Unpaid fines, leaks and spills at volumes beyond worst case scenarios for Enbridge Inc.
Following its Kalamazoo spill, the NTSB rejected Enbridge’s initial plan to restart the pipeline because the company had not conducted the required investigative excavations or a hydrostatic pressure test.
When Enbridge performed the required investigations, it found repairs were necessary. When Enbridge reapplied for permission to restart the pipeline, the agency found its safety conclusions were not supported by specific information and required additional reporting. When approval for the restart was finally given, the agency required an independent third party to be present in Edmonton, where Enbridge monitors its pipelines, suggesting that Enbridge had not proven itself trustworthy. The agency also noted the 154 “specific known anomalies” in the pipeline, and gave Enbridge 180 days in which to complete its repairs.
At the Elk Point spill, Enbridge reopened the pipeline the day after the spill – until it was ordered to shut it down by the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB). The firm stated that it had dilligently notified civic authorities and agencies as soon it detected the leak. But local officials reported they only learned of the oil spill from media reports.
Bridge over troubled water
The province of British Columbia is dotted with a vast web of pristine rivers and streams. Tens of thousands of waterways flow from the glacial heights of the Rocky Mountains to the ocean, offering a habitat for millions of wild salmon, bears, eagles and even the smallest rare newts and bugs.
It's a land that hundreds of Aboriginal nations have called home for millenia, developing rich cultures rooted in harvesting wild salmon and celebrating the Creator's gifts to humankind.
Generally buried a metre underground, the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline would traverse the mountainous border between Alberta and British Columbia, wind its way through lush farmland, and conclude its journey through the rugged west-central region's remote mountains, valleys, and raging wild rivers.
For each of the 600-1,000 waterways it would cross, however, pipeline would emerge into open air across bridges over the province's vital salmon streams.
Enbridge has also proposed two 6.5 km tunnels for the pipeline between the Clore River and Hoult Creek Valleys in northwestern B.C., where it passes through particularly steep mountainous terrain.
Northern Gateway would also push through the headwaters of three of the continent’s most important watersheds—the Mackenzie, the Fraser, and the Skeena Rivers, following the Morice River up into the Coast Mountains, spanning the headwaters of the Zymoetz River, and then tracing the path of the Kitimat River down to the coastal city sharing its name.
Although many rivers would be at risk if there were an oil spill along the pipeline route, only one such scenario has been studied in depth: the Morice River.
The Northwest Institute analyzed a 34 km stretch of the salmon-rich waterway, which the proposed pipeline would run alongside. That stretch has poor access and important salmon spawning and rearing conditions such as log jams, side channels and shoreline areas.
The salmon of the Morice River feed First Nations in the area, not to mention offering sport and commercial fishers an ample supply of their beloved catch. Part of the section is vulnerable to slope instability and pipeline rupture. The study found that no proven techniques would mitigate the impact of a spill in this area.
Many First Nations and environmentalists believe that no level of risk is acceptable, given the resources, livelihoods and ecosystems at stake. They worry that the question is not whether there will be an oil spill – it’s a question of when.
Others point out that, even without a catastrophic oil spill, the legally allowable levels of leakage that occur as a matter of course with most pipelines would contaminate their food supply and traditional territory.
In response to the concerns, Enbridge announced it would increase its monitoring systems and pipeline safety above its usual standards. But, for critics, the project remains beyond saving.
We're watching you
In light of the growing public concern with Enbridge's record – and in spite of the firm's insistence that regards pipeline safety as paramount – Canada's National Energy Board (NEB) stepped in to investigate.
One day after the two-year Kalamazoo anniversary, the NEB announced that it would audit Enbridge's safety practices – accompanied by a threat $100,000 fines for each day laws were broken.
In an an open letter to Enbridge CEO Patrick Daniel dated July 26, the NEB stated that it will conduct inspections of Enbridge's Edmonton Control Room as well as a meeting to assess implementation of relevant requirements of the Onshore Pipeline Regulations, 1999 (OPR) on August 8 and 9.