Letter: More homework needed on pipeline safety

The chamber should be very alarmed that Enbridge has not addressed the public cost side of the ledger.

To the editor:

Thank you for covering Enbridge’s presentation to the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce on the Northern Gateway pipeline project. (Making the Case for an Oil Pipeline in B.C. July 9 Capital News.)

Enbridge sought the chamber’s support by claiming the project would create huge economic benefits for B.C.  Enbridge failed to mention the huge social, economic, environmental and public health costs that would be created by the project.  Instead, Enbridge misled the chamber by claiming engineering designs and leak detection equipment will overcome any potential risks from the project.

Before supporting Enbridge, the chamber needs to know that designing completely safe pipelines through steep terrain over five geologically active mountain ranges and over more than 1,000 fish-bearing rivers and streams is a daunting, if not impossible task. Given Enbridge’s high spill record, one certainty is that losses, leaks and spills will occur.

Enbridge failed to tell the chamber that pipelines do not shut down every time a leak occurs.  In fact, leak detection technology is not very effective and leaks can persist for a long time after they occur.  A 2013 US Department of Transportaion study found the most common method of pipeline leak detection occurred when landowners spotted leaks and phoned the company to complain (Ref: http://yhoo.it/Soloye). Since Northern Gateway is routed through unoccupied Crown land any leak detection by landowners will be both limited and infrequent.

A very detailed 1982 study by the US Environmental Protection Agency determined that historical oil pipeline losses to the environment from all sources, including leaks, averages between 0.01 per cent and 0.03 per cent of product throughput (Reference Page 145: http://bit.ly/158YEUH).

The study also found that larger diameter pipelines have larger average spill sizes than small diameter pipelines (See Figure 46 on Page 143).

The Northern Gateway project proposes to move 525,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen westward to the B.C. coast in a 36 inch diameter pipeline and move 193,000 barrels per day of natural gas condensate eastward to Alberta in a 20 inch diameter pipeline. A 0.03 per cent loss rate means these pipelines can lose up to 160 barrels of diluted bitumen and up to 60 barrels of natural gas condensate each and every day they operate.  Over 20 years (7,300 days), these two pipelines can have combined losses of up to 1.6 million barrels (or one quarter of a billion liters) of hydrocarbons into the environment. About 56 per cent of these losses would occur in B.C. The condensates and the bitumen are toxic and the bitumen sinks to the bottom of rivers and streams making it hard to find and expensive to clean up.  These hydrocarbon losses will have long-term economic costs on the environment, human health and the public health care system.

The chamber should be very alarmed that Enbridge has not addressed the public cost side of the ledger.  Equally alarming is the fact that the federal cabinet has long supported Northern Gateway without any knowledge of the full public costs involved.

It remains to be seen if the National Energy Board and the federal cabinet will (approve) Enbridge’s applications for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity without full disclosure of these public costs.

Richard Drinnan,

environmental consultant,



Kelowna Capital News