Kitimat Council encouraged to oppose Enbridge as company defends its systems

Murray Minchin with Douglas Channel Watch asks Kitimat Council to consider the impacts from oil pipelines.

In the days leading up to the Joint Review Panel’s decision on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal, the Douglas Channel Watch’s Murray Minchin approached Kitimat Council to continue pressing on them to take a stand against the project.

“Despite Enbridge’s claims of magical pipelines which never deteriorate, that last indefinitely, and will be as good as the day they first went into service, there are going to be spills, and the effects will be felt for generations afterward if this project is built,” said Minchin in the closing lines of his presentation.

Minchin went through numerous claims of Enbridge as to the safety of the project, from the dangers of the waters around Kitimat to his opinion on the lapses of the company in detecting spills.

Among Minchin’s claims are that there could potentially be 33 million litres of oil spilled from a pipeline based on leak detection methods. (That’s based on fly-overs and alarms which Minchin said wouldn’t trigger under 100,000 litres an hour.)

Many of Minchin’s questions and claims that he posed to council had earlier been asked at the Joint Review Panel process. And when we asked the company to respond to the claims in Minchin’s latest presentation they pointed to the past discussions for their answers.

On the issue of the potential 33 million litre spill, we were pointed to a transcript from the JRP hearings when Minchin spoke with Northern Gateway’s Director of Pipelines Barry Callele.

Callele says that the 33 million litre scenario only takes into account a single leak-detection system, but they have multiple, overlapping methods which would pick up a leak well before it got that far.

Using what’s called a volume balance system he said a 417 metres cubed leak would be required to cause an alarm. (A calculation with an online calculator shows 417 metres cubed equals 417,000 litres.)

Minchin also drew reference to an oil spill near Hardisty, Alberta in 2001 which took 14 hours to find. He then pondered how long it would take Enbridge to find a spill in the Upper Kitimat River, under 20 feet of snow.

The company again referred to dialogue at the JRP, where Minchin presented a hypothetical scenario of a spill in the Upper Kitimat. The company responded that an emergency shut down would be implemented “to minimize further release,” and that if the spill was not spotted with conventional visual means, “control measures would be deployed at pre-designated control points to protect sensitive areas.”

Company spokesperson Ivan Giesbrecht also said that snow in some cases can help by limited the migration of oil from its source.

Minchin said that company documents showed that if an oil spill made it to the Kitimat estuary, they would recommend setting fire to the estuary as heavy equipment, in the company’s perspective, might be too environmentally damaging.

Giesbrecht responded to that claim saying “In my opinion, he is taking this out of context.”

He continued that controlled burning is a response technique that is sometimes recommended (he said there are cases where burning would be better than bringing in machinery), but those decisions are carefully considered and thought out and need government approval.

Minchin’s presentation all called into question the safety of the Hecate Strait, which he said Environment Canada has called the fourth most dangerous body of water in the world.

On that claim, Giesbrecht points to the marine TERMPOL review the company undertook, where Transport Canada said they had no regulatory concerns regarding the proposed routes or their navigability.

As for the classification of Hecate Strait as being as dangerous as it is, Giesbrecht points to an opinion piece by the National Post’s Brian Hutchinson, where he finds that Environment Canada has never identified or ranked Hecate Strait as being treacherous.

One of Minchin’s final concerns was that Enbridge would want to run the pipeline well beyond it’s 30-year proposal.

To that Giesbrecht said that the 30-years was used “to look at the economics of the project. The pipeline can safely operate for a much longer period of time.”