A small crowd of about 10 people kept two speakers with Enbridge busy answering questions at a presentation on August 23.
Michele Perret, senior manager of community relations and Shane Kelly, a senior geotechnical engineer, both spoke and took questions from the small audience.
Enbridge asked to present at a Chamber of Commerce meeting on the proposed 1,177 km twin Northern Gateway pipeline.
Many of the questions were out of Perret’s realm of expertise, and some may not even be known yet, due to the still preliminary stage the project is at. The more highly detailed engineering and landowner negotiations come after the joint review panel process, should the pipeline be approved.
Perret explained the rationale for the pipeline is to provide access to international overseas markets, which Canada currently doesn’t have.
The U.S. is the main purchaser of Alberta tar sands oil, which it then refines and sells to the North American market.
As the largest pipeline company in North America, Enbridge is hoping to open up new markets for the oil and gas industry, with Perret pointing out the state of the U.S. economy is “flat at best and slightly declining in the future.”
There was some opposition to this, however, as Phil Short said he would feel better about the pipeline if Enbridge committed to “ethical guidelines in how they distribute that oil.”
“The only thing I could commit to at this point would be that we would follow whatever laws the Canadian government imposed on trade restrictions and barriers to trade,” said Perret.
“If you guys stand a chance in B.C. to get that pipeline through, you’ve got to start standing up … to me it’s the ethical use of that oil,” said Short.
Perret also described the pipeline itself. The 36-inch export pipeline carrying the oil and condensate and then the 20-inch returning pipeline carrying condensate would be buried for their entire length, using a twin-tunnel system to get through the Coast Mountains, and going up and over the Rocky Mountains.
Safety valves are located along the pipeline at various points, but it depends entirely on the topography, geology and environmental concerns along the route as to how many there would be in a certain distance.
While there were questions from the audience regarding the monitoring and response in these remote regions subject to avalanches, Perret said the plan is to monitor the pipeline constantly, from the control centre in Edmonton, and have response plans in place along the route.
With respect to the pumping station slated for the Airport Road area south of Fort St. James, Perret said the first response would take place in Alberta, likely to be located in Edmonton, where the pipeline would be shut down. Then local agencies would be notified and mobilized.
Emergency responders such as the fire department could be called on, depending on the nature of the incident.
“They would have detailed information of the products that are being moved through the pipeline so that they would know … the breakdown of that commodity,” said Perret.
The nearest Enbridge employees and equipment would be located in Burns Lake and Prince George.
The Kalamazoo River spill in Michigan from an Enbridge pipeline was brought up as a reference for when this system apparently failed (Enbridge did not notify the National Response Centre for about 18 hours after the pipeline broke), releasing an estimated 850,000 to 1 million gallons into the area and river.
Perret said the spill is still under investigation and there have been lessons learned from Kalamazoo.
She said the report from the investigation into the Kalamazoo spill should be released before the end of the joint review process.
There were also questions regarding the control Enbridge would have over the ships which would be transporting the oil, because Enbridge essentially loses control of the product once it is out of the system and on the ships.
“If Enbridge took responsibility over the tankers too, then I’d feel a little more comfortable because then we have somebody we can go after,” said Phil Short.
“The Exxon Valdez … did they ever pay off their bills?”
“There is an international marine organization that sets the standard for tankers,” said Perret.
In Canadian waters, Perret said to her understanding, tankers would have to undergo inspection once a year by Canadian officials.
One member of the audience said with the notoriously rough waters of the strait he thought it would be impossible to clean up any spill in rough winter conditions, and said booms in these conditions were shown to be useless when the Gulf of Mexico disaster happened.
“We have to plan for a response to those situations,” said Perret.
Their emergency response plans are tested and practiced according to Perret, identifying specific areas of concern to protect and access points for personnel.
With some pretty tough questions from the audience regarding what would actually be done or even possible to do in rough seas if a tanker did run into problems or rupture it’s hull, Perret managed to respond fairly calmly, and while she is not an expert on the detailed aspects of the emergency response, she tried to assure people Enbridge is putting a number of safeguards in place to avoid a spill and there would be an emergency response plan in place to deal with it should it happen.
This may not be completely reassuring given Enbridge’s response in Michigan’s Kalamazoo spill was criticized publicly for being inadequate and slow, with animal response centres cleaning their first oiled bird a week after the spill took place, according to observer Beth Wallace, who traveled across the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline route last winter to talk about her experiences after the Michigan spill.
One other hot topic of dicussion was the proposed Kitimat tanker-loading, a highly controversial aspect of the pipeline.
Perret defended the proposal by stating there have been tankers on the coast for years, with a peak in the nineties of 294 vessels a year moving in and out of the Kitimiat terminal.
This has been dismissed as misinformation by opponents to the pipeline, including Skeena-Bulkley MP Nation Cullen, because those tankers were not only considerably smaller than some of the ones Enbridge would be proposing, but also because this is a completely different product, with a much greater potential long-term impact on the environment should a spill occur.
Perret also defended the safety of the Kitimat port.
“From a safety standpoint, we don’t think there’s any difference moving out of the Vancouver harbour than moving in and out of Kitimat,” said Perret.
In terms of community engagement, Perret said they have been engaging in different types of meetings across the proposed pipeline route, some, like the Chamber meeting, were with specific groups, some were public forums, some small meetings and community-advisory board meetings.
The community-advisory boards were implemented after asking stakeholders along the proposed route how they wanted to engage with Enbridge.
There are five community-advisory boards across the proposed route, and the meetings are open to the public. Perret said the website for the community advisory boards has just gone up, with most of the presentations given at the meetings online for people to watch.
The one exception she said, was they weren’t able to put up the presentation by Patrick Moore, who Perret referred to as “formerly of Greenpeace.”
Moore did have an association with the organization dating back to the 1970s, but he has since been denounced by Greenpeace for exploiting his past ties to the organization in order to sell himself as a speaker to promote views opposed by Greenpeace.
The proposed pipeline is now in the joint review panel stage, which is a federal independent review by a three-person panel. The only things the panel can consider are the evidence presented via this process and therefore on the public record.
The deadline for registering as an intervenor passed, with over 200 registered intervenors, the most Perret said the company has ever seen.
The deadline to register to give an oral statement is October 6, and letters of comment can be submitted until March.
A regulatory decision is expected to be given at the end of 2012, and if the project is approved, then the detailed engineering would begin. A two to three-year construction phase would then produce an in-service pipeline by 2017.
First Nations were also mentioned in the presentation, with an offer of 10 per cent equity in the pipeline, so First Nations groups which can raise funds to invest in the pipeline could benefit financially from it.
Perret said the company has also made commitments with respect to procurement and employment with First Nations, and Perret said success in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where they have over 20 per cent First Nations employment on their project, make her confident they can reach their goals in Alberta and B.C..
In terms of benefits to the province of B.C., after the construction phase, there would be the taxes to the province and regional districts. Locally, there would be seven personnel in Burns Lake employed directly, and 12 in Prince George.
Perret did not commit to independent environmental monitoring during the construction phase.
Erin O’Brien, a wetland policy director with the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, spoke this past winter about her organization’s experiences with Enbridge during the construction phase of one of it’s pipelines through Wisconsin.
After numerous violations and trying to get Enbridge to ensure it’s contractors adhered to environmental permit regulations, the state eventually filed a lawsuit against Enbridge. Enbridge settled out of court for $1.1 million.
Councillor Brenda Gouglas asked Perret if the company was going to reschedule the community meeting it cancelled last February before the end of this year.
After promising to reschedule the meeting, Enbridge has so far not set a new date.
“I will take that back to my boss,” said Perret.