.

Unlike past forums, with a large crowd, a panel of presenters, and a format that can get unruly -- this event was more controlled, she said.

“They have information boards, people are walking around, and they’re supposed to get a conversation going with them, and they will tell you how this project will work, and how there’s no problems, and oil spills are never going to happen."

"[Then] the next day on the news, you hear there’s an oil spill.  And one day, this [Enbridge] pipeline will be an old pipeline and it will also spill.”

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