The government of British Columbia has filed a harsh assessment of Enbridge Northern Gateway in its final arguments submitted May 31 to the Joint Review Panel—much harsher than the government press release giving notice of the rejection suggests.
“‘Trust me’ is not good enough in this case,” the filing by BC government lawyer Christopher Jones says of Enbridge’s plans to handle any possible disaster from either a pipeline rupture or a tanker spill.
Some of the arguments from the province’s lawyers echo points about the Kitimat Valley raised by Douglas Channel Watch and the Haisla Nation, at one point, pointing directly to evidence from Douglas Channel Watch’s Dave Shannon.
The news release repeats Premier Christy Clark’s five conditions for the Northern Gateway and other projects, putting a positive spin on the much harsher legal argument.
“British Columbia thoroughly reviewed all of the evidence and submissions made to the panel and asked substantive questions about the project including its route, spill response capacity and financial structure to handle any incidents,” said Environment Minister Terry Lake. “Our questions were not satisfactorily answered during these hearings.”
“We have carefully considered the evidence that has been presented to the Joint Review Panel,” said Lake. “The panel must determine if it is appropriate to grant a certificate for the project as currently proposed on the basis of a promise to do more study and planning after the certificate is granted. Our government does not believe that a certificate should be granted before these important questions are answered.”
The provincial government has established, and maintains, strict conditions in order for British Columbia to consider the construction and operation of heavy-oil pipelines in the province.
- Successful completion of the environmental review process. In the case of Northern Gateway, that would mean a recommendation by the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel that the project proceed;
- World-leading marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery systems for B.C.’s coastline and ocean to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy-oil pipelines and shipments;
- World-leading practices for land oil spill prevention, response and recovery systems to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy-oil pipelines;
- Legal requirements regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights are addressed, and First Nations are provided with the opportunities, information and resources necessary to participate in and benefit from a heavy-oil project; and
- British Columbia receives a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits of a proposed heavy-oil project that reflect the level, degree and nature of the risk borne by the province, the environment and taxpayers.
In its filing the province tells the JRP:
While the Joint Review Panel (“JRP”) may of course consider other factors in its recommendation, the Province submits that the JRP must accord very significant weight, in the case of this project, to the fact that NG’s plans for terrestrial and marine spill response remain preliminary and that it cannot, today, provide assurance that it will be able to respond effectively to all spills. Given the absence of a credible assurance in this regard, the Province cannot support the approval of or a positive recommendation from the JRP regarding, this project as it was presented to the JRP.
In the alternative, should the JRP recommend approval of the pipeline, the JRP must impose clear, measurable and enforceable conditions that require NG to live up to the commitments it has made in this proceeding.
Hazards from Kitimat’s geoglacial clay
The provincial government identifies a major potential hazard in the Kitimat valley, glacio-marine clay deposits that “threaten the integrity of the pipeline.”
Overall the province appears to accept the arguments from Douglas Channel Watch and other environmental groups that geo hazards along the pipeline route present a significant risk, one perhaps underestimated by Enbridge Northern Gateway.
NG does not dispute that spills from the pipeline may occur. While the project will be new, and built using modern technology, the fact remains that pipeline spills do happen. Indeed, Enbridge had 11 releases greater than 1000 barrels between 2002 and 2012…
The Province has concerns about the assertions NG has made regarding the probability for full-bore releases resulting from geohazards. NG asserts that full-bore spills will be very rare. However, this assertion must be considered in light of the fact that NG’s analysis of the geohazards that the pipeline could face is at a preliminary stage….
The rugged topography of West Central British Columbia is prone to slope failures.
Terrain instability may pose significant challenges for linear development.
Despite these challenging admits that its assessment of existing and potential geohazards along the pipeline route is not complete and that further investigations and more detailed geohazard mapping are required. For instance, although NG acknowledges that the potential presence of glacio-marine clays in the lower Kitimat Valley can threaten the integrity of a pipeline; its report on glacio-marine clay fails to identify a significant area of potential instability that had been previously reported in the relevant literature…
Since all geotechnical hazards have not been identified with the investigations carried out to date, and since comprehensive investigations will not be completed until the detailed design phase, NG has but a rough idea of the mitigation measures that may be employed in order to mitigate the geotechnical hazards that may be encountered…
The province’s arguments also indicates that Enbridge Northern Gateway has not done a good enough job regarding spill response, whether from a full bore rupture or a pin hole leak.
