The business of pipeline safety

A whistleblower and former employee of TransCanada pipelines has raised safety concerns in the construction of pipelines. Evan Vokes, an engineer, reported the company’s substandard practices to the National Energy Board. He believes the company’s management refused to act on his complaints.

Vokes alleges that the company did not comply with the regulations set by the NEB. He says that some inspectors fail to comply with welding regulations. His allegations have resulted into an audit into the company’s practices in regards to safety.

Of course TransCanada disputes this and says that it has addressed all these concerns and made necessary adjustments through routine quality-control processes well before any facilities went into service.

“We are confident that any remaining concerns the regulator has about compliance and pipeline safety will be unwarranted,” TransCanada said in a statement.

Inspectors are normally hired by the prime contractor, in this case TransCanada. One has to question this practice. The NEB should in fact provide their own inspectors. While this may be an expensive venture, there could certainly be some cost sharing with the pipeline company. Having inspectors in the bag for the “pipeliner” seems a conflict of interest.

Modern pipeline technology is such that there should be minimum risks associated with pipelines. From the author’s personal experience, care is taken in how the topsoil and subsequent soil compositions are removed and how the pipeline right of way is restored.

Following the safety regulations, which have been developed over decades of lessons learned, should be a common sense approach. While pipeline inspectors have often had a wealth of experience in the industry, hiring by contractors as a reward should be discouraged.

XL Keystone Pipeline

The XL Keystone pipeline, which was to transport oil from Hardesty, Alberta, to Port Arthur, Texas, has become an election issue. In the quest for energy independence, the Alberta Oil Sands play a central role. The US receives the oil at a discount, upgrades it and distributes it to North American and global markets. Very little of this oil is refined in Canada; even Alberta is a net importer.

Pipeline safety is obviously a major concern, especially in view of the approval process for the XL Keystone pipeline. President Obama rejected TransCanada’s application, based on concerns over the sensitive Nebraska Sand Hills. An alternate route has recently been approved by Nebraska.

Pipelines crossing the international border require a “presidential permit.” Politically, Republicans have made hay of the pipeline issue, alleging that the president’s decision was political, in order to defer the decision until after the election.

The NEB decsision to do an audit of the company will not make the approval process any easier. Even though most believe that the pipeline will be approved, the issue will raise concerns among environmentalist, who are opposed to oil sands development. Nonetheless, this audit is both proper and necessary. Not following safety regulations, considering the inherent risks to the environment, cannot be tolerated.

Source: CBC

Disclaimer: The author supports Alberta Oil Sands development and pipelines as efficient means of tranporting oil.

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