Mike De Souza
OTTAWA — Safety concerns about potential ruptures along two major oil and gas routes prompted federal regulators to order the operators to reduce pressure on the pipelines travelling underground through some of the largest cities in western and central Canada, Postmedia News has learned.
The orders from the National Energy Board were never made public and came in the aftermath of a major Enbridge crude oil pipeline rupture and spill in Michigan last summer, as well as a series of leaks and spills in Quebec and Ontario along the route of a gasoline pipeline owned by Trans-Northern Pipelines. The latter pipeline brings jet fuel to Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, as well as gasoline to service stations in Ottawa, Kingston and the Toronto region.
Enbridge’s Line 6 pipeline, linking Griffith, Indiana to Sarnia, Ont., was shut down temporarily by American regulators last July following a rupture and spillage of more than 3 million litres of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan. Three months later, the National Energy Board, which was monitoring the U.S. investigation, quietly ordered a 20 per cent pressure reduction on Enbridge’s Line 2 Canadian pipeline, which links Edmonton to Superior, Wisconsin along sections that contained pre-1970s flash-welded pipe.
“The Board had noted a correlation between these sections and ‘cracking related incidents’ on Enbridge’s Canadian system,” said a federal report from October, released by Natural Resources Canada through access to information legislation.
“The Board has given Enbridge two months to provide an up-to-date integrity status report on cracking on its system; four months to re-analyse its cracking inspections, do integrity inspections and file an independent report.”
The document, obtained by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin, also said the Alberta-based company would be required to file short-term and long-term integrity improvement plans and would not be allowed to increase the pressure in its system without permission from the board.
National Energy Board spokeswoman Carole Leger-Kubeczek confirmed that the order to reduce pressure was still in effect since the regulator had found that the company’s “hazard identification practices” were not consistently reliable. She said that Enbridge would not be allowed to return to full operations until it demonstrated “the adequacy and effectiveness of its programs in preventing cracking incidents from occurring.”
She said the information about the board’s orders would have been made public to anyone who made a specific inquiry, but that it was not posted because the board did not have adequate resources to publish these types of decisions on its website.
A spokeswoman for Enbridge noted that the company has spent nearly $1 billion on “integrity management” since 2002, and has been co-operating with the National Energy Board to address their concerns with and respond “to all requests.”
Gina Johnson, manager of communications for Enbridge Pipelines Inc., said the company was using advanced inspection tools to examine every segment of the line to search for cracks over the past five years, along with hundreds of “integrity digs” in specific locations thought to require “closer attention.”
But she added that problems with flash-welded pipes are common in the industry.
“Many pipelines have had similar experiences to Enbridge,” she said. “The industry has been aware of this potential for many years. Many industry papers have been written about this issue and the methods to manage it.”
Al Conquergood, president and CEO of Trans-Northern Pipelines, said his sector was still relatively safe when compared with alternatives such as trucking, but that they needed to improve inspections.
“If it wasn’t for our pipeline, there would be a tanker truck leaving Montreal, I think, every three minutes,” he said. “For anybody in industry, it’s usually a maintenance practice. If a pipeline has a rupture in it and you fail to detect that . . . maybe it’s because you weren’t inspecting it often enough.”
He said the Trans-Northern pipeline, which he estimated delivers about 50 to 60 per cent of the supply to gas stations in the Ontario markets it serves, is still operating at reduced capacity as it responds to the board’s concerns. He added he doesn’t believe the reductions were having any significant impact on the prices at the pumps.
He added that it is still finishing up a clean up of a site near Montreal which was the site of a leak of about 7,000 litres of gasoline into the environment.
He also said that the public should be careful if they dig on their property to ensure that they don’t damage existing pipelines that may only be 1.2 metres deep.
Meanwhile, a Toronto-based environmental research group said the revelations should serve as a warning to federal officials as they consider new proposals from oil and gas companies to build new pipelines in Canada and the U.S.
“In many places, in major population centres, the Great Lakes, any risks of spills in those area as we saw with the Michigan spill last year in the Kalamazoo River can impact people directly — property values, water quality, and the environment,” said Gillian McEachern, the climate and energy program manager at Environmental Defence.
“So if there are problems with them we need to be talking about them and fixing them.”