it must be remembered that full-bore spills are less frequent than smaller spills, which could still have a significant environmental effect. Indeed, since risk equals consequence times probability, smaller spills could pose a higher risk as they are more frequent. While NG has produced considerable evidence with respect to the likelihood and effects of full-bore spills… the evidence concerning the potential for other spills is limited. While the Province supports assessing the effects of any spill based on a full-bore release, as it would allow for an analysis of the worst-case scenario, focus on full-bore releases should not eliminate consideration of the potential impact of smaller events…
NG stated that [a] table [in the evidence], which includes probabilities for medium sized spills, would be “replaced by. a detailed characterization of each pipeline kilometre and region as part of the ongoing risk assessment work,” but the province says, a later table that “now replaces the concept of large and medium spills”. focussed only on full-bore releases, a relatively rare event.
Similarly, NG also calculated spill return periods for pinhole and greater-than-pinhole events. Taking the figures NG for “greater-than-pinhole” releases results in a spill return figure of 76.7 years. The Province also has concerns about the information that NG has provided in this regard. First, because it focussed on spill events, there is no information about spill size, which, we submit is a critical issue in considering the risk posed by these kinds of events. Second, NG does not include the potential for spills that could occur as a result of “operating and maintenance procedures” that deviate from the norm. Finally, NG assumes that all geotechnical threats would result in a full-bore rupture. This assumption appears to be incorrect…
Premier Christy Clark has, as part of her five conditions, said there must be a world class spill response system. Enbridge responded by saying there will be. The province then turns around and says Enbridge has failed to do prove it.
Because of the potential for spills, and their impact, NG has committed to develop a comprehensive spill response capability. Indeed, NG has stated that it intends to have a “world-class response capability” for the Project. Given the real potential for spills to occur, and the devastating effect of a spill should a significant one take place, the Province submits that NG must show that it would be able to effectively respond to a spill. As set out below, the Province submits that it has failed to do so.
High stream flow, heavy snow at Kitimat
Again, the province appears to accept arguments from Douglas Channel Watch that Enbridge has underestimated the challenges of handling a spill in a remote area. The province also accepts the argument that booms are ineffective in high stream flow in the Kitimat River.
Although it asserts that it will be able to effectively respond to any spill, NG admits that responding to a spill from the pipeline will be challenging. In particular, it admits that a spill into a watercourse at a difficult to access location would present the greatest difficulty for clean-up and remediation…
Many parts of the pipeline will be located in remote areas, located some distance from road networks and population centres. For example, many of the rivers… are identified as remote or having no access. Road access to the pipeline and places where a spill might travel down a watercourse is important to allow for effective spill response…
In some cases, the steepness of the terrain will make responding to spills very challenging. NG acknowledges that the Coast Mountains’ topography is extreme…
As the JRP noted during cross examination by the Province of NG with respect to the Clore River, it has had the opportunity to take a view of the entire route. It will therefore know the steep and rugged terrain through which the pipeline would pass.
The presence of woody debris could also pose a challenge to spill response, requiring a shift of response activities to upstream locations…
If a spill were to occur during a period of high flow conditions, a common occurrence in British Columbia rivers, then some aspects of the response may have to be curtailed, or at least delayed until the high flow event recedes. At certain water velocities, booms become ineffective, and are potentially unsafe to operate.
The presence of heavy snow could also impede access during response operations, requiring use of snowmobiles, snow cats, and helicopters. In the Upper Kitimat and Hoult Creek Valleys, snow accumulation can reach 8-9 metres. However, weather may limit the ability of helicopters to aid in spill response…
Many of these challenges are recognized by NG. In the Preliminary Kitimat River Drainage Area Emergency Preparedness Report (“Kitimat Report”), NG refers to the challenges of winter conditions, avalanches and debris slides, heavy snow, spring melt, Fall freeze-up, patchy ice, and fast-flowing watercourses.
The province also accepts the argument that under some circumstances that diluted bitumen can sink, arguments raised by David Shannon of Douglas Channel Watch.
These challenges are compounded by the fact that in certain conditions diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) can sink in a watercourse. This occurred in the case of Enbridge’s spill in Michigan. This was, as a result, an issue of significant importance to the parties in this proceeding…
The evidence presented by NG in this regard is inconsistent. For example, some evidence it presented suggests that dilbit may sink when it enters water, after a process of weathering; other evidence it has submitted suggests that dilbit will only sink if it combines with sediment. In its response to [a submission by the Haisla Nation] NG states that “If diluted bitumen becomes heavily weathered some oil may sink in fresh water environments.” Similarly, in its response to Dave Shannon’s IR No. 1, NG states that
Diluted bitumen emulsions will remain buoyant in waters with densities greater than approximately 1.015 g/cc. If the water density drops below approximately 1.015 g/cc,in zones of fresh-water intrusion, weathered and emulsified diluted bitumen products may sink to the depth where the density increases to above 1.015 g/cc.
