Pipeline Safety: First, Last and Always

In an October 2013 article, CBC News reported that by 2011, safety-related pipeline incidents, ranging from fires to spills, increased from 45 total incidents in 2000 to 142 in 2011. Of equal importance to the number of incidents being reported is the headlines they are making. For example, in April 2014, a Canadian crude oil and natural gas company spilled 70,000 litres of oil and water near Slave Lake, Alberta. Two years earlier, another oil company dumped 461,000 litres of oil into the Red Deer River — which came on the heels of a spill of 4.5 million litres by the same company near Little Buffalo in 2011. And then there was the spill by a Canadian-owned pipeline that dumped more than 3 million litres of oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010.

Yet, despite these seemingly alarming statistics and headlines, Canadian pipeline safety is second to none. According to Natural Resources Canada, between 2008 and 2012, 99.999% of the crude oil and petroleum produce transported on federally-regulated pipelines was done so safely.

No pipeline company wants a spill — of any volume. The results are far too costly, both to the company’s reputation and its bottom line. Yet, given the environmental and financial consequences, the publicity these spills receive, and the fact that pipeline companies face the very real risks associated with aging infrastructure, the Government of Canada has sought to make oil pipeline transport even safer through additional regulation.

On May 14, 2014, Canada’s Natural Resources Minister, Greg Rickford, announced new measures that would improve Canada’s pipeline safety, and ensure complete pipeline transparency as well as financial accountability for companies responsible for spills.

These new measures, as announced, outline:

  1. The concept of “Absolute Liability” for all National Energy Board (NEB) regulated pipelines. This means that pipeline companies will be liable for costs and damages, irrespective of fault up to $1 billion. Existing laws are already in place to ensure that companies found at fault have unlimited liability.
  2. Increased Aboriginal participation in pipeline safety operations. This includes planning, monitoring, incident response and related employment and business opportunities.
  3. Expansion of the NEB powers. These powers will give the NEB the authority to order reimbursement of cleanup costs, ability to provide guidance on the use of best technologies and authority to assume control of incident response if a company is unable or unwilling to do so.

These measures enhance an already robust system in Canada that prides itself on its commitment to constantly improve pipeline safety.

In addition to government regulations, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA) provides guidance on emergency response plans for pipeline companies. CEPA represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies, which operate approximately 115,000 kilometres of pipeline in Canada and 13,000 kilometres in the United States. CEPA’s members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily crude oil and natural gas. Its pipeline network carries 3 million barrels of oil every day. This is the equivalent of 4,200 rail cars or 15,000 tanker trucks.

In 2013, CEPA announced a Mutual Emergency Assistance Agreement (MEAA) between is member companies. Through this agreement:

  1. Companies can share everything from equipment to expertise, encouraging collaboration of specialized resources and knowledge.
  2. Existing practices between CEPA members become formalized.
  3. Companies will have to work within ICS (Incident Command System) protocols. This is a protocol used by emergency responders to ensure they are acting efficiently and effectively in an organized manner in the case of an emergency.
  4. Members will work together to continuously improve performance in the industry.

In addition to being the most efficient means of transporting crude oil and natural gas, Canadian pipeline companies want to be world leaders in environmental safety and response when it comes to potential incidents. The work and collaboration that has already been done in the industry is a testament to this fact.

Although the complete eradication of pipeline ruptures may be an impossible ambition, Canadian pipeline companies will continue to make strides to achieve it. In the meantime, these companies will keep their focus on reacting quickly, safely and responsibly, when a spill does occur. Pipeline safety is and will continue to be this industry’s first and last priority — always.