Pipeline regulators in Canada and the United States are being cautioned that claims by Enbridge Inc. that it improved its safety procedures and adopted sophisticated inspection practices are exaggerated and that pipeline ruptures as catastrophic as the company's 2010 accident in Marshall, Mich. are still possible.
The warning came in a report filed this month with the Canadian National Energy Board, which is considering Enbridge's request to reverse the flow of an oil pipeline in Eastern Canada and to use the line to carry diluted bitumen, or dilbit. The report was subsequently lodged with the U.S. Department of State.
"Enbridge is still not heeding pipeline investigators/regulators in integrity management," said the report by Richard Kuprewicz, president of the engineering consulting company Accufacts Inc. and an adviser to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. "Enbridge has a culture where safety management seems not to be a critical component of their operation."
The report recommends that the Energy Board require Enbridge to improve its leak detection policies and strengthen its emergency response plans for densely populated areas and critical water sources. Before the reversal is approved, Enbridge should also be required to check the line with a hydrotest, an expensive procedure in which a pipe is shut down and filled with water under high pressure to expose cracks and other faults, the report said.
Kuprewicz said he based his conclusions on documents Enbridge submitted with its application to the Energy Board and on records made public after the Michigan spill, including a scathing U.S. National Transportation Safety Board report that cited Enbridge for "a complete breakdown of safety." Enbridge's Michigan accident is now considered the largest inland oil spill in North American history.
The report was commissioned by Équiterre, a Montreal-based nonprofit that promotes environmental responsibility. After being filed in Canada, it was forwarded to the State Department by the National Wildlife Federation, a conservation organization that is seeking stricter scrutiny of U.S. pipelines.
Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog organization based in Bellingham, Wash., said the report is important because it highlights the need for more specific standards for pipeline safety. The responsibility for spill prevention lies not only with pipeline operators like Enbridge, he said, but with federal regulators who give pipeline companies too much leeway in deciding which safety practices they will use.
"In a broader sense, this shows how decisions are left up to the companies, and the companies aren't making the right decisions," Weimer said.
An Enbridge spokesman declined to comment on the Kuprewicz report and referred InsideClimate News to the Canadian Energy Board website and the 49 documents the company has filed in response to various questions and comments about the pipeline reversal project. None of those documents directly addresses the report.
John Stoody, director of Government and Public Relations for the Association of Pipe Lines, a Washington D.C.-based organization representing the pipeline industry, said he couldn't address the report's findings about Enbridge, but he defended the industry's overall safety record.
"From an industry-wide perspective—and I know is the case for Enbridge as well—pipeline integrity management is a top priority," he said.
Pipeline operators spent more than $1.1 billion on safety last year, he said, including evaluating, inspecting and maintaining their pipelines. He said the number of spills declined 60 percent between 1999 and 2012.
Safety Management Lacking
Enbridge is Canada's leading transporter of crude oil. It is also one of the largest pipeline operators in the United States, with plans to construct a network of new and expanded pipelines that would carry more oil than the controversial Keystone XL project, which would run from Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast if it is approved.
The State Department is currently reviewing Enbridge's request to increase the capacity of the Alberta Clipper, a pipeline that crosses into the United States from Canada near Neche, N.D. and has become part of the national debate over environmental safeguards versus energy needs.
Enbridge also is facing fierce resistance to a pipeline it is building in Michigan and Indiana to replace the line that ruptured in 2010. Environmental organizations are concerned about the pipeline's proximity to Lake Michigan, one of the region's most important drinking water sources. Some people who live along the route are outraged because the pipeline will run within feet of their homes.