Part two of two on the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal
Today: The case (with conditions) for the pipeline
Based on Enbridge's numbers, the odds of a major pipeline rupture is one in 500 (0.2 per cent) over the projected 30-year lifespan of the pipeline. Even if the pipeline was used for 60 years, that would only increase the odds to one in 250 (0.4 per cent).
Pipeline opponents say the risk is too high. Even bumping up the probability by a factor of five means there would only be a one to two per cent chance of a catastrophic spill. Put another way, there would be a 98 to 99 per cent chance there would be no major spill.
Considering that scientists consider anything better than 95 per cent odds as statistically significant, Enbridge has put forward a strong case that the risk of a huge spill is not an issue.
There are 825,000 kilometres of pipeline in Canada (that's enough to circle the globe at the equator more than 20 times), moving about 2.7 million barrels of crude oil and 15.1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.
There's no question Enbridge's handling of the Kalamazoo River watershed spill in Michigan in 2010 was poor. Three million litres of oil or about 19,000 barrels was leaked into the environment . On one hand, that's an incredibly damaging amount of toxic sludge. On the other hand, it's 0.7 per cent of the crude Canadian pipelines move in a single day, never mind during the lifespan of a pipeline.
The two major B.C. pipelines are Pembina's pipeline from Taylor, flowing through Prince George to the Husky refinery and then down to Kamloops, where it connects with the Trans Mountain pipeline linking Edmonton to Vancouver.
In 2000, the 39-year-old Pembina pipeline ruptured near Chetwynd, leaking more than one million litres of oil (about 6,300 barrels) into the Upper Pine River. It took two years of repairs and tests before the pipeline resumed full operations. During that time, Pembina was fined $200,000 for violating the Fisheries Act, chump change compared to the $32 million Pembina spent to clean up the mess, the $4.5 million given to the District of Chetwynd to truck in water and to drill new wells and the $20.5 million spent inspecting and upgrading the pipeline and equipment in case of future emergencies.
An even bigger spill occurred just north of Prince George when 8,800 barrels of oil were released into the Salmon and Fraser Rivers on May 14, 1974.
The Canadian pipeline industry, of which Enbridge is the biggest player, won't deny that oil gets spilled all the time but the sector emphasizes that the amounts are miniscule (about two litres for every million litres transported) and that virtually all of the spills are small and cleaned up quickly.
Enbridge reported 80 small spills in 2008, totalling 428,000 litres, and 65 spills in 2007, totalling 2.2 million litres, but three-quarters of that total came from just three spills. None of those spills involved bodies of water.
Pipelines are much safer and more practical than any other form to move liquid energy. It would take a train 90 km long to haul the oil Canadian pipelines move in one day so the suggestion former MLA and provincial cabinet minister Alf Nunweiler made on this page last month is a non-starter.
With the right precautions to minimize the number and severity of spills, the Northern Gateway Pipeline works.
Some other conditions needed include lucrative revenue sharing and employment agreements with affected First Nations and a lucrative revenue sharing agreement with the Province of British Columbia, with the bulk of those funds going towards regional economic diversity projects in Northern BC.
Finally, the fines. It's silly that the size of the fines for spills doesn't reflect the cost to clean up the mess. They are not a deterrent and they likely don't even cover the cost of government oversight. Make the fines equal to the cost of the cleanup and that will give Enbridge millions of reasons to respond quickly to even the threat of a spill.
Partnering with Enbridge on the pipeline is the best way to create another avenue of opportunity and prosperity for this region, while also getting the necessary protections in place to minimize the risk to the environment.
-- Managing editor, Neil Godbout