Saying the voice of the people at the September 20 Enbridge Education Forum matters, Northern Gateway president John Carruthers added people needed to understand all aspects of the project and the company needed to answer their key questions.
“I hope to provide some context for you tonight on the sort of questions we have heard in the public forums, through the community advisory boards and through the technical sessions we have had in Kitimat in the past,” he told the near 300 crowd in his opening remarks.
“Through that discussion, many people appreciate that pipelines are largely unobtrusive – they’re buried a metre below the ground and natural vegetation grows over them and in most locations people aren’t ever aware they exist.”
Carruthers also noted that the tax revenues pipelines generated were “a strong source of long-term community funding, funding which goes towards infrastructure, schools and roads.”
But with the Northern Gateway project three key questions had emerged.
The first, he said, was, “How do we earn the support of aboriginal communities?”
Carruthers agreed with what Haisla Nation chief councillor Ellis Ross had said in his opening remarks on the need for “strong consultation”, a two-way dialogue and that the Haisla had rights and title, adding those were key components of the project.
Second, “Could there be a spill in coastal waters, could there be a spill in world class rivers?”
Carruthers said that while one could conclude statistically that a spill was not likely, “there can be a spill and that’s something we have to do address.
“What’s not uncertain,” he added, “is our drive to make the chance of a spill as close to zero as we practically can. And we’re fully aligned with all the people in this room on that point, that we need to ensure there isn’t a spill.”
That said, the company needed to describe how it would respond if there was an incident to ensure there was “a quick and effective clean up.”
Noting previous speaker Greg Brown – an environmental consultant raised in Kitimat and living in Smithers – had raised the Exxon Valdez spill, Carruthers pointed out that happened 21 years ago, the tanker was single-hulled, unescorted by a tug – “we are proposing two tugs” – there was no pilot on board and tanker captains at that time were not subject to alcohol tests.
As a result of the changes implemented following that accident, he pointed out 11,000 ships had since gone through Prince William Sound safely.
“So I do challenge the fact that a spill is inevitable,” Carruthers said. “It is possible, it is not inevitable.”
He also noted that 11,000 safe vessel transits was double the number of sailings proposed by Northern Gateway and that Norway, Sweden and Scotland had “embraced” the oil industry and had been incident-free for 30 years.
“I think there’s good demonstration around the world that it can be done and Canada has that same capability.”
On the subject of double-hulled vessels, Carruthers recalled that the Prince William Sound advisory council, made up of citizens, determined that if the Exxon Valdez had been double-hulled, the extent of the spill would have been reduced by 60-80 per cent.
“They are not a panacea, but they are certainly an important component of a safe marine environment,” he added.
Carruthers told the Mount Elizabeth Theatre crowd that the company had done full simulations – similar to what airline pilots go through – based on the largest vessels (Very Large Crude Carriers) to make sure they could safely navigate the proposed route.
He also listed the numerous commitments Enbridge had made regarding marine safety including improved navigational aids, new radar, strong weather monitoring and the vetting of both ships and crews that would be using the proposed terminal.
On emergency response, the company had committed to a “large response capacity” within 12 hours rather than the 72 hours required by current regulations.
That would be achieved through setting up major response centres in Kitimat, Shearwater and Prince Rupert as well as three response equipment caches the locations of which will be decided after discussions with First Nations and local communities.
Carruthers pointed out that all these steps will tarnslate into improved safety and emergency response for all marine traffic in the Northwest.
Turning to the issue of inland spills, Carruthers acknowledged the “high profile” spill in Michigan but said the company was taking the lessons learned from that incident and applying them to all pipelines that the company built in future.
With Northern Gateway, he said route selection would be made in such a way as to avoid problems and water course crossings would be based on engineering and environmental considerations as well as aboriginal and non-aboriginal community input.
On pipeline construction, Carruthers pointed out the steel used for the pipes went through stringent testing and “every weld will be inspected during construction using ultrasonic or x-ray techniques.”
Remotely operated valves would be installed along the route, particularly on each side of water crossings, and once the pipeline was up and running it would be monitored 24/7.
There would also be regular inspections using in-line tools to ensure pipeline integrity.