Similar also is NG’s response to Dr. Weir’s IR No. 2.6, where NG states:
The weathered diluted bitumen would have a density approaching 1.0 g/cc, which indicates that once the diluted bitumen weathers it may be susceptible to sinking in fresh water.
Finally, in the Kitimat Report NG states that:
Examples that may lead to oil not remaining on the water surface include:
• Oils with specific gravities equal to or greater than the receiving medium (fresh- or saltwater)
• Oils that have weathered and, in losing lighter-end fractions, have reached a specific gravity equal to or greater than the receiving water
• Oil that is near the same density as the receiving water and that is characterized as a 3-dimensional flow (non-laminar to turbulent flow such as found in streams, rivers, areas with fast tidal currents, breaking waves)
• Oil with sediment (mixed into oil or adhered to oil droplets)…
…submerged oil may eventually sink with increased weathering, if in receiving water with lower density, or if sufficient sediment is incorporated.
Northern Gateway contradictory
The province’s argument goes on to point more inconsistencies with Northern Gateway’s submission on dilbit in rivers, telling the JRP “In short, what dilbit will do when it enters water remains unclear.”
On the other hand, another NG witness stated that dilbit cannot sink, as this would be contrary to an “immutable fact of physics”. In cross examination, Dr. Horn, Mr. Belore and other witnesses maintained that dilbit will only sink in the presence of suspended solids, or after a long period of weathering.
However, NG’s evidence with respect to the type of sediment that could combine with dilbit to form material that may sink in water is unclear. Dr. Horn testified that “fine grain sediments…provide the greatest amount of surface area which is one of the reasons that oil sank in [Michigan]”. On the other hand, Mr. Belore appeared to suggest that, in the marine context at least, finer sediments reduce the potential for oil to sink as they are lighter. The evidence with respect to the material that may bind to dilbit and contribute to its sinking is unclear…
NG’s views with respect to the flow conditions under which dilbit may sink is also contradictory. On the one hand, it states that “Higher flow rates and increased turbulence typically will entrain more oil into the water column leading to the potential for oil to enter pore spaces in permeable sediments.” On the other, it states that “Oil sinking is unlikely to occur in areas with fast currents…”
Evidence provided by other parties suggests that dilbit may sink when weathered. In particular, Environment Canada’s evidence in this proceeding contrasts sharply with NG’s. For example, Environment Canada states that:
Northern Gateway’s response planning model does not account for sinking oil or for oil suspended particulate matter interactions…For oils with densities close to that of water, like both the diluted bitumen and synthetic crude products, even small amounts of sediment can cause sinking. Environment Canada is concerned that oil sinking and oil-sediment interactions have been
underestimated in the provided scenarios. In the cases of both the Enbridge-Kalamazoo and the Kinder Morgan-Burnaby spills, significant oil-sediment interactions occurred.
The changes to dilbit as it ages in the environment may affect cleanup. Although initially buoyant in water, with exposure to wind and sun, as well as by mixing with water and sediment in the water, the density of dilbit can increase to the point that the oil may sink. Recovery and mitigation options for sunken oils are limited.
Not only has Environment Canada expressed the view that even small amounts of sediment may cause oil to sink, its witness also stated under cross-examination that high velocity rivers may carry high suspended sediment concentrations, and that, at certain times of the year, sediment load could enter the marine environment. Although NG acknowledges that sediment loads and oil-sediment interactions are a critical factor in predicting the behaviour of spilled oil, it has not, in Environment Canada’s opinion, provided a complete baseline data set on sediment loads, despite requests that such data be provided.
While NG has submitted information respecting the laboratory testing of dilbit, an Environment Canada expert testified that tests conducted in a laboratory setting provide only limited information that cannot be relied upon in isolation to predict the fate and behaviour of hydrocarbons spilled into the environment. Instead, information gathered from real spill events must inform the analysis, and consideration must be given to the conditions, including water temperature, suspended sediment concentrations and wind speed, to be encountered in the “real world”.
