Enbridge, TransCanada Leaks Dominate Safety Board Cases

The Vancouver Sun
July 5, 2011

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has logged 100 different incidents and accidents on federally regulated Canadian oil and gas pipelines over the past two years, new documents reveal.

The log entries by investigators are dominated by two Albertabased companies, Enbridge and TransCanada, which are involved in nearly three quarters of the reported cases, including 21 incidents on the latter's new multibillion-dollar Keystone pipeline, which launched the first phase of its commercial operation in June 2010.

An investigator from the Transportation Safety Board said the number of incidents is low, considering that there are more than 80,000 km of pipelines that deliver fuel for cars and homes across the country.

In most cases, the incidents, disclosed through access to information legislation, involved the release or spillage of small quantities of crude oil or natural gas due to loose pipes, vibrations, thermal expansion of the products from heat, blown fuses and other maintenance factors.

"A lot of it is a leaky valve or a leaky connection," said Larry Gales, manager of operations investigations at the board's pipelines division. "Some of them do, some of them don't leak and some companies have a more robust program and they can get to them, but if they detect anything, they have to report it. So everything gets looked at."

In one case, on the Keystone pipeline, the board noted that crude oil leaked in January from a threaded connection due to vibration at a pump station in Hardisty, Alta. It was repaired after the "threads were re-taped."

The most recent incidents on the new Keystone line include three cases from early June of leaks at pumping stations in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Only one accident -a February explosion on a TransCanada natural gas pipeline near Beardmore, Ont. -prompted a full investigation, which is expected to conclude by next year. The other incidents mainly involved minor releases and leaks.

The list does not include provincially regulated infrastructure such as the Rainbow pipeline operated by Plains Midstream Canada, which was shut down this spring after causing one of the largest oil spills in Alberta history.

A U.S. environmental group said the incidents suggest a risk of catastrophic leaks, particularly for the Keystone pipeline, which is already having problems in its first year of delivering oilsands crude.

"While these problems have been minor, they just go to show that a lot of the risks (of Keystone) are long term," said Anthony Swift, a policy analyst from the Natural Resources Defense Council, who authored a report suggesting there was a risk of major spills and accidents on the pipeline because of the chemical composition of oilsands crude."These are sort of the canary in the coal mine so to speak. When the canary dies, it's not a big deal, but it suggests that a bigger problem is afoot."

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