Enbridge, TransCanada pipeline safety is a pipedream – by David Olive (Toronto Star – July 14, 2012)

The Toronto Star, has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

Someone needs to save Canada’s two largest pipeline operators from themselves. Enbridge Inc. and TransCanada Corp., both based in Canada’s greatest city, as Stephen Harper recently labelled his adopted Calgary hometown, have been doing giant work giving this country a black eye.

And they may have driven a stake through their plans for two pipeline megaprojects – combined cost, $13-billion-plus. One of them is to span the length of the U.S. to deliver Athabasca crude to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast (TransCanada’s Keystone XL). The other is to navigate the mountain ranges of B.C. and Alberta to convey Athabasca crude to Asian markets (Enbridge’s Northern Gateway) as an alternative to a U.S. market that now takes practically all of Canada’s oil exports.
 
Even before this week’s report by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) excoriating Enbridge over its reckless disregard and ineptitude with its massive leak in Michigan in 2010, controversy had dogged these two planned projects since their inception.

Then came Tuesday’s widely reported NTSB findings on the rupture of an Enbridge pipeline that spilled about three million litres of oil in one of the most heavily populated U.S. states, in the Kalamazoo River some 70 km. west of Detroit.

The NTSB found that Enbridge knew about the roughly 15,000 defects in Line 6B some five years before the spill and excavated to inspect just 900 of them, obviously not including the corrosion and cracking that was under way on 6B near the Kalamazoo River.

When 6B ruptured, Enbridge control-room personnel in Alberta, Chernobyl-style, mistook repeated alarms of a pipe break for a drop in pressure. Accordingly, they twice pumped massive additional crude through the pipeline when shutting it down was called for. Seventeen hours passed before Enbridge realized it had a calamitous pipe break on its hands. The extra pumping accounted for 81 per cent of the Canadian crude spilled into Michigan waterways, causing an estimated $765 million in damages in what the U.S. government calls the biggest inland oil spill in Midwest history.

Deborah Hersman, NTSB chair, said “When we were examining Enbridge’s poor handling to their response to this rupture, you can’t help but think about the Keystone Kops.” The NTSB didn’t spare complaisant U.S. regulators from its wrath. They’d grown too cozy with Enbridge, taking its reassurances as gospel. That’s an economy-wide phenomenon known as “regulatory capture.” We have that curse to thank for the regulator-abetted Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in 2010 (conveniently, for Enbridge, obscuring its own disaster that year in Michigan), and the Wall Street explosion that tipped the world into the Great Recession.
 
Post-NTSB report, a consortium of 50 Alberta groups already has sprung up this week to petition Alison Redford, the Tory Alberta premier, to launch an independent inquiry into pipeline safety in Alberta. These farmers, landowners, First Nations and environmentalists have a sense of urgency the province lacks. Redford is open to such an inquiry with recommendations to go into effect next summer. But her constituents want answers now.

B.C.’s Liberal premier, Christy Clark, says if the proposed Northern Gateway is to be run by Enbridge’s standards in Michigan, Enbridge can “forget it” in seeking approval of a pipeline from Alberta to a Pacific Coast shipping terminal at Kitimat. Adrian Dix, B.C.’s NDP leader, whose party leads Clark’s by high double digits ahead of next year’s B.C. general election, vows that as premier she would try to stop Northern Gateway “with everything we had.”

For the rest of this column, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/business/article/1226064–enbridge-transcanada-pipeline-safety-is-a-pipedream-david-olive

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