Environment Canada has also made it very clear that the evidence provided to date by NG does not allow for a full understanding of the behaviour of spilled dilbit. In the opinion of Environment Canada witnesses, the evidence has not provided sufficientclarity with respect to the weathering, evaporation or sedimentation processes dilbit may be subjected to in the environment. Given the unique nature of this product, further research is warranted before one can ascertain whether dilbit will sink or remain on the water surface. Those concerns were echoed by an expert retained by the Gitxaala Nation.
In addition, the evidence of other parties raises the possibility of the need to respond to submerged oil. NUKA research, on behalf of the Haisla Nation, opined that “submission documents overall still grossly underestimate the potential for sunken or submerged oil, particularly for pipeline spills to rivers.” EnviroEmerg Consulting, for the Living Oceans Society summarizes well the uncertainty that remains with respect to the behaviour of oil:
There are no definitive statements in the [Environmental Impact Statement] EIS to explain if bitumen diluted with condensate will emulsify, sink or do both if spilled. The supporting technical data analysis in the EIS is based on laboratory tests. There are no in-situ field tests, empirical studies, nor real incidents to validate these findings. This raises significant uncertainty that current spill response technologies and equipment designed for conventional oil can track and recover the diluted bitumen in temperate marine waters. In essence, the assumption that the diluted bitumen can be recovered on-water has yet to be tested.
In short, what dilbit will do when it enters water remains unclear. NG recognizes this lack of clarity itself. As was stated by one of its witnesses, “it’s extremely difficult to predict the behaviour of this product”.
NG admits that additional research needs to be done with respect to understanding how dilbit behaviour.
The provincial argument concludes:
The Province has serious concerns about the lack of clarity and certainty about what dilbit will do if it were to enter the water, the preliminary and indeed contradictory nature of the evidence with respect to NG’s remediation strategies and actions to address sunken oil, and the fact that its proposed tactics have not been evaluated for use in British Columbia. These factors, taken together, suggest that, at least as of today, NG is not yet prepared to deal with sunken oil in the event there were a spill of dilbit into a British Columbia watercourse. By itself this is a cause for serious concern in relation to the fundamental question in this proceeding, namely whether the JRP should recommend approval of this project. But at the very least, this means that a strong condition must be imposed requiring further research on the behaviour of dilbit.
Spill response only preliminary “All roads are driveable”
The provincial argument says, in italics, that the Northern Gateway’s spill response plans are “only preliminary” and adds Northern Gateway’s plan to provide detail operational plans six months before the beginning of the pipeline operations is not good enough. “It is not possible for NG to assert, nor for the JRP to conclude, that NG will be able to access all those places where a spill may travel, and to respond effectively.”
Despite the challenges to responding to a spill from the pipeline, including the challenge of responding to submerged and sunken oil, NG’s plans for responding to a spill have not yet been developed. NG has committed only to providing its detailed oil spill response plans to the National Energy Board 6 months in advance of operations. In the context of this project, the Province remains very concerned that NG has not yet demonstrated its ability to respond effectively to spills from the pipeline.
When specifically asked “In the absence of that planning…to address the challenges that we’ve been discussing, how is it we are to be confident that Northern Gateway will, in fact, be able to effectively respond to a spill?” NG replied that “There is a lot of work that needs to be done.”
Of particular concern, despite its admission that a spill into a watercourse in a remote location would pose a significant challenge, NG has not yet determined those locations it could access to respond to a spill, including the control points utilized for capturing and recovering oil passing that location. Such access will only be determined, if possible, during detailed planning. At this time, NG also does not know what portion of water bodies would be boat-accessible in the event of a spill. The 2010 Michigan spill, which was the subject of much questioning during the hearing, occurred in a populated area, where there were many potential access locations. This will of course not be the case if a spill were to occur in a remote river in British Columbia.
While NG has prepared a document showing some possible control points that might be used for spill response in the event of a spill in some rivers, NG concedes that its work in this regard is preliminary, and only pertains to some of the control points that would ultimately have to be established. NG helpfully provided additional information to that which was originally filed with respect to the travel distance between pump stations or the terminal and certain potential control points. However, travel times to the control points that have been identified do not take into account mobilization time, and assumes all roads are drivable.
Given the incompleteness of NG’s evidence in this regard, the Province submits that NG cannot currently assert that there would in fact be viable control points where a spill could travel to. In addition, even if accessibility to control points had been fully validated, in order for NG to assert that it could respond effectively to a spill, it would also have to know the means by which personnel and equipment would gain access to respond to oil that had come ashore or sunken to the sediment. Given the preliminary nature of the evidence presented by NG, this is of course not known.
