Highlights

16 july 2012

Pipeline controversy spikes

Picture

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
In this July 30, 2010 file photo, crews clean up oil from a ruptured pipeline owned by Enbridge Inc. that leaked into the Kalamazoo River. The pipeline rupture spilled more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil into the river.

Fifty-four groups in the western province of Alberta are demanding an independent review of the safety of oil pipelines. This follows a scathing report on a pipeline rupture and resulting oil spill in Michigan in 2010. It severely criticized the Canadian company, Enbridge. That company is now seeking approval to build a pipeline to Canada’s Pacific coast and there is growing concern about the safety of the plan. Lynn Desjardins reports.
“Like Keystone Kops” is how the report by the National Transportation Safety Board described the performance of Enbridge employees in its report on the Michigan spill. “This investigation identified a complete breakdown of safety at Enbridge,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “Their employees…failed to recognize their pipeline had ruptured and continued to pump crude into the environment. Despite multiple alarms and a loss of pressure in the pipeline, for more than 17 hours and through three shifts they failed to follow their own shutdown procedures.”

The is the same company that is proposing to build the Northern Gateway Pipeline that would bring crude from the oil sands of Alberta westward, across the province of British Columbia to the Pacific port of Kitimat. From there it would be loaded onto tankers that would travel relatively narrow waterways out to the Pacific Ocean.

“Northern B.C. is an area that is contentious because there are overlapping land claims from First Nations that have not been settled,” says Warren Mabee, a professor of energy and environmental policy at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Unlike aboriginal tribes in other parts of Canada, those in B.C. have not signed treaties ceding parcels of land to the government of Canada. So they may have legal grounds to oppose a pipeline. “This is a very, very mountainous terrain, adds Prof. Mabee. “It is ecologically sensitive. It is one of our treasure houses in terms of biological diversity so obviously a number of people are very concerned about the prospect of running a pipeline through this landscape.”

The Premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark issued a warning to Enbridge after the NTSD report saying “I think the company should be deeply embarrassed about what unfolded…if they think they’re going to operate like that in British Columbia--forget it.” Premier Clark’s reaction may also be for the benefit of a population which appears to be increasingly opposed to the pipeline. Canadians may have been more supportive of pipeline building in the past when it was seen as a tool for nation building in the view of Sean Kheraj, assistant professor of Canadian and Environmental history at York University in Toronto. He thinks that as plans evolve to ship more crude abroad pipelines are increasingly seen as a way to help foreign countries while Canadians assume the risks.

Environmental reviews of waterways were relaxed in the Canadian government’s last budget and time limits were set for hearings on major projects. Prof. Mabee says that regardless, governments and companies will have to take the time needed to convince the public the pipelines are in the best interests of Canadians.

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