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Risk assessments of oil spill inadequate, Enbridge pipeline review panel told

Retired professional engineer Jim Ronback of Delta warned the panel of "gaps" in Enbridge's safety culture.

In a downtown Vancouver courtroom, lawyers in a criminal negligence case presented a defence that sounded very familiar to opponents of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project. The lawyer’s argument was that poor technology and bad weather were responsible for the 2006 sinking of the Queen of the North.

Ironically, just one block away, dozens of presenters were raising similar arguments against a plan to ship crude oil from the BC coast, through the Douglas channel and archipelagos to overseas markets.

“Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Project would bring with it a significant threat to terrestrial and coastal wildlife specific, due in part to the substantial inadequacies of the proposed oiled wildlife response plan....”, said Christopher Hakes, one of almost 60 people who spoke at day four of the hearings in Vancouver.

“Rugged shorelines, high winds and currents in areas potentially impacted by a spill may all preclude uncomplicated beach capture of impacted wildlife,” said Hakes, whose voice was just one of many speaking out against the proposed 1,170 kilometre pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C.

BC resident and Wilderness Committee member Beth Clarke told the three panel members that the plan to use up to 225 tankers to ship Alberta oil through a dangerous sea passage is simply too risky. “It is an area known for high winds, tides and earthquakes.”

The lack of an adequate safety plan was also pointed out to the panel.

“I must warn Enbridge, the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency of their system safety shortcomings,” retired professional engineer Jim Ronback of Delta said. Ronback’s experience included safety and hazard analysis of Ontario Hydro’s Darlington Nuclear Power Plant and work on the Canada Arm II used on the international space station.

“In reviewing the Northern Gateway proposal by Enbridge...I am disturbed by the significant gaps in, and meager evidence of, a safety culture,” Ronback said. He told the panel of need for a clear safety policy, safety management system and quantifiable safety goals.

“These safety aspects are not found in the Enbridge proposal despite their constant media blitz campaign assuring the public that everything is under control.”

For more than seven hours, panel members heard from one opponent after another. Several presenters broke down and cried as they pleaded with the JRP to reject the Enbridge proposal. Others expressed anger over a perceived lack of public participation and the limited time (10 minutes) each participant had to make their arguments. Two former residents of Germany compared the industrialization of BC to Germany in the 1950’s.

Michael Krisinger told the panel:

“Coal mining and the continual expansion of industry gave Germany wealth but it came at a heavy consequence to the industrial heartland region: the trashing of the environment. Today we Canadians sit at the exact cusp of what Germans faced during the start of the industrial revolution in the 1900’s. We like them, are sitting on a fossil fuel gold mine, lucrative at first but with environmental consequences that will haunt us for millennia to come.”

The issue of environmental risk was also a key component of Adriane Carr’s presentation. The Vancouver city councillor and deputy leader of the Green Party of Canada was expressing her personal views, but it was in line with her Party’s beliefs.

“All of the scientists and lay experts, some of whom with vast experience on our coast, predict a higher risk of accidents and catastrophic spills than that predicted by industry,” Carr told the panel.

“You’ve also heard testimony that it’s difficult, even impossible to mitigate against human error, challenging geography and unexpected extreme storms. There is zero possibility of no spills. There is zero possibility of 100 percent cleanup. The only truly effective mitigative measure is to say “no” to the pipeline and tankers.”

Certified management consultant Larry Colero also addressed the issue of risk assessment in his presentation. He pointed out that human error is not being considered in the Enbridge documents. “Even though the primary causes of most major accidents are technology, human error or a combination of the two, the likelihood of someone making a mistake can’t be quantified, so it’s usually ignored.”

Colero also raised the issue of corporate responsibility. As a lecturer on corporate ethics, he said “we shouldn’t forget that the proposed pipeline is a business venture as well as an engineering project, and is therefore subject to the dangers of bad corporate ethics.” He said in any corporate organization, employees are influenced by business demands. “This personal commitment to the outcome of a project can cause a normally good person to unwittingly exercise poor judgement as a result of what I call ‘misguided intent’.”

He reminded the panel of the initial corporate reaction to the Exxon Valdez disaster, when Exxon delayed their overall responsibility by arguing about it in court.

“In any large corporation, incentives to make money and achieve recognition are powerful motivators, as are disincentives for telling the truth. Whistleblowers are almost always punished. I fully expect that Enbridge Inc. is not different,” said Colero.

Many of the presenters pointed out the dichotomy of the government of B.C. marketing the province as “supernatural B.C.” while supporting the continued expansion of the fossil fuel industry. The province has not yet taken a position on the Enbridge pipeline proposal, but it is pushing ahead with a liquefied natural gas program that it hopes will generate future jobs and taxes. “I want to leave a healthy thriving B.C. coast for my family and for tourists,” said octogenarian Bridget MacKenzie.

“I think we can build economic growth and development in a sensible way.”

The JRP hearings wrap up tomorrow in Vancouver. They resume on January 28.

For more information and context about the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeine, read Extract: The Pipeline Wars Vol. 1 Enbridge 

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