The Province is very concerned that, in the event of a spill, some places where a spill could reach will be inaccessible, and therefore not amenable to spill recovery actions. While NG states that it will be able to access control points at any location along the pipeline, it has simply not provided the evidence in this proceeding to substantiate this assertion. The Province submits that, as of today, it is not possible for NG to assert, nor for the JRP to conclude, that NG will be able to access all those places where a spill may travel, and to respond effectively.
In addition to access, there are a number of other challenges to operating in British
Columbia in respect of which NG has completed only very preliminary work.
• The pipeline could be covered by heavy snow at different times of the year; NG states that it will have to review alternative methods of access to deal with this, but has presented no specific evidence on how this challenge will be addressed.
• NG has not yet developed specific plans about how it would deal with oil recovered from a spill, and has not yet determined disposal locations.
• NG has not yet determined the location or the contents of the equipment caches to be used to respond to spills.
• It has not determined year-round access to the pipeline, which will be evaluated as part of detailed planning.
Kitimat River response
The province takes a harsh look at Northern Gateway’s plan for a response on the Upper Kitimat River and Hunter Creek.
Similarly, the Province is concerned about the ability of NG to respond to a spill in the Upper Kitimat Valley. When asked by the Douglas Channel Watch
“…in the context of the Upper Kitimat Valley, does this mean because of the steepness of the terrain and limited road access to the river, that containment at some locations at the source will be impossible, and the majority of your efforts will be at the first accessible locations downstream?”
NG was only able to reply that:
“again it depends on the specific conditions. But as Dr. Taylor indicated, in the development of the response plans we would need to look at various scenarios, various times of year, develop plans so that it would identify the appropriate response locations at those times.”
NG’s targeted spill response time of 6-12 hours needs to be set against the reality that, in the case of a watercourse spill, oil may travel many kilometres downstream while NG is still mobilizing. In this proceeding NG has provided considerable information with respect to how far and fast oil can travel in a watercourse. For example, with a spill into Hunter Creek, NG has stated:
Based on water velocities, a release at this location could reach the Kitimat River estuary 60 km downstream within four to ten hours, depending on river discharge.
Dr. Horn has indicated that these figures are very conservative, and that the actual times to reach Kitimat would be a longer period. However, no other definitive evidence on these times was presented by NG.
Enbridge doesn’t learn from its mistakes
The provincial argument then goes on to say, again in italics, Enbridge does not follow procedures or learn from mistakes and concludes “while NG asserts that its spill detection systems will be world-class, it has not yet chosen to adopt spill detection technologies that would achieve that objective.”
The provincial argument goes over Enbridge’s spill record in detail, including the Marshall, Michigan spill which was harshly criticized by the US National Transportation Safety Board.
Concerns about NG’s inability to respond to a spill are magnified by Enbridge’s conduct with respect to the spill which took place in Michigan. NG concedes that, in that case, there were procedures in place that were not followed. NG asserts that it now has in place a number of “golden rules”, including that whenever there is a doubt with respect to whether the spill detection system has detected a leak, the pipeline must be shut down. However, NG concedes that this rule was in place before the Michigan spill; it self-evidently was not followed. In fact, the rule under which Enbridge would shut down its pipeline system within 10 minutes of an abnormal occurrence which could be immediately analyzed was put into place following a spill in 1991. At that time, similar commitments were made indicating that procedures would change and that a spill of that nature wouldn’t take place again….
despite the fact that the relevant technologies had been in existence for some
10 years, and despite the existence of crack-related failures that led to the development of such technologies, Enbridge had failed to put in place a program that would have detected the Marshall spill
The province wraps up the response saying by telling the JRP:
In short, if NG is relying on its ability to respond effectively to a spill for a positive recommendation from the JRP, then it must show that it will in fact have that ability. The Province submits that NG has not shown that ability in this proceeding.
The Province submits that requiring NG to show now that it will in fact have the ability to respond effectively to a spill is particularly important because there will be no subsequent public process in which that ability can be probed and tested. NG has pointed out that its oil spill response plans will be provided to the NEB for review, and has committed to a third party audit of its plans. However, it also acknowledges that there will be no means by which those plans could be tested through a public process.
On the pipeline project, BC concludes
The Province submits that the evidence on the record does not support NG’s contention that it will have a world-class spill response capability in place. 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 the project’s approval at this time. The Province submits that its concerns in this regard should be seriously considered by the JRP as it considers the recommendation it will be making to the federal government.