“Many parts of the pipeline will be located in remote areas, some distance from road networks and population centres, “ said the government in a lengthy brief submitted to the National Energy Board appointed review panel earlier this year. “Many of the rivers (along the route) are identified as remote or having no access.”
Then, too, “the topography is prone to slope failures.” In wintertime, “the pipeline could be covered by heavy snow,” to a depth of nine metres in some places.
Heavy water flows (“a common occurrence in B.C. rivers”) could make it next to impossible to contain a spill: “At certain water velocities, booms become ineffective and are potentially unsafe to operate.”
The B.C. team was not impressed with he Northern Gateway (NG) proponent’s often vague preliminary plans for detection and management of potential spills.
“Leak detection techniques, such as aerial surveillance and third party notification, which may be effective in other locations, would have less effectiveness in B.C. due to remoteness and snow cover.”
Superior techniques include fibre-optic detectors, backup power for pumping stations, and an automatic shut-off system to preclude human error.
“While NG asserts that its spill detection systems will be world-class, it has not yet chosen to adopt technologies that would achieve that objective.”
The company’s proposed time frame for responding to spills was also found wanting.
“NG’s targeted spill response time of six to 12 hours needs to be set against the reality that oil may travel many kilometres downstream while NG is still mobilizing,” says the report. “Travel times to the control points that have been identified do not take into account mobilization time and assumes all roads are drivable.”
As a worst-case scenario, the province cited the Clore River, located in a steep-sided valley east of Terrace.
“A full-bore spill into the Clore River could, over a 12-hour period, flow through the entire length of the river and continue on to the Copper (Zymoetz) River ... The province submits that NG cannot assert today that it would have the ability to respond effectively, if at all, to a spill were it to enter the Clore River.”
By the time the response team got to the site, the river would be ruined.
“The effects of a spill on fish could span over several generations,” says the report, quoting the proponent’s own evidence. “At certain times of the year, multiple-year classes of certain fish species could be affected. Furthermore, the effects of a spill on threatened species, such as eulachon, would not necessarily be reversible. Already weakened populations may simply not recover.”
“It is NG that has asserted its ability to respond to any spill from the pipeline. It is NG that has asserted that it intends to have in place world-class response capabilities. Having made these claims, presumably, for the purpose of obtaining a positive recommendation from the review panel, the proponent cannot then say ‘Trust us.’ We submit that Northern Gateway must be able to demonstrate that the mitigation measures it proposes are in fact practicable and effective.”
Lest there be any doubt as to why the B.C. government is not prepared to trust Enbridge, the brief cites the company’s sorry record as it emerged after that huge spill in Michigan in 2011.
“Enbridge has not demonstrated its ability to learn from its mistakes in order to avoid spills,” says the B.C. brief. “There are serious reasons for concern that the commitments it has made in this proceeding will be hollow.”
Bottom line: “The challenges posed by the pipeline route, the nature of the product being shipped, the conceptual nature of its plans to date and Enbridge’s track record mean that the province is not able to support this project’s approval at this time.”